Green IT, pragmatism & strategy

Richard Steel, Society of IT Management (SOCITM) President, CIO London Borough of Newham

The Green Bandwagon is rolling, but how can we steer beyond the hype and adopt a pragmatic approach that’s embedded in our ICT strategy? And how can we avoid preaching to the converted and influence those who are only paying lip-service?
I was recently a Panellist at an ‘Answer Time for Green IT’ conference organised by the Environmental IT Leadership Team, which was interesting and informative, but I realised that the audience was already converted to the cause. The indifferent majority have yet to be engaged. Part of the answer, I suppose, is that the converted must be missionaries for the cause, but I feel there’s a still greater need to cut through the hype and articulate a realistic Green Agenda.
Experts agree that the most environmental damage occurs during the manufacture, delivery and disposal of ICT equipment, so that hints at priority areas in which to focus our efforts on sustainable procurement and end-of-life strategies, and implies the need to sweat the asset.
Understandably though, the Bandwagon has initially focussed on the more obvious power consumption and the mantra now is to switch unused equipment off. This sounds like a no-brainer, but is it? Old IT lags, like me, remember the days when we dreaded disruption to our Data Centre power supplies because there were always failures when equipment that had to be turned-off was switched back on again.
My own conversion to green consciousness started last year when I decided to switch-off the three year old family PC at night. So, guess what, the hard disc failed. The reality still is that the longevity of computer equipment, especially where motors are involved, is heavily affected by switching on and off and associated affects such as heat variation and power spikes.
So how do we achieve the right balance when it comes to sweating the asset and power management?
The clue, I think, is in the words ‘power management’. Modern systems software is designed to strike a reasonable balance between minimising power consumption and maximising equipment longevity. ICT products, services and applications have massive potential to reduce climate change in other industrial and domestic sectors through a reduction in their carbon emissions, but we should also ensure that we maximise the potential for ICT tools to mitigate its own carbon footprint.

An allied consideration is that, in the UK, accepted wisdom says that we should turn equipment off at night; ‘standby is not good enough’. But when I was at a conference in Sweden earlier this year an EU Researcher on the subject presented figures that showed that the difference between power consumption in computers switched-off, and in a sleep state, were negligible. (www.ecocomputer.orgA less debatable focus for the avoidance of power wastage is in the millions of transformers we use for the chargers and low voltage power supplies used by our ‘phones and computer peripherals. More often than not, these are left humming away when the equipment they serve is turned-off, or fully charged!).

On the principle that every little helps, we can help to save energy by avoiding the use of bright colours in our applications design (if using LCD screens – there’s no difference with CRTs) – see the alternative to Google…
So, we need to be clearer about what really makes a difference. But the other key consideration is strategy.
How does the Green Agenda fit alongside other imperatives, such as digital convergence and the resulting new security infrastructure requirements, Local Government Reorganisation, Data Centre virtualisation, greater partnership working driven by Local & Multi-Area Agreements, Comprehensive Area Assessment, New Ways of Working and accelerating channel migration?
Actually, most of these will considerably help reduce Local Government’s carbon footprint in the longer term, but we must, at all costs, avoid knee-jerk reaction to single-issue agenda items, like ‘Green IT’, driven by misinformation and hype.
An holistic approach to strategy development is vital. We have to plan for the long-term and the reality, therefore, is that the full potential for sustainable, ICT facilitated reduction in Local Government’s carbon footprint will only be achievable in the medium to long term.
In the meantime, there are some ‘no-brainers’ that will deliver benefits in the short-term. Effective print management, almost certainly based on networked multi-function devices, with accounting controls to encourage efficient use of resources, is certainly one of them.
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