In a number of recent client interactions with both enterprise IT end users and vendors, the question of “Is the ‘green’ in Green IT dead?” has come up. Primarily driven by the current economic climate, IT end users want to understand how relevant the environmental benefits of Green IT should be to their strategic planning; likewise, vendors want to know how palatable green messaging of their products and services is to their customers.
First and foremost, technology is not green and never will be. The design, manufacture, operation and disposal of IT equipment generates tremendous upfront and ongoing environmental impact (read more about this in my “Is Green IT Your Emperor With No Clothes?” research). A recent – and very primetime – example of this is the 60 Minutes “The Electronic Wasteland” segment. David Berlind from InformationWeek offers a great follow on to this in his “An E-Waste Story That’ll Make You Want To Quit Tech” story.
Secondly, the ecological benefits of Green IT take a backseat to the business benefits – namely cost reduction. In other words, IT leadership’s driving motivation for Green IT is financial, not environmental. This shouldn’t be a surprise. At the end of the day, corporations – even those with the greenest of intentions – make decisions to effectively manage risk, costs and revenues to deliver profits which ultimately drive shareholder value.
While corporate social responsibility and environmental sustainability is on the rise, these practices are being employed to ultimately achieve an economic goal. And a green strategy can be an effective means to this financial end. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Doing Good: Business And The Sustainability Challenge” identifies a positive correlation between green efforts and financial performance: “companies that rated their [green] efforts most highly over this time period [the past three years] saw annual profit increases of 16% and share price growth of 45%, whereas those that ranked themselves worst reported growth of 7% and 12% respectively.”
The key takeaway is that Green IT is no different. Because corporate IT operates within the realm of the corporation, financial obligations come first. While Forrester’s own research from April 2008 shows that “doing the right thing for the environment” is a top driver for IT professionals pursuing Green IT, these motivations must also deliver tangible business value – from reducing IT’s energy-related operating expenses to mitigating data center out-of-space or out-of-power concerns. So when setting Green IT strategy – especially in volatile economic times – I suggest IT leadership take a similar approach to Google’s Commitment to Sustainable Computing which explains: “Sustainability is good for the environment, but it makes good business sense too… It is this economic advantage that makes our efforts truly sustainable.”
Doug Washburn is an Analyst at Forrester Research, Inc. His research helps IT executives successfully approach green IT, determine strategy, and then move from green IT awareness to action.