Beyond the Data Center: How IT Can Create a Green Enterprise

Green IT means more than buying energy-efficient servers. It means IT-enabled business process improvement, a streamlined supply chain and even telecommuting to make the entire company more environmentally friendly.
A weak economy, the growing cost and limited supply of energy, the insatiable demand for more processing power and storage, and pressure to reduce environmental impact are all driving organizations to be greener than ever before.

Many IT organizations have already plucked the "low-hanging fruit" of energy conservation by shifting from rack servers to less power-hungry blade servers, virtualization that allows multiple operating systems to run on a single machine, and "thin client" PCs that draw far less power than conventional desktops. Modern cooling technologies and more efficient AC systems help cope with the increased density of modern data centers while minimizing power use.

Wider Benefits

Making IT operations more environmentally friendly is only the first step. The next step is to use the insights and processes enabled by IT to reduce waste, streamline operations, automate processes and reduce the use of paper.

One such operational area is aligning and synchronizing activities within the supply chain. This includes using IT capabilities to consolidate the routes products take to their destinations, trimming facilities and relying on fewer but more efficient suppliers and supply lines. It may also include establishing green procurement policies, such as vendor selection criteria, e-waste management and CO2 emission from transportation. In one case, this supply chain optimization has not only reduced the organization's carbon footprint, but reduced fuel costs by eight percent and freight and inventory carrying costs up to 25 percent.

Business process management and automation can help reduce the amount of travel, and thus the carbon footprint, required to complete business processes. It can also dramatically reduce the use of paper, which is both environmentally inefficient and a drain on staff time.

IT services such as on-line portals, videoconferencing and remote, mobile access have great potential to enable telecommuting and reduce business travel, which reduces the fuel used in travel as well as the cost and carbon footprint of central offices. Finally, application portfolio rationalization reduces the need for servers and associated hardware and with it the organization's carbon footprint.

Getting There

All enterprises serious about sustainability should first conduct a green IT readiness assessment, so they can identify new opportunities and measure the return on their green investments. One recent assessment for a leading technology company identified:

  • Approximately 20.5% savings from workstation energy consumption
  • 20% to 25% savings through improved data center efficiency
  • Approximately 15% savings from reduced transportation, logistics and administrative expenses
  • Approximately 20% reduction in paper usage

Such an assessment should begin by understanding the environmental goals set by senior management, as well as the aims of the enterprise's current green practices in areas such as cost reduction, regulatory compliance and corporate social responsibility. It should also calculate the total carbon footprint of the organization's data centers and IT equipment to identify quick wins from infrastructure footprint rationalization.

Benchmarking the energy consumption of existing IT facilities is essential to finding ways to make them greener through modern building standards. Sustainability measurements and metrics can initially be simple, based on energy efficiency, product and process quality. Eventually, the most sophisticated companies measure performance in areas such as product lifecycle management and compliance with programs designed to reduce the environmental impact of manufactured goods.

This broader view of "green IT" goes far beyond data center operations. By also leveraging IT capabilities to streamline business processes, it can deliver greater environmental and cost-reduction benefits.

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