Building sustainable IT

Building sustainable IT

HP chair of social and environmental strategies council, John Frey, knows a thing or two about the environmental impact of IT. On a recent visit to Australia he caught up with ARN to talk about how HP is dealing with environmental sustainability, green washing and getting partners on-board.

Tell us about your role at HP.

HP has 15 different environmental organisations residing in our different geographies. Our product business units also have environmental teams. My job is to wrap my arms around that network, bring those groups together and lead the strategy so HP's environmental programs are cohesive.

What trends are you seeing around environmentally sustainable IT?

The biggest trend right now is that everybody is trying to market around it and there's a tendency around the globe towards market hype. HP put good global citizenship into its corporate objectives in 1954, which is about when we expanded out of the US. We then put our recycling programs in place in the 1980s and our formal design for environmental programs in the 1990s. So it's an area we've spent a lot of time and effort on and now we're watching all this marketing hype. You dig a bit below the surface and realise there's nothing there.

At the same time, you're also seeing federal agencies propagating regulation about how you make a true and fair marketing statement about environmental sustainability. I think some of those touting their 'greenness' are going to experience the consequences of that.

One interesting trend emerging in Asia, and particularly in Australia and New Zealand, is the focus on climate. That's not to say that other countries aren't focusing on climate, but in Europe and the Americas it's predominantly about energy efficiency and then the climate implication downstream. In A/NZ, people want to talk about climate first - energy efficiency is a component of that, but it's not the whole game.

How does Australia compare to the rest of the world for awareness and responsibility around green IT?

Organisations in Australia and New Zealand have approached environmental issues with a much more holistic view. The European governments focus on one little thing, do it very well and regulate the heck out of it, but they don't look at it in the broader context. From where I sit, I'm much happier seeing things looked at more holistically. For example, if you're talking about greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide is one, but it's not the only one.

Over the past 15 years, environmental trends have tended to come out of the Nordic countries, spread across Europe, maybe jumped the pond to the US then slowly infi ltrated through Asia. Climate has been an interesting trend going backwards - if you look at who is pushing the envelope on some of the broader climate dialogues it's been Australia and New Zealand. And even looking holistically at green products - although I hate to use green as I think that's a misnomer, so let's say environmentally preferable product design - you're seeing a lot of trends around that in A/NZ.

These trends are going to collide at some point: The marketing hype will fall away and get exposed.

What products and technologies are leading HP's environmental message?

To be a company actually doing a good job in this area you can't focus on a single product. The message we're taking forward is from the chip through to the datacentre, which is the aggregation of all our products combined. We're innovating at the chip level, through to power supplies and notebooks. With notebooks, a huge component is the battery technology. The average user just wants a lighter unit and longer battery life but by embracing technologies such as LED lighting we're also addressing an environmental issue [as it doesn't use mercury].

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