Survey the green-tech landscape

Green computing is catching on in the business world, but some companies seek clearer incentives

Organizational leaders have absorbed the buzz surrounding green tech. Yet the allure of environmental stewardship alone isn't inspiring the majority of companies adopting greener practices. Rather, those all-important greenbacks -- in the form of lower energy bills, ROI, and tax breaks -- are driving many companies toward more eco-responsible, waste-reducing, sustainable IT initiatives.

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Such are the key findings of InfoWorld's Green Computer Research Report. The survey, conducted by IDG Research Group, polled 358 IT professionals -- representing companies ranging from SMB to enterprise -- on technology solutions and practices that can reduce waste and associated costs by conserving energy and other resources. Technologies that fall into this "lean-tech" category include more energy-efficient PCs and servers, thin clients, and power-management products, as well as server and storage consolidation strategies and more efficient datacenter and server-room cooling.

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Nearly three-quarters of the survey's respondents expressed at least some familiarity with green computing, which also encompasses technologies and strategies geared at reducing an organization's impact on the environment, such as the amount of harmful gasses it produces, the presence of toxic substances in wares bought or sold, and the quantity of reusable materials that end up in landfills. Here, green computing might include employing alternative energy, recycling PCs and purchasing refurbished ones, and implementing tools such as telepresence to reduce travel.

Going green to save green
Nearly 7 in 10 respondents have started down the green road, with 24 percent currently using or pilot-testing green computing solutions and 45 percent more in the planning stage of at least one initiative. Of the 17 percent who have no plans to implement a green solution in the next 12 months, 26 percent don't see an ROI in adopting green computing, 15 percent report that it is not in the budget, and another 15 percent state that their companies' energy costs are not high enough to justify the investment.

Environmental considerations are certainly stirring a lot of interest in going green. In fact, 86 percent of survey respondents said green computing is at least somewhat important to protecting the environment. Among those respondents who report that they are embracing green computing, however, the underlying motive appears to be protecting the bottom line more so than protecting Mother Nature: Almost three-quarters, 74 percent, of companies adopting green computing are doing so to reduce energy costs. Half are adopting such practices to extend useful life of hardware. Meanwhile, 31 percent are doing it to reduce harmful emissions attributed to global warming and health problems.

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In regard to power bills, few companies, 24 percent, reported that their energy costs have increased over the past 12 months; 60 percent don't anticipate those costs will increase over the next three to five years. Still, as noted above, three-quarters are adopting green IT practices to lower power bills.

Energy costs alone aren't at the forefront of many a business leader's mind; there's also concern about future supply. Around two-thirds of the respondents agreed that the nation is facing an imminent power shortage and that energy-saving measures must be taken to ensure future business growth.

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Baby steps
Right now, it looks as if companies are content to nibble at the low-hanging fruit of sustainable IT: the desktop. Currently, 76 percent of respondents are using LCD monitors instead of CRT, while 65 percent recycle hardware; 51 percent turn off computers, monitors, and printers when not in use; and 50 percent put PCs in sleep mode when not in operation.

Still, the number of companies that have implemented more complex and potentially costly datacenter- and server-room-oriented practices is by no means trivial. Nearly 41 percent are consolidating storage hardware, while 36 percent have embraced server or desktop virtualization. Moreover, the mandate to keep cool responsibly is having an effect, as nearly 30 percent of respondents said they are upgrading their cooling systems to increase efficiency and reduce impact on the environment.

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Of the green-tech practices respondents intend to embrace in the next 12 months, a third plan to make the move to LCDs from CRTs. More than a quarter, 28 percent, anticipate purchasing only Energy Star-certified computers, monitors, and printers. Another 27 percent will implement hardware recycling practices, while 26 anticipate consolidating hardware storage. Interestingly, nearly 29 percent have no plans to adopt any new green-tech practices.

Sweeter deals boost green appeal

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Savings in the form of lower electric bills and longer hardware life are clearly incentives for companies to embrace green -- as are the environmental benefits. In fact, 55 percent of all the respondents said that they give environmental factors and cost-efficiency factors equal weight when making IT purchase decisions.

However, money still remains the primary motivator. Many respondents would like to see further incentives from the government as well as vendors. In fact, 80 percent would be more likely to consider using environmentally friendly systems if the government offered tax breaks. Further, 82 percent would consider switching to green computing solutions if vendors or retailers offered incentives for turning in old hardware.

Making the switch to alternative energy, such as solar and wind power, is beginning to draw notable interest. One in four of the 72 percent of respondents reported that don't use alternative energy said they plan to make the switch in the near future. Unfortunately, lack of availability is sapping strength from the movement toward alternative energy sources, as 43 percent of those who don't use alternative energy attributed it to the simple fact their local utilities don't offer it as an option.

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Of the one in 10 respondents currently using alternative energy, 52 percent do so because it is good for the environment, while 35 percent say it makes economic sense.

Planting seeds
Judging by the results of this survey, as well as the lay of the green-tech landscape, it's safe to predict that green computing isn't a mere flash in the pan. Although some organizations still remain skeptical of the potential benefits -- either in regard to long-term saving, the state of the environment, or both -- the majority of companies recognize that there's much to be gained.

In the meantime, although many vendors, politicians, and local utilities have made efforts to inspire customers and constituents to embrace more energy-efficient, eco-friendly practices, there's more work to be done. As creatures of habit with arguable propensity toward wastefulness, people are more likely to invest the time and effort to make changes if there are clear incentives, such as tax breaks. Ample availability of green alternatives to norm is also a necessity; in this case more clean-energy sources from utilities and green, competitively priced, eco-friendly products that are more energy efficient that their predecessors right out of the box.

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Finally, I wouldn't be surprised if, with time, the term "green computing" fades from our vernacular and becomes a quaint, passé term. Like "e-commerce," green computing and practices will eventually just be business as usual.