Are green IT premiums worth the cost?

Are green IT premiums worth the cost?

Businesses increasingly are investing in green machines. But do the green features make up for the added cost?

Attesting to this fact is Kaiser Permanente. The company purchased 55,271 desktop computers, 57,165 monitors, and more than 9,600 laptop computers registered with EPEAT between October 2006 and 2007. Laurie Spoon, executive consultant, procurement and supply, says the health-care organisation hasn't found that it pays a premium for purchasing green computer products, especially when taking into account the total cost of ownership, including energy consumption, repair and maintenance costs, operational costs, replacement of components, and the like.

"Of all the successfully implemented environmental initiatives in Procurement and Supply, almost all were cost-neutral or delivered cost savings when total cost was considered," she says. "For example, the EPA calculated that for the purchases Kaiser made [between] July of 2006 through approximately the middle of 2007, we achieved US$4.7 million in savings by purchasing EPEAT-registered desktop computers, monitors, and notebook computers, mainly through reduced energy usage."

The City of San Francisco has had similar experiences, according to Chris Geiger, manager of green purchasing and integrated pest management programs for the city's Department of the Environment. San Francisco has an ordinance requiring city departments to buy green products, and establishes a prioritisation and standard-setting procedure. "[M]any of our departments do pay extra for certain green products. The extra expense is usually justified by considering the long-term costs of health care, maintenance, etc., and also considering the life-cycle impacts of the products on the environment."

Win-win situation

Customers aren't the only ones who can reap potential benefits by adopting green practices that tie in with EPEAT requirements. For example, MDG has saved money by implementing an EPEAT-based Customer Packaging Take-Back Program, according to Fry. Through the program, the company will take back product packaging from customer sites, then reuse it. "MDG has actually been able to reduce (through reuse) both packaging costs and the cost of excess packaging cardboard and foam disposal. Savings like these are accumulative and will increase over time as program adoption becomes more prevalent," he says.

But the company's customers are also enjoying benefits from the program: "High-volume clients especially appreciate the take-back options as it keeps their shipping docks clear for more important deliveries," Fry says.

It's also noteworthy to consider the less tangible, greater-good benefits of the adopting more sustainable IT products. The GEC says that the adoption of so many EPEAT-registered wares last year will:

  • Reduce use of primary materials by 75.5 million metric tons, equivalent to the weight of more than 585 million refrigerators
  • Reduce use of toxic materials, including mercury, by 3,220 metric tons, equivalent to the weight of 1.6 million bricks
  • Eliminate use of enough mercury to fill 482,381 household fever thermometers
  • Avoid the disposal of 124,000 metric tons of hazardous waste, equivalent to the weight of 62 million bricks.
  • Save 42.2 billion kWh of electricity -- enough to power 3.7 million US homes for a year
  • Eliminate 174 million metric tons of air emissions (including greenhouse gas emissions) and almost 365 thousand metric tons of water pollutant emissions
  • Reduce 3.31 million metric tons of carbon equivalent greenhouse gas emissions -- equivalent to removing more than 2.6 million US cars from the road for a year

It's heartening, to me, to learn that organisations are finding that green can, in fact, pay for itself. With time, as demand for energy efficient, environmentally friendly products continue to rise, costs will undoubtedly drop. Sooner or later, in fact, I'd wager those sorts of traits won't even be viewed as extras so much as expected features.

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