Green IT is dead


Once upon a time, pre-recession, when every second news article began with ‘impending climate change’ rather than ‘amid the economic downturn’, Green IT was like that loud, popular, outspoken celebrity party guest whom everyone invites to lend their event importance and gravitas.

But like all celebrity party guests, Green IT proved expensive to entertain. This was in part due to its manager’s insistence that it was worth a premium, which was fine when everyone was laughing wide-eyed while rolling in money and could justify tapping the corporation’s marketing budget in the name of industrial altruism.

But now fortunes have fallen, the chaff has been identified (and separated), and Green IT has been downgraded to the status of C-grade celebrity good only for nostalgic reality TV appearances and the occasional episode of Strictly Come Dancing.

The press lunch at IBM’s Information on Demand conference late last year was particularly telling, as the tables were signposted by topic. Over at BI it was standing room only, but Green IT was enjoying dinner for one.

In short, Green IT has been credit crunched. Which is a shame, because a lot of the efficiency-boosting technology it comprises can cut costs rather than increase them – virtualisation, for instance, is essentially ‘green’ technology because it consolidates server loads and allows you to turn stuff off.

But the green ‘message’ has dominated the discussion up until now. With luck, the recession may encourage technology buyers to look at procurement in terms of efficiency, which will do more good for the environment than Green IT ever did.

The standard figures that get trotted out in any article on the subject are that IT constitutes two percent of global carbon emissions, on par with aviation. Some perspective: livestock contributes 27%.

Energy-hungry data centres are typically highlighted as especially villainous, with certain local authorities in the UK requiring a percentage of data centre power to be generated from expensive renewable sources and driving up already significant cap ex. This notoriety has driven a lot of the conscience-easing green tech marketing aimed at the data centre.

However data centre power consumption constitutes between a third to a quarter of IT’s two percent contribution to carbon emissions; the rest comes from the desktop environment, and that can be tackled with power management software.

The numbers are noticeable but fall short of inspiring: recent Gartner figures estimate that a 2,500 PC organisation can save $43,300 a year managing the power consumption of its desktops: pocket change for a multinational, but nonetheless long-awaited proof that so-called ‘green’ tech can attract an ROI rather than a bill.

If the recession really has killed Green IT, then let it be survived by its ugly, significantly less-sexy twin, Energy Efficiency.

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