GreenNet 2010: IT can cut global carbon emissions by 7.8 gigatons

For technology to truly achieve its environmental benefits, organizations need to abandon stale practices

By 2020, information and communications technology (ICT) could slash carbon emissions globally by 15 percent, equal to 7.8 gigatons, while reducing energy spending by $300 billion. Keynote speaker Molly Webb, head of strategic engagement at The Climate Group, cited those figures here at GreenNet 2010 in San Francisco, drawing on a study conducted by the group "Smart 2020: Enabling the low-carbon economy in the Information Age."

Notably, the report was released back in 2008, but the numbers remain both relevant and conceivable in light of the progress we've seen worldwide in sustainable IT. The study asserts that in order to fully realize the potential gains of sustainable ICT initiatives, organizations need to embrace tools for monitoring progress, to find ways to hold entities (users, departments, branches, and so on) accountable for their emissions, and to rethink and transform themselves to fully integrate green tools and practices. Organizations that have embraced these types of strategies have made significant green gains.

[ See last year's list of Green 15 winners. | View a slideshow of green tech and gadgets for Earth Day. | Keep abreast of green IT news and tips by subscribing to InfoWorld's free weekly Green Tech newsletter. ]

Key to understanding just how huge an impact IT can have on cutting energy waste and saving money is understanding that green IT is not limited to products. Technologies such as energy-efficient hardware, virtualization software, and PC power management, for example, are part of the puzzle.

However, if you've followed the InfoWorld Green 15 award winners over the past three years, you'll see just how significantly ICT, combined with monitoring, accountability, and cultural shifts, can help companies achieve sustainability goals well beyond the data center and desktop projects we honored in 2008.

Jump ahead to 2009 and 2010, and you'll see how organizations have put ICT to work in innovative, creative ways. Logistics management software, GPS and wireless technology, and asset-tracking systems are helping organizations of all sizes streamline their supply chains, resulting in considerable reductions in fuel consumption, vehicular wear and tear, and other forms of waste.

Ericsson, for example, deployed a system for better managing repair services worldwide, which entailed not only deploying the technology but changing the way the company manages repairs at a broad level while getting users and partners to embrace it. On the other end of the spectrum, a relatively small company, Provider Enterprises, changed the way it managed its fleet of buses by closely monitoring how vehicles are used and hold drivers accountable for, say, breaking the fuel-wasting no-idle policy or using vehicles during off-hours.

Telepresence, videoconferencing, and remote collaboration tools have helped organizations slash their travel budgets and associated carbon emissions. One of this year's Green 15 winners, KPMG, transformed its travel policies and its travel portal to encourage employees to use telepresence whenever possible -- arguably a more effective tack than buying a couple of Halo studios and sending out an email to tell workers about it.

Dell, another one of this year's winners, demonstrated the effectiveness of marrying IT with monitoring, accountability, and cultural transformation. Working with end-users across the company, Dell was able to remove thousands of unused or redundant applications -- and unplug thousands of servers as a result. The project wasn't just a matter of rolling out, say, an application mapping system; it involved monitoring what computing resources departments were using and holding them financially accountable for their usage, providing incentive to cut back. Setting down that path in the first place necessitated a cultural shift at Dell that effectively inspired and urged the IT department to think beyond the usual IT role of "keep services running at all costs."

Plenty of other examples abound where IT paired with monitoring, accountability, and rethinking can drive significant green change. Will it really help cut global carbon emissions by 7.8 fewer gigatons worldwide come 2020? Who knows? But it is certainly helping companies slash costs and significantly reduce their own carbon footprints right now, in 2010.

This story, "GreenNet 2010: IT can cut global carbon emissions by 7.8 gigatons," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in green IT and read more of Ted Samson's Sustainable IT blog at InfoWorld.com.

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