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yARN: 'Green IT' by any other name

yARN: 'Green IT' by any other name

Watch out for a wave of post-carbon tax vendor announcements

Around four years ago, ‘Green IT’ became a bandwagon. Vendors were falling over themselves to promote the green benefits of their products and services, whether that involved reduced energy consumption, the use of recycled materials, or the recyclability of physical products.

Here are a few examples:

  • D-Link spoke about being the first networking company to offer consumer Ethernet switches that automatically reduced the power to inactive ports.
  • Virtualisation was widely promoted as a green technology because it allowed the replacement of multiple older servers with a smaller number of new models. Not only would that reduce that direct power consumption, it would also reduce the load on the cooling systems.
  • Telstra promoted ways in which telecommunications services could be used to cut energy use and its associated emissions, by reducing the need for travel (teleconferencing and teleworking) or improving logistics efficiency (eg, real-time systems to minimise empty freight vehicles), among others.

It soon seemed as if everyone and their dogs were announcing products that used less power or raw materials than their predecessors, reduced or eliminated the hazardous materials involved, or provided a way of avoiding emissions-heavy activities such as air travel.

At least some Green IT activity appeared to be ‘greenwashing’ - the practice of dressing up changes as being environmentally friendly when the real motive is profit.

An Economist Intelligence Unit report published in 2007 found that a majority of the nearly 1200 executives surveyed believed that their company’s commitment to sustainability was embedded more deeply in investor and public relations departments than in actual operations or procurement practices.

Vendors might claim to be ‘saving trees’ by eliminating printed documentation, but it was really about reducing costs. Cut costs, maintain income, and you increased profits.

It may even be possible to boost income at the same time, as a 2008 survey carried out for the Communications Alliance and KPMG ICT suggested Australian companies were on average prepared to pay an 8 per cent premium for green technology.

But analyst firm Forrester found that two-thirds of Green IT initiatives were actually aimed at reducing energy costs, and 2009 research conducted for Fujitsu found 95 per cent of Australian organisations with a Green IT policy claimed to have saved money as a direct result of it.

It should be no surprise to anyone who’s been in the workforce for 20 years or so that cost savings are a powerful motivator for Australian businesses. Consider the widespread retrenchments in the early 1990s, or the more recent job losses due to successive waves of outsourcing and offshoring.

Whatever you think of the carbon tax, it will add to the already-forecast increases in Australian electricity prices. That will make electricity savings even lower-hanging fruit, so we can expect to see a new wave of Green IT announcements from vendors. Or perhaps somebody will devise a new and more honest catchphrase.


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Tags Telstracarbon taxEthernetvirtualisationgreen ITD-LinkFujitsuCommunications AllianceEconomist Intelligence UnitKPMG ICT

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