Green gauge

The adoption of Green IT practices in the UK is being driven by regulatory pressures ahead of cost savings or corporate social responsibility – and that distinguishes it from other major European countries.

The recently launched ‘Green IT Barometer’ by research firm IDC – canvassing around 500 European firms with over 1,000 employees and at least one data centre – found that 77% of those in the UK cited pressure to comply with current and pending regulations as the main impetus behind their Green IT investments.

In other countries across Europe, particularly Germany, cost savings were seen as the primary driver.

The report’s author, IDC analyst Nathaniel Martinez, says this anomaly is “probably because there’s been a lot of talk in UK government [of] addressing the carbon footprint issue”. Perhaps as a consequence of that pressure, the UK was also unique among countries in that Green IT strategies were most frequently pushed down by the board or senior management, rather than arising from initiatives within departments.

The right motives?

However, according to IDC’s results, regulatory compliance makes for an effective spur: UK companies are by no means behind when it comes to having a Green IT strategy in place, with 46% of UK companies claiming to have a strategy – ahead of the EU average of 35%. Germany, well known for its progressive green agenda, came first with 51%, although intriguingly corporate social responsibility hardly rated a mention among the drivers for Green IT.

Martinez worries that companies are not connecting the concept of Green IT with that of cost savings, and may drop it as a priority.

“Green IT strategies won’t always yield immediate tangible benefits to the organisation,” he says. “Only two-thirds of large UK organisations with a Green IT strategy in place anticipate making IT cost savings in the next 12 months.”

And that might be a problem, given that in the current economic climate companies are less likely to be altruistic with their IT investments. Only 21% of IT directors surveyed in the UK said they didn’t consider ROI necessary for a Green IT project. Even more dramatically, in a separate poll – involving 513 IT executives questioned at Storage Expo 08 – only 4% thought it a priority if there were no cost savings; and a further 10% said they had abandoned green IT because of IT budget cuts.

The issue, Martinez says, is one of measurement. “You can only improve what you can measure. Only 16% of [UK companies] have a measured, managed Green IT objective, and only 17% of UK IT departments foot the data centre’s electricity bill.”

That lack of measurement means “62% of UK IT departments have no incentive to reduce power consumption”, while “63% don’t even report power consumption”.

The main challenge to Green IT projects cited by respondents – lack of industry guidance – is symptomatic of this lack of measurement. “Because a lot don’t measure, they have no way to benchmark themselves against other companies,” Martinez says.

Green premium

Adding to the problem is the ongoing belief that green comes at a premium. “Some organisations think you pay a premium for a green server.” And while the upfront price tag is often higher, “if you look at the total cost of ownership there is a significant cost reduction.”

“By 2012, 80% of the money spent on servers will be spent on powering them, and although the cost of oil has gone down drastically, it is still a scarce resource. The majority of data centres are also aging – the average age is 12 years old – and were designed in a time before multi-core or blade technology. They are not optimised for that level of density.”

Despite this, the IDC study found that 70% of UK organisations had no software tools to optimise data centre power efficiency, even though that put them ahead of the European average of 80%. The most popular green IT solutions were quick win solutions such as green printing, data management techniques, and “moving customer behaviour online”.

It remains to be seen what affect the October financial crisis has had on Green IT adoption – the IDC figures where compiled earlier. Martinez promises another barometer survey in six months, to see how attitudes have changed.

“Green has become a business imperative for many organisations,” Martinez says, “but Green IT initiatives are still easier said than done. The way forward is to invest in measuring tools to drive change.”

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