Politicians talk about it, Academy Award-winning documentaries such as Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth promote it, and timely reminders like the recent annual observance of Earth Day keep it on our minds daily. It's clear the general population is taking an environmental mindset. In the process, people are looking for ways to not only change their personal space, but also the way employers and business partners operate.
At a recent US conference, Gartner reported the global ICT industry creates about two per cent of all global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This is comparable with the aviation industry which produces about the same amount. Gartner's estimate includes the in-use phase of PCs, servers, cooling, fixed and mobile telephony, local area network (LAN), office telecommunications and printers. It also looked at the energy used in designing, manufacturing and distributing volume devices such as PCs and mobile phones.
The pressure's rising Presenting at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2007: Emerging Trends conference in San Francisco, Gartner research vice president, Simon Mingay, said the next five years would see increasing financial, environmental, legislative and risk-related pressures forcing IT organisations to get greener.
"When enough buyers start demanding it and we get beyond the superficial and being 'less bad', it will no longer be anywhere near acceptable," he said. "That point will be reached in 2007 and 2008 for some geographies, particularly Europe, with other regions taking longer.
"Going green is no longer the reserve of a minority 'doing the right thing'; it's becoming an essential activity for all IT leaders."
The message isn't lost on vendors, or their channel partners, with many working in a variety of ways either to lower the environmental effects of the industry, or to clean up damage already done. HP environmental manager for South Pacific, Annukka Sairanen, pointed to an event it held with retailer, Domayne, in the middle of last year as a starting point for a facet of its local environmental push.
"HP partnered with Domayne in July last year on a two-day event where customers were asked to bring in old IT products of any brand for recycling," she said. "Depending on the product returned, they received either a 10 or 25 per cent voucher to use on HP product in the store. We collected 40 tonnes of product in that one weekend." The event was held across 10 stores.
Sairanen said it gathered information on what kinds of items were the most returned (CRT monitors accounted for 25 per cent of returned hardware) and whether the public would use retail partners as a drop off point for used IT hardware.
The findings have been worked into a plan being put together by the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), of which HP is a member, to deal with the issue of e-waste.
Channel impact "From HP's perspective, the channel has a key role to educate consumers about responsible IT use and what manufacturers have the best environmental programs in place," Sairanen said. "The channel will be a conduit in educating consumers to look for products from vendors that have a holistic approach to environmental impact."
Dimension Data Australia chief marketing officer, Gerard Florian, agreed the channel would play an increasingly important role in educating customers about green issues in the months and years ahead.
"CIOs are worried about a lot of things, like the costs and risks of IT projects, and now with the green agenda they are being looked on - especially if they're in a publicly listed company - to deal with that, too," he said. "Really, they have two options: they can incorporate that thinking into the agenda now, or be forced to do something reactive later on."
Florian said it had been taking the green message to customers via road shows with Sun Microsystems and VMware. "There are many ways to make a business more productive and yet more green," he said. "Cisco's just put out a high-end virtual meeting solution, or there's VPN access so people can avoid Sydney's traffic snarls and work remotely. We're out there, challenging people to think about what they're doing through a green lens."
Florian said even basic edicts from a CIO, such as making double-sided printing mandatory, make a difference. Sun Microsystems partner sales director, Sam Srinivasan, said some of its larger partners were latching onto the green message.
"Often they're doing it in a kind of dual approach - taking it on within their own organisation as well as with their customer communities," he said. Srinivasan predicted the trend would continue as more people become environmentally aware and demanded similar practices from their channel partners.
"When people demand a response to this kind of thing, the channel has no choice but to respond," he said. "I also think when larger partners start to talk about it, it makes its way down very quickly and the channel will accelerate its adoption of green technologies."
Corporate advantage Citing an environmentally aware channel as ethically and morally right, Srinivasan said the greener outlook could also benefit some organisations.
"The more the channel can educate customers about this, the more they'll be seen as corporate citizens - and there's a commercial advantage to that," he said. "Others might still need to realize that just because customers want to go a greener route, it doesn't mean they want to stop using computing. They just want to better use their assets."
Gartner's Mingay said vendors were rapidly being forced to gain a better understanding of their product lifecycles due to new legislation in countries and regions worldwide. This was also being driven by increasing interest from clients in lifecycle assessment.
"The areas for innovation to reduce CO2 emissions are reducing the materiality, energy consumption and use of hazardous substances throughout the lifecycle of the product, in addition to increasing recycling efficiency and effectiveness and the use of recycled materials," he said.
At the IT department level, meanwhile, managers need to start familiarizing themselves with existing enterprise environmental objectives and corporate social responsibility policies. This was another area where partners can help.
"Few IT management teams are aware of their enterprise's environmental policies, and they have not mapped out the implications for their own activities," Mingay said. "They need to decide whether to take a proactive response, a measured response following the market and legislation, or a passive approach that just meets legal requirements. The roles, responsibilities and programs will be very different for each."