I guess like many people I am frustrated by the topic; on one hand there is no lack of outpourings on the topic, and on the other it’s difficult to find well thought through and substantiated material. I was pleased to find a new report that actually takes a detailed look at ‘energy’ usage in the IT sector in an analytical manner. Well done to the 451 Group and their report with the fully descriptive title of; ‘Eco-Efficient IT; the eco-imperative and its impact on suppliers and users 2007-2012’.
If you want to see the other side of the picture, and get thoroughly alarmed, then the other report out at almost the same time that you may want to see is from an environmental charity called ‘Global Action Plan’ called ‘An Inefficient Truth’. This report uses information from its own survey of IT management to calculate that 3 to 4% of global carbon emissions is due to the IT industry. With a number of other statements such as ICT accounts for 10% of the UK energy bill, and the average server has roughly the same foot print as a 4 x 4 Sports Utility Vehicle, it conveys the same demonic approach that has characterised too much of the debate, together with the same lack of any meaningful suggestions on what can be practically done.
So let’s turn to the 451 Group report, and why I want to ‘advertise’ it, something I try not to do in a blog. This is 150 pages of detailed analysis and recognisable conclusions. It’s also balanced, and points out that IT is also used to monitor and manage various aspects of ecology in a beneficial way, as well as there being a diversity of energy sources already in use and some are of a sustainable nature. Incidentally it also rates the IT industry as producing around 1 to 2% of global emissions.
Wisely it comments and I quote that; ‘IT organisations will almost always favour reliability and cost over conformance to ill defined green objectives’. Bingo!!! At last the truth. The problem is that the more we get hype and alarmist reports the less easy it is to build a realistic approach. I don’t think that the industry doesn’t wish to be ‘green’ and certainly at Capgemini we are doing our best to consider these issues and come up with feasible implementations, but I wish we were better informed by research sources to know what really makes a difference.
The most effective approach seems to be to align energy consumption with cost objectives, this is tangible in both directions, i.e. reducing demand for energy on the green side, and reducing operating cost on the commercial side. It allows real targets to be set, but it also throws up some more serious questions; as an example how green is it to decommission working servers to replace them with more energy efficient units? The investigation of the real workings of the European WEEE act (here is informative piece on it) seem to suggest that it’s really not a great idea to prematurely throw out working units given the energy, etc, that has already been expended to produce them.
And that leads me to conclude; firstly there is no simple solution, and that means we are looking for a balanced score card approach which combines all the factors. Everything I have seen to date seems to deal with just one side of the coin, the assumption that you can make new decisions untroubled by the older, existing decisions; even the excellent work of the 451 group report doesn’t cover the issue of the environmental impact of the throwing away the old in any detail. Secondly exactly what is meant by ‘IT’ in these reports? Personally as a user I find I am expanding the devices that I have, and use, to interact as a ‘digital’ employee beyond what is being provided by my company.
In a ‘services’ environment this is as it should be, i.e. the ‘thin client’ using services from efficient centralised sources, but what exactly does that do to my personal, and corporate, ‘green IT’ footprint? I can only think that there is a personal element in all of this that lies beyond corporate action. How do you identify, monitor and measure this is the unanswered question, because I reckon this is where the real challenge lies as we move forward. Sorry, but it looks like we all have to take some personal stake in the issue as well as expecting the appointed ‘green IT’ person to come up with the answer.
Internally within Capgemini we have tried to provide advice on how to set up your PC to ‘hibernate’ when you wander off to meetings, coffee machines, etc., added advice on not printing too many emails etc, but you can only go so far, maybe that is the value of the alarmist reports? They are what will drive the users to recognise that they have a role in this and must change their habits too.