When climate change became the central focus of the political discourse in 2006, the IT industry’s first instinct was to address the carbon footprint of IT equipment itself.
This was not without success. The green initiative dovetailed with growing concerns about the future cost and availability of electricity supply, and today energy efficiency is a guiding principle in data centre design. Meanwhile, providers such as 1e and Verdiem have successfully tapped demand to cut the energy footprint of the PC estate with their power management tools. Construction contractor Bovis Lend Lease told Information Age recently that it had cut the energy consumption of its desktop infrastructure by 32% using 1e’s NightWatchman product.
However, in 2010 there was a palpable realisation that IT’s best contribution to the green effort might not be cutting its own energy footprint, but using information and technology to reduce the environmental burden of all business activities.
According to a report published by independent sustainability analysts Verdantix in January 2011, large corporations and public authorities are more interested in IT that helps make their overall energy infrastructure more efficient or that tracks carbon emissions than in cutting IT-specific energy costs.
“Our research [has] found that large multinationals and city leaders want IT support for new sustainability initiatives such as electric vehicle infrastructure, offshore wind farms and global carbon management systems,” said Verdantix analyst Stuart Newman. “Technology investment in these new areas is much larger than spend on green IT projects like data centre energy efficiency and PC power management.”
There are many ways IT can be used to manage overall energy consumption. King’s College London, for example, has since 2005 operated a building energy management system (BEMS) that detects whether anyone is in a given room, and adjusts the light and heating accordingly. Standard Chartered Bank has set up an online portal that allows employees to share energy-saving tips and sets them sustainability targets.
Another popular approach is to track carbon emissions with specially designed applications. Verdantix’s poll of 15 leading IT service providers found that carbon-tracking deployments have so far been the most common form of green technology project.
This is the focus of a new software-as-a- service company helmed by two British-born Silicon Valley veterans. CloudApps counts Salesforce.com European chairman Dr Steve Garret and former Micro Focus CEO Stephen Kelly among its directors. “Europe’s future energy supplies are far from certain,” Kelly told Information Age in August 2010. “The ability to measure, monitor and act on carbon consumption will not be optional.”
Kelly added that he believes that sustainability technology presents a significant opportunity for the UK. “There is tremendous potential around green tech and sustainability, and software and IT will be at the heart of that,” he said. “This could be an area where the UK leads the world.” He was unbowed by the UK government’s decision in 2010 to cut £34 million of funding for sustainability technology projects. “Any potential reduction of government financial help will be positive and will force UK green tech players to shape up,” he said.
Enthusiasm for so-called green IT is not what it was, but by shifting the focus to their organisation’s overall energy consumption, IT departments might yet succeed in cutting costs while saving the planet.