Why Be Green?

There is a lot of talk these days about “Green Computing” and what an organization should do to be green. 

At last week’s Summit 09 — a conference on CyberInfrastrure — I was part of a panel talking about Green activities in Higher Education.  In addition to talking about specific projects, some of the questions (during and after the session) were about why organizations should be putting effort into Green IT. Not that I sensed people disagreed with Green IT as an important initiative, but some seemed uncertain about how to frame or prioritize Green IT within their organizations.

From my perspective there are several, overlapping drivers for organizations putting effort into Green IT. 

One obvious driver, especially for an organization in the public sector, is that greening of IT is just the socially responsible thing to do. Higher Education has an obligation to the stakeholders — that is the people of the province, country and world — to ensure that the environment is considered and supported in all the institutions actions.  The desire (perhaps need!) to be socially responsible is especially visible in the students at the University. The students are firmly behind sustainability (and Green IT) because they know that it is the right thing to do. They’ve put dollars behind this view by using their money to purchase clean energy for computer labs. 

While it is important to be socially responsible, the organizations also have an obligation to be fiscally responsible. Fortunately, many Green IT initiatives also provide excellent return on investment. For some this may be viewed as a by-product, but I think it actually very important for Green IT to be able to present a good financial business case. Without a solid business case it is difficult to convince the bean-counters to release the seed-funding that is necessary for many Green IT projects. That fiscal reality was true several years ago, but is much more important in these difficult financial times.

A third, sometimes overlooked, driver is service to the customer or client. Some of the significant Green IT initiatives are also approaches that can be used to improve the quality of service provided by IT. This can mean improved capability or capacity or reliability. There is an increased demand for and dependency on IT in organizations. It is easier to get support for a plan that includes tangible improvements to the user than just relying on social or cost improvements.

Let’s take a simple example of one “Green IT” initiative — virtualization of servers.

From a pure green perspective the main gain is a decrease of power requirements. From a financial perspective, cost savings are reported by some organizations to be over 20% per year. From a service perspective, once you’ve virtualized you can have a more agile and flexible computing environment.

It is easier to build the business case if there are wins all around!

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