Although there is no simple path towards green IT, it can be less difficult if there is a platform that helps organisations to pull in the same direction. With this in mind BCS Green IT Specialist Group member John Paul suggests critical success factors (CFSs) that could stand as possible starting points towards green IT realisation.

The priorities of today’s businesses such as cost reduction and revenue increment make it difficult to capture a company’s interest in greener IT. The concerns of a typical company are mostly about the economical benefits and often company marketing departments use the concept of green IT to make their products appeal to the public. Hence, it is not surprising that the concept is gaining popularity, but the actual implementation is still embryonic.

ICT sustainability has received quite a lot of attention since its inception in the late 90s. Both IT and non-IT companies like the idea of being tagged as environmentally friendly organisations, but not many of them are adopting and implementing the services that actually deliver low carbon footprints and mitigate emissions.

Be an effective agent of change

The use and production of electronic devices has proliferated in recent decades. Consequently, this poses a lot of challenges for the environment. The good news is that the innovation in ICT is also capable of reducing the environmental havoc. For instance, virtually all the well-known operating systems (OS) are compatible with guest systems, allowing for various alternatives.

The idea is that, when systems are unified and centralised, it reduces the complexity and the demand it places on IT infrastructures in terms of energy consumption, temperature and workload.

However, there are still very few companies that change their business processes or take tangible steps toward becoming greener. Only when the concept is fully embraced by top management in every organisation can it start living up to its full potential.

According to Don Jones, a Principal Technologist for Concentrated Technology, many companies express their concerns for the environment, but few are picking up the challenges of remodeling their mode of operations. Achieving green IT involves CEOs or members of the board to be personally involved. In another words, for any organisation to become greener in their business processes or techniques, top-level involvement is essential.

Support the movement

According to Bob Crooks, a green IT specialist, companies can no longer afford to do things without regard for the environment. The earth’s resources are increasingly becoming scarce. Data centres, internet-switches and routers are placing huge demands on the earth’s resources. Top management need to realise that ICT has to be at the forefront of providing solutions to reduce the impact on the environment.

Companies need to leverage on tools and cloud services that allow more flexible and virtual ways of working, instead of the default uptake of a number of physical locations, which necessitates travelling.

Today there are diverse forms of communication products for connecting world-wide locations of companies, allowing businesses to curtail the amount of business trips for employees. In fact there are a number of companies adopting the idea of their employees working from home, including BT, IBM and the National-Grid. Thus green ICT is not limited to only physical data centres reduction.

Develop a green-IT framework

Many companies would like to know the tangible benefits of going totally green, before thinking of embarking on any restructuring. In general, any form of restructuring is risky, labour-intensive and disruptive.

There is misinformation surrounding becoming greener; for instance the idea that implementing certain technology (example VMware) will automatically equate to greener IT or be cheaper. The truth is that reducing the amount of physical servers does not necessarily imply greener IT. In fact, there have been cases where a physical server (host) with several logical servers (guests) consumes more energy when compared to several physical servers.

Green IT or sustainability is not simply controlling the operational energy consumption of IT equipment alone. Top management must come up with a framework that takes into account the product life cycle, right from production, operation down to recycling.

As argued by David Wang, a Data Centre Architect for Teradata, replacing older infrastructure with newer ones does not necessarily mean it is environmentally friendly, businesses instead need to be looking at the whole picture, from manufacturing right through to day-to-day operations.

Green does not mean cheaper, therefore the question for top executives would be to decide if they want cheap or sustainable. Although there is no doubt that using some ICT tools and technology such as VPN, cloud and virtualisation could reduce costs, the primary objective should be saving the environment.

The mandate for the top management is to develop a positive attitude and adopt forward-looking, green-friendly practices and policies, recognising that green IT is associated with both business and ethical issues. Hence, companies will have to think more deeply and differently in their approach to green computing.

It could be that companies might have to create dedicated strategic positions, for example, Chief Sustainable Officer (CSOs) and / or Chief Environment Officer (CEOs), and these could help to facilitate and realise the primary aim of green IT, which is to reduce a company’s carbon footprint.