Tech takes the lead in sustainability

Copenhagen failed miserably. It's time for business to pick up the baton and use technology to reduce carbon emissions

To no one's surprise, a virtually meaningless agreement came out of the Copenhagen climate summit. No real targets were set for reducing greenhouse gas emissions because none of the major countries responsible want to shoulder the costs. Meanwhile, the deniers have established a successful cottage industry for those who prefer more comforting "facts." They even have their own hackers.

Despite the predictability of these developments, I can't help but find them appalling, especially given the dire Climate Change Congress Synthesis Report that set the stage for the Copenhagen event.

[ Get the latest on green IT in Ted Samson's Sustainable IT blog. Also check out the InfoWorld Green 15 Awards, which recognizes companies that have demonstrated a commitment to sustainability. ]

If the governments of the industrialized world are too timid or locked in internecine political battles to do anything significant about climate change, then businesses need to step up to the plate on their own and get serious about sustainability. Wasting less energy is the quickest, cheapest way to reduce carbon emissions -- and, of course, it has a tendency to save money in the bargain.

Here at InfoWorld we believe the tech industry has a key role to play in sustainability, which is why we launched our Sustainable IT blog, written by InfoWorld's Ted Samson, nearly three years ago.  Also, every year on Earth Day, we present our Green 15 Awards to honor companies that have launched initiatives that have a substantial, positive effect on the environment.

The tech industry's charter goes beyond reducing power consumption in the datacenter. As contributor Betsy Harter noted in Tech's looming battle against rising energy costs, the datacenter typically accounts for a small percentage of a company's carbon footprint. Don't get me wrong: Efforts to green the datacenter can yield huge savings. Yet IT can also play a pivotal role in changing energy-wasting practices across the organization.

At Copenhagen, on stage at the Green Business palladium, the business analytics company SAS was there pitching the power of data analysis to help companies make smart decisions about sustainability.

Alyssa Farrell, sustainability management product marketing manager at SAS, gave me an example: At the University of North Carolina, environmental specialists assumed that their biggest problem was the bus system that carted students around campus. A plunge into analytics led them to realize a cluster of lab buildings was in fact the top priority for improvement by a wide margin.

One of this year's winners of a Green 15 award provides another case in point. Con-way Freight created a simulation application in house that lets load planners model changes to the company's freight distribution network. It took only two months to come up with more efficient routing, reducing the overall size of the long-haul distribution network by 10 percent without affecting freight throughput. Every year, this will mean a savings or 4.9 million gallons of diesel fuel, which translates to 108.8 million pounds less carbon emissions and a savings of $14 million.

I'm not being naïve. Unless businesses see costs savings like those, or at least significant green marketing value, sustainability initiatives will stay in the "nice to have" category forever. Fortunately, we have no shortage of green case studies that show impressive ROI. If government is too in thrall of industry lobbyists or flat-earthers who fear black helicopters to act, then it's up to business to take the lead.

This story, "Tech takes the lead in sustainability," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in enterprise data explosion at InfoWorld.com.

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