What Can Businesses Do for the Environment by Implementing Greener IT Practices

Why Your IT Department May Be the Problem

The word “green” is popping up more and more frequently in almost every industry, and Information Technology (IT) is no exception. This is not surprising as computing equipment uses an enormous amount of energy.

The energy used by Information and Communication Technology (ICT) equipment doubled between 2000 and 2005 and today accounts for roughly 2% of global CO2 emissions. Furthermore, should current trends continue, ICT will be responsible for 45% of domestic electricity consumption by 2020. The world’s data centers – the centralized collections of computers which companies use to store and process information – use more electricity than Mexico, a country of more than 100 million people, says Jon Koomey. And these figures are all steadily increasing. But that’s not where the problems end: disposing of old computer equipment – desktops, monitors, printers and printer cartridges – also creates a major headache. What the heck do you do with all that old equipment? Even seemingly innocuous things such as searching with Google can have an environmental impact.

In short, the IT industry has become a major source of environmental pollution.

What Greener IT Practices Can Do for the Environment

Green Company Building

Both governments and companies are waking up to the fact that they need to make IT greener. There are three main motivators for this which are (in no particular order): environmental concerns, cost concerns and PR concerns.

Faced with a need to reduce emissions in order to comply with international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol and the European Union’s new climate deal, governments are looking for ways to stem increasing energy consumption in all sectors of industry, including IT. Consequently, the European Union recently introduced a Code of Conduct which aims to improve the energy efficiency of data centers and the Environmental Protection Agency is considering implementing a similar scheme in the US.

The Advantages to Businesses Going Green

For companies, going green is about improving the bottom line. Data centers can have tens – or even hundreds – of thousands of computers and an electricity bill that runs to tens – or even hundreds – of thousands of dollars per month and making those computers more energy efficient can lead to substantial cost reductions. It has been estimated that compliance with the European Union’s Code of Conduct could save UK data centers $200 million over a six year period. For smaller companies, the potential for cost reductions may not be as substantial, but it is nonetheless still enough to catch the attention of management.

Going green is also great PR. At a time when consumers are becoming increasingly environmentally-aware, being able to demonstrate green credentials can make the difference between winning and losing a contract or a sale. Some companies are now going as far as requiring that suppliers and business partners have some form of green policy in place.

Green really has become the new mean. Even utility companies have recognized the need to make IT greener. While it may seem odd for a company to encourage customers to use less of its product, that’s exactly what some utilities are now doing. Pacific Gas and Electric, for example, offers financial incentives to companies which use certain technologies in order to make their IT operations more energy efficient. Why are they doing this? “We have a variety of reasons for running our energy efficiency programs,” says Mark Bramfitt, Principal Program Manager at PG&E. “There is certainly an underlying financial case for everyone concerned. But perhaps most importantly, the programs are the cornerstone of our broader mission of supporting environmental quality in the communities we serve.”

How are Companies Implementing Green IT Strategies?

There are numerous ways in which companies can reduce the environmental impact of their IT operations. Some companies are using special software – such as Faronics Power Save – which enables them to easily apply the most energy-efficient power management settings to computers company-wide. Others are reducing their reliance on paper – by using a paperless invoicing system, for example – or even making their offices completely paperless. And technology is increasingly being used to enable telecommuting and/or online meetings to reduce travel.

Buying used/refurbished IT equipment is another way that companies can be a little greener. In the past, buying used equipment such as servers used not to be easy to due, in part, to the resale restrictions put in place by hardware vendors. However, companies such as RICOM are making it extremely easy to buy used equipment with a full warranty. Further, these companies also buy equipment, enabling businesses to sell their redundant hardware rather than simply leaving it shelved.

But server virtualization is possibly the most significant transforming technology to have emerged. What is server virtualization? Before explaining, some background information is probably in order. A server is simply a computer that has been optimized to perform a specific function, such as handling email. For much the same reasons that you only run operating system at a time on your home computer, companies only run one operating system at a time on their servers. But as computers have become increasingly powerful, this one-to-one approach has left servers severely underutilized and many companies are now finding that their high horse-powered machines are only doing 20% of the work that they are capable of doing.

This is where virtualization comes into play. Virtualization products such as VMware Infrastructure and Microsoft Virtual Server enable multiple operating systems to run simultaneously on the same server. So, how’s it work? Basically, virtualization products create what are known a virtual machines (VMs). A VM is a single file into which all the elements of a physical computer are encapsulated (in other words, each VM has its own software-based – or virtual – RAM, CPU, etc.). Because each VM has its own virtual hardware, it is not tied to real physical hardware and so multiple VMs can be run at the same time on the same server.

The main benefit of this is that it enables workloads to be consolidated to a reduced number of servers, with consolidation rations of up to 15:1 being possible. A typical server will use anywhere between $300 and $1,000 worth of electricity per year (including cooling costs) and generating that electricity can result in the production of several tons of CO2. Accordingly, reducing the number of servers in use can substantially help both a company’s bottom line and the environment.


This post is part of the series: Green Computing: Why Business Are Greening IT and What You Can Do To Help

This series of articles explains how businesses are using virtualization and other technologies to green their IT operations and explores some of the things that people can do to reduce the environmental impact of their own computer
  1. Energy Consumption of IT Departments and How Green IT Strategies Can Help the Environment
  2. Making Our Computers Greener: How to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Your Computer Usage