"True, there is a lot IT can do to fix its own 2 percent and make it more efficient, but the big opportunity for IT is to take a leadership role in tackling that other 98 percent across the business," saysSimon Mingay, a Gartner analyst.
"Reducing energy consumption really represents an opportunity for IT to change their relationships with the rest of the business," Mines says. "Now, IT can pull their chair up to the table of strategy making for the firm, becoming an enabler at a strategic level for the company."
There are several areas where IT can lead the charge, including applying energy-savings lessons from the datacenter to the entire corporate facilities, enabling effective telework and virtual meetings, and reducing the need for and helping to make more efficient physical product delivery.
However a company decides to address its energy costs, IT will be involved to a significant extent. Whether tackling the initiative on its own or partnering with departments such as facilities, real estate, and human resources, IT has an opportunity to improve the company's bottom line by helping decrease energy expenditures.
Reduce energy usage through telework and virtual meetings
According to Skip Laitner, economic analysis director for the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, the most immediate opportunity for reducing energy costs comes from telecommuting. Today, 4 million workers regularly telecommute, saving 840 million gallons of gasoline, he points out, citing a study by the Consumer Electronics Association.
"If we grew that to 40 million telecommuters, we would be saving 8.4 billion gallons of gas," Laitner said. "How big is that? I estimate enough to become equivalent of 500,000 barrels of oil, or about 2.5 percent of current consumption." While such savings clearly reduce employees' out-of-pocket costs for commuting, they also reduce businesses' costs in two areas: electricity and real estate.
Sun Microsystems, for example, reduces its annual energy usage by about 2,500 kilowatt-hours for every day per week that employees work at home -- that's about 500kWh per day an employee is not on the office. With nearly 20,000 employees working at home (56 percent of the workforce) at least one day per week, that translates into significant energy savings for Sun, says Ann Bamesberger, Sun's vice president of Open Work, its decade-old telecommuting program. Sun also needs less space, so it spends less on building leases, she adds.
IT can help companies see where telecommuting has the greatest impact on energy costs, Bamesberger says. "By tracking [employee] badge data, or writing scripts to see if wireless devices are being used, IT can paint a picture of the company's mobility pattern," she says. That analysis may show that a specific building is used only two-thirds of the time, making it a prime candidate for a deliberate telecommuting plan -- and for reconfiguration so less space needs to be leased, heated, and powered. Often, management doesn't realize how much informal telecommuting actually goes on, so it overspends on space and the associated energy costs, she notes.
"The IT function is absolutely critical to facilitating telecommuting, and there is a terrific opportunity for IT functions to be proactive and show the company how they can reduce energy costs," Bamesberger says.