Green thinking

One of my responsibilities at Freeform Dynamics is covering environmental issues in the context of ICT. Of course, like everyone else, I get bombarded from all directions with people with wonderful solutions, most of which require customers to fork out for more kit.

It really is an attractive option too. First of all, most of us are unaware of the environmental harm that new and jettisoned kit does. Second of all, companies generally save enough money as a result of the changes to pay for the equipment in fairly short order.

So why am I bothered? Especially when I agree with the broad thrust of the changes being suggested - consolidation, virtualisation, smart power etcetera. I guess I'm bothered because the approach is too narrowly focused. Going for the low-hanging "save energy" fruit is all well and good but where will the vendors be when the ICT folk start to raise their sights?

Will the vendors willingly identify the environmental impact of creating, using and disposing of each piece of equipment? That will require a deep understanding of the supply chain, right back to the components of the components. And it will involve a lot of cost and maybe stall or slow new machine purchases as the implications sink in among customers.

Is there anyone out there who can come up with realistic numbers for teleworking? We know that it saves commutes but, if you take a holistic view, what's the net gain and where does it accrue? Household heating, energy, space etc have to be offset against the savings at the company. I think we have a gut feel that these things are working out for the best, but not in terms that an accountant or an environmental auditor might understand.

Teleconferencing, when well executed, can be a terrific time, cost and environment saver, although it's bad news for airlines.

A ton of no-cost things can be done, like getting staff to change their habits - switching off desktop PCs, chargers and lights when there's no-one around or redistributing hot and cool equipment in the data centre, for example.

But all this is just lists of actions. Somehow we need to get people to think differently, so that making these decisions becomes second nature. We can force costs into users' consciousnesses by making sure first that IT takes the hit on its energy costs. Then they will be motivated to find ways to devolve these costs to their departmental clients. (I read somewhere that only one percent of IT managers/CIOs in North America have any idea what their energy costs are. And I doubt it's much different elsewhere.)

I think the bottom line is for everyone to start thinking in terms of input-process-output. (Sound familiar?) In a fractally sort of way, this can be applied from macro to micro level. From the company looking at what it's doing right down to an individual, they are all capable of looking at what resources they draw on, how they exploit them and what outputs result, both good and bad. IT can raise its game hugely by supporting the company in new initiatives in all three areas.

But, to radically reduce costs and alter our environmental impact, we don't just need to reprogram our computers. We actually need to reprogram our brains.

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