Under pressure: 10 sources pushing CIOs to go green

CEOs, lawmakers, employees, and even energy utilities are all pushing for greener, more efficient datacenters

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Industry observers expect there will be an increase in legislative pressure on CIOs to go green. For example, in June the Lieberman-Warner Climate Act, which would have enacted a carbon tax, was voted down by the Senate. Many more similar bills are expected.

"There's all sorts of rumbling in the industry about a carbon tax. There's rumbling about the cap-and-trade initiatives and are we going to see that happen as an industry. Even if we don't think it's going to happen, it behooves us as an industry to start to measure carbon and get a good benchmark to use," says John Tuccillo, vice president of industry alliances for APC.

5. IT vendors

Pressure gauge reading: 5

Green IT is one of those movements where vendors have been ahead of most CIOs and IT buyers. That means IT buyers are seeing a lot of hype from hardware and software manufacturers about why they need to go green.

Vendors are "painting everything green," Mingay says. "Some of it is credible. In some cases it's just plain greenwashing."

"There is an arms race among the server vendors to get the most efficient server that will operate in the widest range of temperature and humidity ranges, the one that provides the biggest bang for the buck," Smith says.

Green IT initiatives like Climate Savers and The Green Grid are being driven by manufacturers including Intel, Google, Dell, IBM, HP, Microsoft, and others.

APC's Tuccillo says one of the key areas where IT vendors are applying pressure is in the development of metrics that CIOs can use to measure IT and datacenter energy efficiency.

"The near-term fixes are going to be in the areas of increasing the energy efficiency of existing datacenters. The first step is to measure what we're doing," Tuccillo says. "It's through groups like The Green Grid and others that we're able to gather that data and compare it against peers."

IT industry groups also are providing operational best practices for IT departments.

"The IT vendor community recognized this was a challenge that could not be met by any one entity," Tuccillo says. "We recognized that this tidal wave was coming, and we decided we'd better work together as an industry to start solving the problem. There's still an opportunity for differentiation for IT vendors, but there's also room for commonality in terms of standard metrics and a common lexicon."

Industry officials involved with groups such as Climate Savers and The Green Grid say they are trying to involve more IT buyers in their activities.

"This can't just be the tech industry pushing," Intel's Skinner says. "We're also working on the demand side of this...A key pillar of what we're trying to do is raise awareness of computer buyers and work the demand side of it so they will make more purchases that are energy efficient."

Still, IT industry observers say most CIOs are not yet choosing servers, desktops, or other IT gear based on how environmentally friendly it is.

"I don't think CIOs are buying stuff because it's green. That's not their primary focus. It's an afterthought," Acumen's Stanley says. "The decision criteria from a computing perspective is: Does it get the job done and is it cost-effective?"

6. The media

Pressure gauge reading: 5

Going hand-in-hand with the pressure that CIOs feel from lawmakers and the IT industry is pressure from the media, which informs CIOs about what's going on in these areas.

The mainstream media, trade journals, and bloggers have all focused on the connection between datacenters, computing, and energy use.

"The media as well as bloggers play a critical role in building awareness and communication," Google's Teetzel says. "Ten years ago, people wouldn't be able to quote their parts per million in C02. Today people who are not environmental scientists can. The media has been a big impetus of the climate change debate."

The media not only raises the climate change issue, but fosters debate and encourages investment in environmental technologies.

"Awareness is the first step," Teetzel says. "Once you start getting people to look at this issue, a lot of the steps they need to take are fairly straightforward."

"The media is way ahead of where most IT organizations are at," Mingay says. "The media keeps referring to possible regulation and legislation. One of the most common questions we get from CIOs is about regulation."

The media also offers CIOs an opportunity to tell their stories about the improvements they make in energy efficiency.

"Money is the primary driver for a lot of this [green IT movement], but there are also some very good benefits from PR and good press," Teetzel says. "A lot of companies try to tout their environmental and sustainable practices, and there's obviously a lot of benefit there for their brands."

In the future, CIOs may be under more pressure from negative press if they don't make environmentally sound choices.

CIOs "have to be cautious not to make an anti-green decision," Stanley says. "If they make a decision that's clearly not green, I think they'll come under a tremendous amount of scrutiny.... It's one thing to have a legacy that's not green, and it's another thing to make a new business decision that's not aware."

7. Competitors

Pressure gauge reading: 5

Companies always feel pressure about what their direct competitors are doing, and green IT is no exception.

"A lot of companies are reactionary to what their competitors do, so that's a big pressure," Teetzel says. "Microsoft, Google and Yahoo -- all three have declared plans for carbon neutrality.... Now we're jockeying for position as to who is going to be the greenest company out there."

Teetzel says he sees the same trend among retailers, with Wal-Mart leading the way. The same holds true in the airline and auto industries. "There's been a radical transition in the auto industry. A lot of companies were producing hybrids grudgingly, but the competitive pressure is a big deal," Teetzel adds.

Teetzel says that competitive pressure regarding energy efficiency and carbon-footprint reduction will rise because the most aggressive companies in these areas will be the most profitable.

"This is not just about a reduction of C02," Teetzel says. "It's about freeing up capital that goes into energy and is wasted [and putting it] into other areas of the business. It's about making businesses more efficient not just from an energy standpoint but in other areas. It's very good for the economy... in the next five to 10 years, you're going to see businesses that are streamlined and more efficient."

Already, IT vendors are reporting competitiveness among CIOs regarding the energy efficiency of the new data centers they are building.

"Those folks who are designing datacenters say they want to design the most energy efficient datacenter in their space," APC's Tuccillo says. "That's pretty much the mind-set."

Companies are also seeing pressure from their customers or potential customers to improve their energy efficiency.

"We're beginning to see a trend where the CEOs of some companies are being asked by some of their customers, like Wal-Mart and others, to adhere to environmental codes of conduct," Intel's Skinner says. "We're just starting to see companies audit carbon footprint, measure it, and take steps to reduce it. Then CEOs turn to CIOs and ask the IT department to be an enabler to carbon-footprint reduction. Teleconferencing, telepresence, and enabling employees to telecommute help reduce carbon."

8. Generation Y

Pressure gauge reading: 3

Teens and 20-somethings are fired up about environmentalism, and that is increasingly putting pressure on companies to green their operations.

Many CIOs are parents, too, and their kids are learning about global climate change at school. Kids are pushing recycling, switching out light bulbs, and unplugging computers and other electronic devices at night.

CIOs not only feel the pressure from their own kids but from the college graduates they are trying to recruit and the Millennials on their staff.

"College grads who can be selective are selecting their employers by the reputation of the company and how committed it is to environmental practices," Skinner says. "Demographics are on the side of this issue, and IT managers who are on the front lines of hiring out of college will be seeing that."

This is a pressure that CIOs can expect to rise over the next few years .

"When I do recruiting at local universities, I'm usually the most popular guy," Teetzel says. "There's a huge amount of interest in solving the [climate-change] problem. There's a kind of buzz in the next generation."

9. Employees

Pressure gauge reading: 2

C-suite executives are just beginning to see bottom-up efforts from employees to make their companies more environmentally friendly.

Whether they are launching recycling programs or turning off lights at night, employees can exert peer pressure on each other to change wasteful behavior at work.

"What we're observing is a lot of grassroots efforts by employees to create green teams or green IT communities and adopt green practices," Skinner says. "Increasingly, eco-minded employees are taking on initiatives and putting pressure up the leadership chain.... Increasingly, the C-suite is being pressured from below."

Teetzel says this phenomenon has occurred at Google, where employees have organized into green teams.

There's more to employee efforts than "just putting stickers on desktop computers left on all night that say, 'Thanks for wasting electricity,'" Teetzel says. "Employees have a lot of debate and discussion ... related to climate change."

One way that employees are driving action is through carbon-reduction competitions, such as Carbon Rally.

Employees have "the potential to have the largest impact," Smith says. "Like all corporate processes, it's when you push them as far down into the field as possible that you get all these incredible results."

Smith says Digital Realty's employees are driving the company's efforts to have its datacenter buildings certified as green through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) process.

"Once I explained LEED to our operations and construction teams, they took it from there. They are finding LEED points from other parts of the business," Smith says. "It's the same thing with consumption, performance and metering. We're trying to push that as far out into the field as possible."

10. The community

Pressure gauge reading: 2

Community leaders are starting to apply pressure to local corporations to improve their sustainability. Although that's not a big pressure on CIOs today, these efforts are likely to increase.

"Cities, churches, nonprofits -- I do think that is a growing source of pressure with respect to people thinking a bit more about this topic," Teetzel says.

For example, the Climate Savers computing initiative has signed up the states of Oregon, Colorado and Minnesota for energy efficiency collaborations. Under the terms of these agreements, the states will improve the energy efficiency of their own IT operations but they also will promote such concepts as buying Energy Star equipment and turning it off at night to the companies doing business in their states.

In fact, the National Governors' Association partnered with Climate Savers last November to encourage the deployment of energy efficient computers and IT practices in state government offices.

This story, "Under pressure: 10 sources pushing CIOs to go green" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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