It often happens that a word or expression becomes so over-used that it loses any real meaning, with people becoming cynical about its usage – like the term "green". However, green IT is still becoming an important issue for companies.
According to Eugene Pfister, partner of IT Advisory Services at KPMG: "Green IT is no cynical invention; a nice, 'touchy-feely' way of racking up a few quick and easy points on the PR front. The quest to 'green' an organisation's IT is fast becoming a very real board level imperative."
Certainly, it scores heavily on the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) front and should, in time, be seen as an integral part of any corporate's climate sustainability agenda but – if adopted properly – green IT (or, more accurately, "sustainable IT") could also translate into significant business opportunities and cost savings. Those two things alone should generate even more enthusiasm among the business community for doing their bit for the environment.
"There is no doubt that there is some enthusiasm for this concept; it now just needs an injection of impetus from all interested parties before we start to see some real progress," adds Pfister.
If the use of an expression like sustainable or green IT does result in some weary eyeball-rolling, that's probably because few people stop to think just how much of an environmental impact their IT can have.
"Have you ever actually considered just how much energy is used to power all the computers in a standard sized business? Or the amount of heat they create? Ever
contemplated the power usage of vast multi-storey data centres? Or that of the air conditioning units required to keep the servers cool? In carbon-generating terms, we're talking about some very big numbers here.
"The relatively new concept of sustainable IT is about utilising a company's IT in an eco-friendly manner. That's not just about using less paper, introducing equipment sleep modes or more 'smart' devices. It's also about responsible e-waste (did you ever consider what happens to old silicon chips?) and more sustainable hardware and software for example," adds Pfister.
The software aspect is an interesting one. The average businessman might wonder how software can be made more environmentally friendly. However, poorly written software might call for more energy and processing time than is strictly required. Green software would therefore be written with the objective of minimising the amount of processing time needed for a specific task, reducing the associated energy cost.
The hardware aspect is far more straightforward. Domestic appliances such as fridges and washing machines have been rated for years – so why not computers? Yes, they use less power than domestic appliances but – as described above – the cumulative energy consumption which they can represent is frightening and as such this consumption should be rated to make people more aware.
According to Pfister; rating systems are currently being debated but are yet to be introduced.
"This is where national governments may need to step in at some point. Only the more altruistic businesses will consider a wholesale switch to more eco-friendly hardware if the commercial value is not instantly apparent."
In South Africa, the department of Environmental Affairs and tourism has already announced the release of a carbon tax and cap-and-trade system during the next two years. Internationally, these taxes and various forms of legislation have already been released and trading on the carbon markets have become an everyday event. A comprehensive climate change policy will be adopted in 2010 and all consumers and businesses will be affected in some way or another.
As this understanding starts to develop more fully, new opportunities should be opened up by sustainable IT.
"For starters, a market for the certification of sustainable IT credentials may open up, alongside a market for strategic advice in this area. There could also be significant kudos available to those who take a lead in this area. In this regard, my belief is that Chinese manufacturers may come together to voluntarily start branding and rating IT appliances' sustainable characteristics, sooner rather than later."
"For too long, the environmental side-effects of the massive IT networks that have been established have not received the attention they merit. That is now changing. A few well placed subsidies or pieces of legislation may hurry things along but, either way, sustainable IT considerations are set to change the business technology landscape within less than five years," Pfister says.