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IT under the green spotlight
The global information & communications technology (ICT) industry accounts for about 2% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, a figure equivalent to the aviation sector.
This is according to a new estimate by Gartner, which believes the level of emissions is unsustainable, despite the overall environmental value of IT.
At the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2007: Emerging Trends, in San Francisco this week, Gartner analysts examined the impact the ICT industry is having on the environment, as well as the steps the industry should take to become greener.
Gartner's estimate of the 2% global CO2 emissions that ICT is responsible for includes the in-use phase of PCs, servers, cooling, fixed and mobile telephony, local area network (LAN), office telecommunications and printers. Gartner has also included an estimate of the embodied (that used in design, manufacture and distribution) energy in large-volume devices, namely PCs and cell phones. It also included all commercial and governmental IT and telecommunications infrastructure worldwide, but not consumer electronics other than cell phones and PCs.
Until now, few organisations were concerned about power costs and CO2 emissions. Although there is still a significant range of views and levels of awareness around the world and across industries, there is no doubt about the increased awareness of climate change. Intense media coverage has contributed to making "environmentalists" out of millions of people worldwide, which is beginning to affect consumer and business buying decisions. The issue is no longer about whether the enterprise needs to care, and more about the risk associated with doing nothing.
"During the next five years, increasing financial, environmental, legislative and risk-related pressures will force IT organisations to get 'greener'; that is to say, more environmentally sustainable," says Simon Mingay, research vice-president, Gartner. "When enough buyers start demanding it and we get beyond the superficial, being 'less bad' will no longer be anywhere near acceptable enough. That point will be reached in 2007 and 2008 for some geographies, particularly Europe, with other countries and regions taking longer."
According to Gartner, the ICT industry needs to gain a better understanding of the full life cycle of ICT products and services, and innovate to reduce environmental impact. This does not currently happen because of the lack of a commercial or legislative need to do so. However, Gartner anticipates that buyers will ask more detailed questions about life cycle assessments during the next three years.
"Vendors are being forced to gain a better understanding of the life cycle due to new legislation and directives in countries and regions worldwide, as well as an increasing interest from clients in life cycle assessment," says Mingay. "The areas for innovation to reduce CO2 emissions are in the reduction of the materiality, energy consumption and use of hazardous substances throughout the life cycle, in addition to increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of recycling and the use of recycled materials."
IT organisations, on the other hand, need to start by familiarising themselves with existing enterprise environmental objectives and corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies. "Few IT management teams are aware of their enterprise¹s CSR and environmental policies, and they have not mapped out the implications for their own activities," says Mingay. "They need to decide whether to take a proactive response, a measured response following the market and legislation, or a passive approach that just meets legal requirements. The roles, responsibilities and programs will be very different for each."
Gartner recommends IT organisations develop a strategy to address the current negative effects of using ICT. The growth in power requirements and levels of waste that it produces renders the current state unsustainable. Such a strategy would include:
* Start measuring power consumption;
* Consume fewer servers and printers by increasing utilisation and virtualising servers;
* Stop over-provisioning; improve capacity planning;
* Improve the efficiency of cooling;
* Turn power management on, use a low power state or turn equipment off after hours;
* Extend the life of assets by reusing within the enterprise and externally;
* Ensure and validate the correct disposition of all electronic equipment; and
* Analyse all waste.
Once initiatives are in place to reduce the negative effect of using ICT, Gartner recommends IT leaders develop initiatives that leverage ICT to reduce the enterprise's overall environmental presence. Examples would include implementing travel-substitution applications or CSR compliance information management.
This will lead to 50% of IT organisations declaring an environmental imperative by 2010, and more than one third of IT organisations having one or more environmental criteria in their top six buying criteria.
"Going green is no longer the reserve of a minority doing the right thing; it's becoming an essential activity for all IT leaders," says Mingay.