Government Technology

Green Initiatives: Sustainability is the Elephant in the Room, CIO Says



December 5, 2008 By

Photo: Electronic waste is a global issues communities can't continue to ignore as discarded electronics swamp the developing world.

Green is the new green. Green is good. Amid these tough economic times, individuals and organizations across America are finding ways to be good to the environment while being good to the wallet. But information technology, a powerful engine of the U.S. economy, is expected to grow and continue to produce as much green house gas as the airline industry-even when fewer people are traveling. "We're expecting the information communications technology sector will increase its emissions by 150 percent-that's business as usual if we don't do anything," Shell Culp, CIO California Department of Toxic Substances, told state technology workers during a session on sustainability at the Best of California 2008 program last Wednesday.

"If we increase our activity in technology, we're actually putting more planes in the air, essentially, from a global CO2 emissions standpoint," And that doesn't include the energy used in manufacturing the technology. "So we're not as green as we would like to think we are.

"Our biggest benefit is going to be helping other parts of our economy reduce their environmental footprint. So we do have a very large role to play enabling efficiencies in other sectors."

A recent Forrester survey found that 40 percent of businesses believe protecting the environment is very important, while 50 percent of respondents incorporate environmentally-friendly criteria into their purchasing requirements. According to the same survey, 80 percent recycle information technology products at the end of their life.

The top three reasons for organizations focusing on greening IT are reducing energy use, protecting the environment and using the greening process to align IT with business strategy.

"Business as usual is unsustainable. We're running out of power, we're running out of space, we're running out of budget," Culp said.

In a Gartner survey of strategies for greening information technology, only two strategies concerned anything outside the data center. Yet, only 25 percent of the session attendees at the Best of California held Wednesday in Sacramento, worked in a data center.

Desktop energy management and desktop virtualization are two strategies agencies can use as they look to improve their carbon footprints. And that makes sense because desktop computing accounts for 45 percent of global carbon emissions from information technology.

Using desktop virtualization to push hosted desktops to thin clients has several benefits including reducing costs, improved security and disaster recovery and the potential for a longer product life cycle, according to a spokesperson from Wyse Technology, a maker of thin computing devices. Reed Managed Services, based in Britain, deployed thin clients in establishing a new office in Australia. "We've managed to reduce our carbon footprint by 2,500 tons in 2006 and a similar amount in 2007" with the help of thin clients, Sean Whetstone, head of IT services at Reed Managed Services, said.

But that's not the only strategy. There are plenty of ways to make an impact on the carbon footprint of desktop environment that Culp said are "especially kind of easy." These changes are "people-focused" and "they need to recognize they need to have that focus," she said, and agencies "need to build some people systems to monitor and measure [efforts toward environmental sustainability] ... and sustain that activity."

But defining a green IT strategy is eluding the state so far, Culp said. There are some efforts at the statewide level, but agencies should also look at developing a strategy for themselves, she said. "We need to establish a baseline, use some metrics that are realistic and then, of course, we need to buy green IT products and services, which we get lots of help with the Department of General Services and the focus on Energy Star equipment."


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