performance of a certain English goalkeeper). From the Gulf of Mexico Oil disaster and ensuing diplomatic fall out, to the news that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched its Energy Star program for data centers and an analysis of the economic impact of the American Power Act (APA), released by Senators Kerry and Lieberman mid-May.
It is no surprise that much of the coverage of this week has focused on the need to move away from our dependence on fossil fuels- to break our oil addiction – to ‘cleaner’ renewable energy sources and the need for us to use the energy that we consume more efficiently and effectively.
President Obama in his first Oval Office address appeared to use the public outrage over the Gulf’s oil crisis to leverage momentum for his personal goal of a greener energy future. He laid out his plans to deal with BP and then exhorted his countrymen to embark on a mission to reduce their reliance on fossil fuel. A task which may not be as farfetched as it appears on the surface, if the results of the EPA study are to be believed.
The EPA analysis concluded that the APA is not only affordable, but a worthy investment. For a relatively modest sum, between 22 to 40 cents per day through 2050, American households would be able to fund the creation of clean energy jobs, a reduction in the dependence on oil and protection of the planet, and polls suggest that this might be palatable to US residents. And apparently it’s not just householders that are showing broad support for the need to act on climate change.
A survey undertaken amongst the SME community by the Small Business Majority, a research, education and advocacy organization, showed that 61 percent of small businesses surveyed, agree that a move to clean energy can restart the economy and help small businesses create jobs, and that half of the small businesses support clean energy and climate legislation.
Which is all fine and dandy, voicing our support (or lack of it) for a greener world in a telephone interview is a lot easier than actually doing something tangible. And herein lies the problem – what exactly can we do or what should we be doing and how will we benefit? If we are serious about changing the way we currently operate, then we need to break the mould, challenge and change our entrenched business practises and actually stop talking the talk and start walking the walk.
As a huge guzzler of energy, the IT industry often finds itself an easy Green target, hence the introduction of the EPAs Energy Star scheme. In the US, for example, data centres consumed less than 1% of total US electricity use in 2000, but that will rise to at least 2.3% of all electricity used nationwide this year, according to the Uptime Institute. Figures in other parts of the world are comparable.
IT departments therefore share a huge task to implement the changes that will reverse this trend. When you broach this topic with companies, most IT professionals and executives will state that they are genuinely concerned about their IT departments’ impact on the environment – or are at least interested in the economic benefits of being more energy efficient.
Yet in a BPM Forum survey, while 86% of respondents said IT organisations have a “responsibility to substantially improve efficiency and green activities”, only 41% had any specific green plans in place. “The biggest overarching message,” Derek Kober, director BPM Forum stated, “was that, despite concern and despite increasing priorities for improving the environment and greening the data centre, IT departments in general are pretty far behind.”
This is a view shared by Forrester Research analyst James Staten who stated in the current edition of Green IT Magazine that “IT administrators define green from the hard currency perspective, rather than something that is environmental. They don’t really make a lot of decisions around what’s environmentally responsible or not.” In its last quarterly review, ‘Green progress in enterprise IT’, research conducted by Forrester showed that 38% of enterprises now include respect for the environment among their evaluation criteria and 55% of them put cost reduction at the top of their list of priorities.
At the same time, while green IT has become a very topical subject, it seems there are a range of views about what constitutes ‘green IT. On the one hand, there is the argument that it is primarily a bottom-line focused activity that also helps save the planet. On the other hand, there is the view that almost every new initiative nowadays has been ‘green washed’ and that not nearly enough is being done to actually improve our planet’s condition.
Separating green facts from green fiction often results in inaction. With so much green spin and misinformation out there, it’s little wonder that many organisations have become sceptical of green technology, not because of any indifference to the plight of the environment, but because they are not at all sure who to trust. Which green products and solutions really are green? And, even if you are sure of the authenticity of the environmental claims being made by certain vendors on behalf of their own particular offerings, how sure can you be that they are operating within a green supply chain?
“Green IT has to be about more than presenting a nice picture to the market or senior management,” stated research outfit Redemtech president Robert Houghton. “It has to be sustainable, both environmentally and financially. That requires applying the same processes and discipline to these programmes as are used in other areas of the business.”
One thing we do not need is more rhetoric. According to research by the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University oil demand is now outstripping supply and we need to invest quickly in alternative energy sources. Kuwaiti Scientists have recently released a report which found that worldwide conventional crude oil production will peak in 2014, years earlier than anticipated and that the world’s oil reserves are being depleted at a rate of 2.1 percent a year. A fact not lost on Bill Gates who called this week for the US Government to invest billions of dollars a year in R&D bring about a clean energy revolution. With 80 percent of today’s primary energy demand coming from fossil fuels, we need to start taking action now.
In an odd way, the environmental disaster occurring in the Gulf might be the very catalyst that the world needs to wake up and start addressing the very real issues that we face. Even if you do not believe that climate change is a direct result of man’s actions, or that climate change even exists, they’re can be no denying that fossil fuels are a finite resource, and if we are to avoid the situation where we simply can’t power the information super highway, we need to take ‘Green IT’, in all its forms, seriously.
What we need is common sense, we need honesty, we need greater investment in green technologies that are economically compelling and more than anything we need to overcome our general inertia. We must not drop this particular ball (unlike a certain English Goalkeeper).