Green IT: Sustainability and Cost Savings

Jun 17th, 2011 | By | Category: Sustainability

In November of 2006, Gartner Group, a leading information technology (IT) research firm, released a study that shocked the industry. Gartner predicted that by 2008, half of the world’s data centers would have insufficient power and cooling capacity to meet demand.1 Data center energy consumption, which accounts for approximately 1.5 percent of electricity consumption in the United States,2 was increasing at a rate that Gartner believed would outpace energy supply within just two years.  The research firm’s reputation for accurately forecasting strategic IT issues was solid, and the effects of the study were both immediate and powerful—IT practitioners across the globe who hadn’t previously paid attention to energy consumption suddenly started to realize the business case for green IT.

Green IT is one aspect of a company’s overall sustainability strategy.  It centers on three levels of value

  • compliance and risk reduction
  • cost savings
  • competitive advantage 

Business Continuity Concerns

In the first few months following the Gartner study, particularly in the United States, the immediate priority for data center energy reduction was to address business continuity risk by reducing energy consumption.  As IT organizations began raising data center room temperatures, introducing energy-efficient designs, and streamlining their server environments through consolidation and virtualization, they realized that what had originally been thought of as a risk reduction activity could also result in significant cost savings because data center energy consumption can account for up to 10 percent of a company’s energy bill.

Saving Money with Green IT

Over the next several years, cost savings weren’t isolated just to the data centers.  The personal computer (PC) environment also wasted energy from computers left on at night and over weekends. At the time, the paradigm was to leave computers running at night to perform maintenance during off-peak hours.  This paradigm shifted with the introduction of new software that automatically shut down desktop computers and other IT peripheral devices at night and on weekends while still allowing for scheduled maintenance, saving companies on average between US$88 and US$144 per PC.3 Multiplied across a company’s entire PC environment, this savings proved to be substantial. 

Printing was identified as a third area of IT cost savings.   In the United States, office workers use, on average, 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year.4 In addition, many offices contain a mix of personal and network printers, generally with little thought for how much energy is consumed across the total printing environment.  Costs associated with paper, ink, and energy consumption became another opportunity for savings. IT organizations began to perform assessments of the printing environment, replacing personal printers, faxes, and copy machines with fewer and more energy-efficient multifunction printing devices.  They also set default print settings to black and white to reduce the demand for expensive color ink, and they changed to double-sided printing to cut paper use in half. These changes saved companies between 20 and 60 percent.

Using Green IT for Competitive Advantage

All of these practices addressed the first two levels of sustainable value, and while companies were looking for risk reduction and cost savings, technology manufacturers were quickly achieving competitive advantage through their green practices.  Hewlett-Packard and Dell both began producing ultra–energy efficient computers that contained fewer toxic materials. They also simplified packaging, reducing waste and shipping costs at the same time.  Software manufacturers also began to understand the market opportunity and produced energy management software that allowed companies to capture a comprehensive energy profile for the entire IT environment by monitoring all of the devices on the network.

The result of the progress made in the first few years after Gartner’s study was that by 2010, the IT industry as a whole realized more than US$2 billion per year in energy savings.5 At the same time, an entirely new industry emerged around the development of energy-efficient solutions that allow companies to increasingly fine-tune and optimize their IT environments.  Over the past five years, IT has aggressively reduced energy consumption and become more sustainable in the process.  It’s debated whether IT will ever be as green as it aspires to be, but Gartner’s 2006 prediction turned out to be false, thanks to an industry that rose to the challenge.

About the Author

Maureen O’Donnell is an IT professional in the aerospace and defense industry. She has more than 15 years of IT experience, including 8 years in strategic and emerging technology planning. Over the past 5 years, Maureen has been working across her company to develop and implement Green IT and sustainable business strategies.

Image:  Crystalline Abstract 4 by Miamiamia, India.

Other Articles by Maureen O’Donnell in the EHS Journal

Newsweek’s 2011 Green Rankings

Footnotes

1 Gartner Says 50 Percent of Data Centers Will Have Insufficient Power and Cooling Capacity by 2008

2 Report to Congress on Data Center Energy Efficiency

3 EnergyStar Computers: Did you know?

EPA Frequent Questions

Energy Efficiency Saves IT Industry $2B Annually

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3 Comments to “Green IT: Sustainability and Cost Savings”

  1. […] Green IT: Sustainability and Cost Savings […]

  2. […] Green IT: Sustainability and Cost Savings […]

  3. Today, Green IT is not just restricted to cost savings and reducing carbon footprint, it also vastly improves a company’s brand across the various stakeholders. The increasing emphasis on Green IT has resulted in several best practices, which companies are increasingly adopting to achieve and maintain their sustainability initiatives. We at Wipro firmly believe this. A teaching case study written on Wipro by Asia Case Research Center, a nodal agency that creates teaching case studies to be used by leading universities globally is a testimony to this http://www.wipro.com/datadocs/insights/green-it-matters-at-wipro.pdf

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