InfoWorld Green 15 winners share their secrets of success

The benefits of green IT are apparent, but reaping them requires more than just technology

There's a striking difference between the list of Green 15 winners from 2008 and 2009: In 2008, the list was dominated by companies in the tech industry, including EMC, HP, IBM, Fujitsu, NetApp, Sun, and Juniper. This year's honorees represent a far more diverse array of industries, with winners such as Procter & Gamble, Burt's Bees, the U.S. Navy, Con-Way Freight, GlaxoSmithKline, and California State University East Bay.

Indeed, green technology appears to be flourishing at organizations of all sizes around the globe, driven not only by good intentions and corporate social responsibility, but also business needs, such as cutting costs (electricity, fuel, paper, hardware refreshes, datacenter expansions, and travel) and boosting productivity.

[ See this year's list of Green 15 winners. | Keep abreast of green IT news and developments by subscribing to the free weekly InfoWorld Green Tech newsletter. ]

Cost-cutting was certainly a takeaway for many of the leaders of this year's Green 15 projects, such as Nigel Saldanha, vice president of IT and CTO at HD Supply. The company invested in a host of green-tech initiatives, including virtualization, videoconferencing, and PC power management. "We eliminated outdated notions that corporate environmental responsibility translates to expense and low-impact results," Saldanha noted. "Our IT team's initiative demonstrates that we can take responsibility for our environmental impact while driving cost savings, greater efficiencies and significant positive impact to productivity and other operational needs."

Spread the word
The fact that green-tech projects can be a win-win proposition -- good for the planet and the bottom line -- is but one of the lessons to be gleaned from this year's lineup of Green 15 winners. Green 15 project leaders had other valuable lessons to share from the trenches as well.

Among these green IT projects was the importance of participation from end-users and corporate leaders alike. Generating that support and involvement takes some effort. Aramark, for example, removed a host of personal printers and deployed shared MFPs. That represented a change to which end-users had to adjust -- and which they were more willing to accept when they understood the benefits. "We learned that explaining the business case and the green aspects made people much more accepting of the new processes," said David Kaufman, CIO of Aramark's global food and facility services business.

GlaxoSmithKline engaged users in a mass e-waste cleanup effort through a targeted communications campaign. "We launched an internal marketing and communication campaign two weeks prior to implementation, using all methods and resources available to us to raise awareness. We had posted news articles on the site intranet home page, posters and signs displayed in strategic areas of the building," said Armin Jahromi, GSK's regional service manager for IT user services. "A critical key to successful communication is to get your target to take notice and care."

Keeping end-users informed helps ease the transition, a lesson learned by Rich Avila, director of server operations and system support at California State University East Bay. The school launched a massive virtualization and consolidation effort last year. "We informed our users that over the spring and summer of 2008 we would be migrating their equipment to a virtual server and provided them with specific dates. If there was an objection to the date, operations negotiated a new target date while making it clear to our user groups that we needed their cooperation in helping solve our power and environmental problems," Avila said. "We found overall that users were extremely cooperative and that the transition was pretty painless once the migration was started."

Measure the results
Yet another lesson: Measure and report results to earn that all-important support from end-users, execs, and shareholders. "It's extremely important to capture and report progress metrics," said Maureen O'Donnell, internal controls manager for information solutions at Raytheon's Network Centric Systems business unit. "Metrics reporting was challenging to establish, but had a great impact on culture change because it created enterprise-wide visibility into the significant gains achieved from the sustainability strategy."

Jeff Holmes, enterprise architect for Con-way Freight, expressed similar sentiments in regard to the company's effort to cut transportation costs. "A key aspect of this project was defining and producing metrics that demonstrate how potential changes will save Con-Way money," Holmes said. "In this case line-haul miles and line-haul cost savings were very important. Being able to link those metrics to a positive impact on the environment further justified the project and gave us an opportunity to market that impact in an otherwise carbon-intensive industry."

[ Learn how to measure your company's green IT baseline. ]

One last word of advice: Beware of greenwashing, cautions Ted Hein, director of information services at Burt's Bees. "Greenwashing ranges from ambiguous statements such as 'what we sell is green' to outright deceptive claims on energy-consumption reduction."

Instead of taking a salesperson's claims at face value, do some measuring of your own. "Rather than using supplier specifications, we ended up validating the before-and-after consumption of servers and SAN [equipment] using Kill-A-Watt meters to determine our net energy savings," Hein said.

I'm certain there are other lessons to be learned from green-tech initiatives. Please feel free to share yours in the comment section below.