Color Your IT Strategy Green

The global information and communications technology industry generates roughly two percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, about the same as the aviation industry, according to 2007 research by Gartner, Inc.

So, what can you do about that?

In part one and part two of this series, we discussed the business case for green computing and tips for small-business IT managers around energy conservation: PC power management, buying more energy-efficient equipment, reducing paper, tracking energy use and careful recycling and disposing of electronics.

But there’s much more to green technology ‑ green business in general is permeating corporate strategy at many levels.  Just visit the Web sites of the Fortune 1000, and it’s likely you will find an environmental sustainability report.  To take your efforts to the next level, think about the bigger picture.  Where do business goals, IT strategy, and environmental concerns meet?

“We encourage business of all sizes, after the basics, to think coherently about what sustainability is ‑ so you can create a vision of what your organization will look like in 20 to 30 years,” said Marsha Willard, CEO of AXIS Performance Advisors, a sustainable business management consulting firm in Portland, Oregon.  “It’s more than just recycling your paper,” she remarked.  “Is there a role for what you do in the world regarding sustainability?”

Here’s an example from Willard: The owner of a pizza chain in Oregon called HotLips Pizza realized he was producing a lot of excess heat from baking, so he figured out how to harness that previously-wasted energy to heat the water in the buildings he rents. He also uses electric cars for delivery, a composter, and he buys local, seasonable organic food. Now that’s thinking green: melding your business operations to serve the environment.

You don’t have to revolutionize your company, but when you’re making IT plans two to three years out, strap on some green goggles.  Read our checklist below for ideas on how to think beyond setting your PCs to sleep mode after 30 minutes.  (Fortunately, many of these ideas also save money and overlap with the latest IT productivity and management trends.)

1. Travel-Reducing Technologies

There’s a common thread between technologies such as unified communications, Web conferencing, portal and collaboration software and mobile computing: all of these applications make it easier for people to work from anywhere.  Thus, your company can potentially expand telecommuting and even cut back on business travel.

“A big selling point of collaborative technologies is going to be resource reduction ‑ in terms of staff time, power, gas and travel dollars,” said John Burke, an IT analyst with Nemertes Research. He gives the example of a 1,000-employee global beverage distributor that is saving $3,600 per day by using Web conferencing to reduce business travel.  If you factor in the several hours of lost productivity that go along with most business trips, those time-and-money benefits can make a real difference to your small business.

Of course, reducing commuting and travel means less noxious emissions floating into  the atmosphere. According to data on the travel-reducing technology site of IT reseller Softchoice, eliminating the need to make four round-trip flights between New York City and Chicago for two co-workers can prevent 3.19 metric tons of CO2 emissions a year. Softchoice also claims that one driver making a forty-mile round-trip commute once a week at 24 MPG can prevent the production of three-quarters of a ton of carbon dioxide by working from home.

To justify your investment, there are many other business benefits to deploying collaboration applications.  Unified communications software, for instance, which combines instant messaging, voice, video and presence awareness, allows employees to find each other faster and to initiate real-time meetings that can result in better decision-making. 

Web-based videoconferencing is easier to use and cheaper to deploy than traditional videoconferencing systems.  Using it can help enrich the quality of important meetings that might otherwise take place over the phone.  Free or low-cost virtual workspace products that include document-sharing, screen-sharing and real-time collaboration tools are widely available (Google, Microsoft and many smaller companies such as WorkZone have products).

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