Burt's Bees undergoes green IT makeover

2009 Green 15: From the datacenter to the desktop, company rolls out IT solutions to reduce environmental impact

Burt's Bees has staked its reputation on being an environmentally friendly business, having committed to being "the greenest personal care company on Earth." With such a lofty goal, it's no surprise that the company has found a variety of ways to embrace green IT to reduce waste and carbon emissions.

Indeed, Burt's Bees has undergone a virtual top-to-bottom green IT makeover, starting with the datacenter. The first objective was to reduce energy consumption, both for powering and cooling hardware -- all the while keeping pace with its ever-increasing computational and storage requirements associated with business growth.

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The solution was server and storage virtualization. "The move to server and SAN virtualization was born out of the necessity to support a quickly growing business that was bringing business applications online," says Ted Hein, director of information services. "We needed solutions that could scale alongside the business. Buying separate physical servers -- dev and production -- for each application was intimidating and decidedly not sustainable. We also had real constraints in rack space and power in our datacenter."

The company moved most of its core applications to an EMC VMware virtual server environment, and instead of purchasing 21 new servers, it balanced 53 virtual machines across a cluster of three highly efficient and powerful physical servers. Server virtualization reduced energy consumption by 147,962 kWh per year and energy needed to cool the datacenter by 32,377 kWh per year.

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As for storage, the company transitioned from DAS to more scalable and efficient virtualized storage. The company first tried high-capacity SATA-based NAS, but deemed it insufficient for the company's performance and scalability needs. Thus, the company opted for SAN hardware from NetApp. In addition to the 53 virtual machines on the company's three VMware servers, the NetApp cluster supports a file share with file and print services, a Symantec backup server, and the company's Microsoft Exchange Server environment.

All told, Burt's Bees was able to triple capacity of the SAN using data deduplication and thin provisioning. The shift enabled the company to reclaim more than 350GB for every terabyte of storage moved onto the SAN.

In an effort to wring even further efficiency out of the datacenter, the company reduced the facility's cooling load by aligning ducts and upgrading its HVAC system from one with a SEER (seasonal energy efficiency rating) score of 13 to one with the more efficient score of 18 (one that also used ozone-friendly coolant).

Beyond the datacenter, Burt's Bees' IT staff implemented an array of green-tech projects. Among them, the company deployed unified communications, enabling communication among offices around the world via instant messaging (IM), voice, video, and online meetings. This effort reduced travel, thus saving money as well as reducing associated greenhouse gas emissions. According to Hein, it has also improved collaboration and productivity.

[ Learn how companies are turning to telepresence to reduce travel and boost productivity. ]

Notably, getting employees to take advantage of the various unified communication technologies took some effort. "Unified communications is, by nature, an opt-in system. This presents a challenge for adoption curve as people tend to be creatures of habit when it comes to how they communicate and collaborate with one another," says Hein. "They use the tools they are most comfortable with."

The company initially overcame the learning curve using training sessions, which generated some momentum for internal IM. Next came the effort to increase usage of live meeting and videoconferencing. "While a few people took to this quickly, we really needed to encourage this by looking for opportunities to show its potential in everyday meetings," says Hein.

Burt's Bees' other green IT initiatives included installing real-time monitoring of electricity, water, natural gas, and air-conditioning consumption; replacing CRTs with LCDs, thus saving 70 kWh per year per display; and recycling used print cartridges.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.