CIOs are thinking green. After all, how can they avoid it? From ex-presidential candidates to movie stars to major U.S. businesses, it seems like everybody who's anybody is on the environmentally friendly bandwagon.
But despite the fact that businesses acknowledge the issue's importance, very few CIOs are actually going green.
However, 78% of respondents said green IT has not been written into their evaluation and selection criteria for IT systems and devices. Green IT is Forrester's term for vendor and IT organizations' efforts to reduce the environmentally harmful impact that technology has on the environment, while simultaneously realizing better efficiency and reduced costs.
"That's not an unusual type of behavioral model to see," Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT Research in Hayward, Calif., said of CIO inaction. "Frankly, I think we're in sort of the early days of this."
Ask 10 CIOs what being green actually means, and you'll get 10 answers. For some, it involves buying technology that is more energy efficient, and lowering power and cooling costs. For others, it means buying hardware from environmentally friendly vendors, disposing of old hardware in a responsible way, or purchasing renewable energy to power technology.
King said the lack of action on green technology can be traced in part to the disconnect between IT and facilities management. In general, IT makes decisions based on computing demands, while facilities management makes decisions based on the cost and availability of energy. CIOs know green technology is important, but they may not see it as urgent, the way a facilities manager may, because IT doesn't see the rising electricity bills. In fact, green technology often doesn't become an imperative until power and cooling issues prevent CIOs from putting more servers in a data center.
The idea of green computing isn't new. As early as 1992, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated the voluntary labeling program known as Energy Star in an effort to promote energy efficiency in computer hardware.
Since then there have been numerous initiatives to promote energy efficiency and environmentally friendly computing, including the recent U.S. House of Representatives bill requiring the EPA to study energy consumption and promote energy efficiency in data centers.
Combine cost savings and concern for the environment, and that's the ticket to change.
"They are both of equal importance to me," said George Bock, senior director of IT at Sole Technology Inc. "We're always about saving dollars. But with the added focus we are putting on every level of the company for being a green company, we are all driving in that direction." Bock's CEO has dictated that his company incorporate green thinking into everything it does, "from our products, to solar panels on our building, to waterless urinals in the bathrooms."
The Lake Forest, Calif.-based, $200 million manufacturer of sports apparel and footwear recently added an environmental affairs manager who will examine the environmental impact of the entire company. Once his company gets that assessment, Bock said he believes his IT organization will dive into green technology.
Some businesses are waiting for an all-in-one green solution -- a magic bullet -- but that's unrealistic, experts say. King said so far, most efforts on green technology have focused on point solutions like more energy-efficient processors or more efficient servers.
"In order to approach the situation efficiently and find a corrected or ideal path, it requires companies to approach this on a really systemic basis," King said. "Low-energy servers aren't going to fix it. Low-energy processors aren't going to fix it. Improving efficiency of power and cooling won't fix it. It's a combination of all these factors, when aggregated together, that is going to have an impact. This requires companies to break down walls in decision-making and get different parts of the company to talk about this stuff."
Incremental change, immediate payback
Experts say every little bit helps, and that includes the keystone of environmental friendliness -- recycling.
Jon Beyer, cofounder and CIO of TerraCycle Inc., a small Trenton, N.J.-based manufacturer of plant food, says his company's entire mission is to be green. The company harvests worm waste to create plant food and then sells it in recycled soda bottles. That corporate mission extends to his IT organization.
"We just try to reuse older equipment as much as possible," Beyer said. "Rather than purchase new workstations and laptops, we pay for refurbished equipment. We're fairly small now, so we are able to do that. As we continue to grow, I like to think we can continue to do that."
Beyer said some larger companies may not want to use older equipment, but there are incremental ways for them to be green as well. He said they could transition to using more thin clients instead of desktops.
"A thin client uses 15 watts of energy instead of 150 watts for workstations," he said.
Indeed, King said incremental change can work for those companies that don't have a lot of money to spend on big, comprehensive solutions. Server virtualization, for instance, is a big step toward going green, he said.
"VMware is great," King said. "It's a technology that can be leveraged across existing servers as well as new boxes. It's not a technology that requires a company to go in and do a complete rip and replace. It's an incremental solution that has an incremental but very immediate payback."
IBM this month announced a new $1 billion initiative, dubbed "Project Big Green," which will offer a comprehensive suite of services and technologies that will enable companies to assess environmental problems in their data centers and how they can go about fixing them.
Steve Sams, IBM vice president of Global Site and Facilities Services, said the lack of products on the market was part of why IBM was launching Big Green.
"There is awareness at some levels, but clients aren't taking action," Sams said. "Clients don't have the facts. They know their energy bill is increasing, but they haven't done a projection. It's caught them by surprise. And they might not know how their data centers compare with others for energy efficiency. There are no tools to give them that assessment of what the problems are and what actions they can take to resolve them. I don't think anybody believed there was a set of tools and capabilities available today that can significantly improve this problem."
IBM isn't the first vendor to peddle green technology. In March, Hewlett-Packard Co. said it will roll out several green initiatives, including more efficient personal computers, energy management software for data centers, and more eco-friendly packaging for print cartridges.
Sun Microsystems Inc. appointed David Douglas to the new position of vice president of Eco-Responsibility last year and continues to roll out green technology.
Much of what these companies are pitching is more marketing than actual product, say industry observers. But if it does nothing else, it brings the idea of green computing to the forefront. Still, King said he's impressed with IBM's new Big Green initiative and says it's something completely new.
"I have not heard of any other systems vendor doing anything quite this comprehensive," King said. "I don't see anybody else out there that's really kind of taking this end-to-end look at things. They've come up with some great technologies, and [data centers] is something that they've got a great deal of experience in as well."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer