20 Questions on Green IT

Published: January 28th, 2008

Everyone can attest to how the IT industry has changed their lives but until more recently most people didn’t think about the toll it was taking on the environment. The fact the high tech industry is a major culprit in global pollution is no secret, with images of computer graveyards in third-world countries and campaigns by environmental groups being plastered all over the Internet.

To their credit, tech vendors have implemented recycling programs and are starting to provide their customers with information on how to become more “green.” At the political level, governments such as the European Union are passing tougher legislation for companies to manufacture more environmentally-friendly and recyclable products. However, Canada and the U.S. have yet to pass federal laws on this.

To find out how green the IT industry truly is, CDN interviewed 20 experts across the technology sector, government, as well as environmental and advocacy groups. Read on to see what they said.

1. Chris Stoate, president of Laser Networks, an Oakville-based VAR that specializes in printer outsourcing

CDN: Is it necessary for customers to pay a premium for green-friendly technology, and are they willing to pay that premium?

Stoate: I would say it’s not necessary in every situation. If we can get the externalities into the operating costs of things, then there will be a payback even in the cases where you do have to pay more upfront.

Most of our customers see that they are getting dollar savings, and the environmental savings are a bonus. We have a lot of customers that are very proud of the fact that they are reducing their carbon footprint by using our technology.

We would be willing to pay a premium to get an environmental benefit that came over time, and that also had an economic return that was later rather than sooner. We would do that even in cases where we wouldn’t do it on a pure cost analysis if we saw an environmental benefit.

2) Christopher Mines, senior vice-president, Forrester Research

CDN: Vendors are talking about green issues, but is it impacting customer buying decisions?

Mines: Forrester recently surveyed enterprise IT organizations to find out how important environmental concerns are in planning their IT operations. Thirty-seven per cent of respondents said they were very important, while 59 per cent said somewhat important with the remaining six per cent indicating not important – down from 13 per cent in that category six months ago. When asked if their company has changed its IT procurement criteria to account for environmental factors like recycling or energy efficiency, 36 per cent said Yes – up from 25 per cent six months ago – and 64 per cent said No.

In my interviews with enterprise IT, I have found that companies have different degrees of seriousness about green criteria in their purchasing criteria and buying decisions. For most companies, green criteria such as energy efficient products, responsible manufacturing and recycling, are a “tie breaker” when other factors such as price and performance are equal. For some, a few, green criteria are a “deal breaker” where a company that does not meet the criteria will be disqualified from the bidding.

3) Zeina Alhaj, campaign coordinator, Greenpeace International, Amsterdam

CDN: Are technology vendors doing enough to address green issues, and how do their efforts compare to other manufacturers?

Alhaj: We have definitely in the last five years seen a huge shift for the better within the IT industry when it comes to environmental responsibility and environmental policies and practices. We started to witness 10 years ago the impact of this industry.

We’ve seen a huge change with this industry because we started to see the images of the electronic devices dumped all over, and particularly the shocking images were coming from China and India and the developing countries. The industry started to realize that there is a problem and there should be action on it. Dell, for example, has a global system of take-back. Companies like Lenovo are doing that. We’ve seen companies like Apple acting on it. It’s still mainly in the Western world, not all over the world for Apple but it is there.

What is still very much lacking by this industry in terms of environmental performance is basically the value of the product. The products are being produced with the sole purpose of selling them. That has a huge environmental bill, because each of these products uses a lot of resources from our planet. They use copper, they use lead, they use silver, they use gold, they use a lot of minerals that all have to be mined. Unfortunately, without acknowledging the second life cycle of product, we’ve been dumping resources.

4) Brian Rosenberg, business unit executive, site and facilities services, IBM Global Technology, Winnipeg

CDN: How big of a role do green issues such as energy efficiency, carbon footprint, garbage, waste, water, space and transit play in the value proposition that you pitch to prospective customers when they are looking at upgrading their data centre?

Rosenberg: Green continues to play a significant role in the value proposition we are pitching. The data centre energy crisis is continuing to cause concern for our customers around the world. All indications are the problem will continue to escalate over the next five years. If you consider that the energy usage in a data centre is apprx. 30 times that of a regular office space you start to quickly realize the magnitude of the problem.

IBM’s roadmap was designed to help customers save money while focusing on doing what’s right for our planet. Internally we will eat our own cooking and will double the square footage of our internal data centres without spending one additional kilowatt of energy.

5) John Baird, Environment Minister of Canada

CDN: What role can the federal government play in furtherance of Green IT?

EC: Environment Canada does not offer rebates or incentives. Natural Resources Canada may have incentive programs to support improving energy efficiency in buildings. However, purchasing energy efficient IT equipment and enabling the energy-saving features on them, as well as turning the equipment off after hours, can lead to substantial energy savings and therefore cost savings over the life of the equipment.

6) Marc Duchesne, director of corporate responsibility and environment, Bell Canada

CDN: How is Bell making use of the Green Meeting Calculator and why did it decide to develop the Smart Meeting Guide?

Duchesne: The Green Meeting Calculator is a tool that supports The Smart Meeting Guide.

We were looking at getting the message out to our own employee base when we first started this. We were looking at changing our habits in terms of travel business habits with business travel within the company, leveraging our own products and services to conferencing solutions.

We then started to calculate our own emissions that were avoided through the use of our solutions internally. We piloted it to our customer base and developed an algorithm to determine what the savings are for a certain company on a meeting basis, an employee basis or for the whole year.

The Guide is a very simple approach to lay out the benefits. It uses the work/life balance component and the productivity component and the cost just highlights green, yellow, red, which one costs more, and which one is more associated with work/life balance.

The Green Meeting Calculator just gives you the greenhouse gas emissions component. It doesn’t go through the financial aspect of it or it doesn’t quantify the other social benefits but it does calculate the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that you would avoid.

7) Roberta Fox, senior partner, The Fox Group
CDN: Is video conferencing really a viable green alternative to travel for most companies?<

Fox: Effective video conference technology solutions, combined with knowledgeable users, can reduce the amount of travel for many companies, disregarding size. The technology solution has to be easy to use, easy to configure, easy to manage and run on standard corporate and public IP-based networks, without taking too much bandwidth.

VoIP technologies can have a faster positive impact than videoconference. We use MSN where we have the telephone call with the video and sharing files. Its desktop stuff that’s free and relatively straight-forward.

8) John Ruffolo, national leader, technology, media and telecom industry group, Deloitte & Touche

CDN: How active are Canadian companies in driving greener IT?

Ruffolo: They are becoming increasingly active, particularly in Western Canada. Because of the history in knowledge of energy in Western Canada, they are almost a natural fit to understand the issues, particularly in the alternative energy spaces. I’m seeing more activity there. The money tends to be in Ontario so I’m seeing this West moving East phenomena going on.

I’m calling 2007 the year when Main Street met Bay St. When you follow the money, for the first time venture capital is starting to pore into this sector. Up until really last year, there was still a niche group focusing in on climate change. This year you could really see people making a lot of money around this. Although that may sound kind of crass and anti-environmental, the reality and the opportunity to make money in it is attracting a lot of business people who want to do the right thing and realize that they don’t have to screw the economy or drive losses for many years.

9) Brian Hardwick, development and communications, Alliance for Climate Protection

The Alliance is an environmental organization based in California and is one of Al Gore’s key projects.

CDN: Is there a lot of so-called “greenwashing” going on around the green IT issue or are technology vendors totally dedicated in their commitment to the environment?

Hardwick: Thank you for your interest in the Alliance. Given that the primary focus of the Alliance’s effort is to run an unprecedented mass communications campaign to convince people of the urgency and solvability of the climate crisis, I don’t think we are best positioned to answer your specific question about the technology industry.

10) Mike Pierce, director of environmental affairs, Lenovo

CDN: What green IT measures has Lenovo undertaken that led to its recognition by Greenpeace?

Pierce: We can’t speak directly to Greenpeace’s program, but we can speak to what Lenovo does as a company which resulted in being recognized by Greenpeace.

Over the past several months Lenovo has taken several steps to strengthen its environmental commitments. For example, we have implemented recycling programs in every country we do business with, many of those offering free recycling. For instance, in December 2006 in China, Lenovo implemented free recycling for individuals, institutions and businesses. In Canada, Lenovo complies with the regulatory programs that have been established in several provinces. In the US and Canada, we will take back any brand for a fee from our consumers and in return they can receive a substantial discount for a future Lenovo purchase.

We are also committed to a precautionary approach for chemical management. Even when a cause-effect relationship has not been fully established scientifically, Lenovo takes appropriate action in advance of this scientific evidence. Consistent with this precautionary approach, Lenovo has committed to a timeline to phase out brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and polyvinyl chloride (PVCs) in its products. We have taken this first step by including this in our supplier specification and are targeting a complete phase out by the end of 2009.

11) Matt Fairbanks, senior director of product marketing in the Data Center Management Group at Symantec

CDN: What is a green data centre and why should it be on the radar screen for companies?

Fairbanks: Data centres are heavy consumers of electricity. Some components of their equipment, such as batteries and metallic oxides used on motherboards, need special care at the end of their life cycle. Corporate green initiatives are starting to exert some influence over data centre decisions.

This influence is slowly being embraced or adopted. In a recent Green Data Survey by Symantec, only 49 per cent of respondents reported that they are aware of a green policy adopted by their company, and only one in seven has begun implementing a green data centre.

More than half of the managers surveyed said they will either advocate or plan to advocate green policies for their firm to adopt. Still, while the subject matter as a whole is not being met with a sense of urgency, the issues associated with a green data center are critically important for data centre managers. For instance, energy efficiency and reduction of power consumption is naturally relevant to any green data centrw strategy since the data centre is the largest consumer of electricity in many organizations.

However, in some cases the other aspects of corporate social responsibility are now starting to have some impact on data centres. For example, many companies have paper recycling programs.

12) Ian Collins, vice-president of operations, Toronto Hydro Telecom

CDN: How has the green IT movement changed the way customers look at their data centres, and how can Toronto Hydro Telecom help?

Collins: From our perspective, we being part of Toronto Hydro, have a vast interest in the environment in making sure that we do our part to reduce our footprint. For this particular (Toronto Hydro Telecom) facility, we’ve geared it to have some energy efficient elements such as flooring systems, air handling equipment, cabinet, high ceilings to allow for heat removal, free air cooling in the data centre.

One of the other things we’ve done is to make it easy for customers to see what their power consumption is. Historically data centres where you rented space included power, so you really didn’t have an idea of what you were actually using. In our facility here we can provide customers exactly what they are using at the cabinet level. We can tell them to a cabinet what their energy consumption is so they can make adjustments to their equipment or the whole notion of virtualization of their servers to lessen that impact.

13) Henry Van Pypen, vice-president and general manager, TAB technical environment, TAB Canada

CDN: What affordable steps can firms take to green their data centres?

Van Pypen: There are mamy different things that they can do. The first one is the consolidation of multiple data centres into a few or, better yet, one. The fewer facilities you have the greater your opportunity is to maximize your efficiencies in a single facility or in fewer facilities.

The second thing and something gaining in popularity is in virtualization. Taking your servers and rather than just keep adding more servers to run more applications trying to utilize the capability of each server more effectively so that you’re maximizing potential to provide applications to your business.

The third one that people don’t tend to talk about a lot is that every company often has a main data centre and then they have disaster recovery sites, which are not utilized very often. One of the great ways to save power and facility space is to consider co-location for those disaster recove
15) Aaron Hay, research consultant, Info-Tech Research Group
CDN: Are companies going to truly green their data centres without a regulatory push?

Hay: At this point it’s still a bit more difficult. Yes, there is a lot of awareness that there is a big issue here but there’s not a lot of data to go on about how to change.

A lot of CIOs and IT managers don’t have responsibility for power consumption. As a function of how the data centres are evolving, IT managers are starting to realize that they are going to have to take responsibility for power consumption. A lot of larger data centres now are running out of power capacity with the servers drawing much more power than they used to. There’s a lot of awareness that this is going to be a big issue.

If they have a responsibility for power consumption, it’s an opportunity for them to demonstrate a lot of cost savings in terms of electricity bills and if you’re going to use something like virtualization, you’re going to be looking at reduced purchase cost for new equipment. The benefit is there regardless of whether there’s going to be regulations in effect.

16) David J. Boomer, Canadian national technology leader. Ernst & Young

CDN: Why is green technology a hot VC investment area and what are some of the exciting advances in development?

Boomer: Demand for clean technology is exploding globally and Canadian companies have unprecedented opportunities to capitalize on a massive influx of venture capital in the months and years ahead.

Global venture capital investment in clean tech companies for 2007 will likely increase more than 35 per cent over last year. That’s good news for Canadian entrepreneurs who understand the possibilities of this expanding industry and know when to make their move.

Since 2001, clean tech’s global share of overall venture capital investments has more than doubled. Still, public policy issues cloud the clean tech landscape. Governments continue to debate their vision for this industry. Go-green incentives for companies and corporations are in their relative infancy. Canadian policies on foreign investment are complicated at best. However, new financial instruments now offer higher degrees of flexibility than those developed for previous market cycles. These developments mean opportunities and advantages for Canadian companies armed with the knowledge to capitalize on them.

Clean technology has moved from vision to reality. Canadian companies empowered with the right insight will only benefit in the years to come as the sector continues to mature and the path from investment to exit becomes clearer for investors.

17) Rick Schuckle, director of The Green Grid

CDN: How is The Green Grid working to address green IT issues?

Schuckle: We set ourselves up to be dedicated to developing and promoting energy efficiency around data centres. Where we felt like that the industry could use a lot of work when we put stuff together was in three key areas.

The first was that we all didn’t have a set of meaningful user models and metrics. As an industry, we had lots of different models and metrics that we were all using to customers. The feedback we were getting is, “You all are using different metrics and measurements and I can’t really tell how this stuff works when I put it in my environment. I need a way to understand how your equipment is going to work in my environment.”

The second piece was what we needed to do once we got the models and metrics in place, we needed to work on some standards.

The third piece is the promotion and adoption of these energy efficient standards, whether they be processes, measurements or technologies. That really was our stated goal from the beginning with The Green Grid.

We are 100 per cent focused on the energy efficiency piece of data centres. We turned it as general computing architectures but definitely focused on energy efficiency. We brought together industry leaders along with end users. If you look from a vendors standpoint, you’ve got silicon suppliers like Intel and AMD, and you’ve got hardware suppliers such as IBM, HP and Dell. You have software suppliers in VM Ware and Microsoft. You also have the power and cooling folks like APC and SprayCool a. As we’ve grown to over 100 companies we’ve increased those as well and added a number of end users so that we can get direct input from them on our directions.

18) Larry Vertal, senior strategist, AMD

CDN: Is reducing power consumption a green issue or a dollars and cents issue?

Vertal: For AMD, reducing power consumption drives how we run our business. For several years, we’ve recognized that our end-user customers have a critical need to reduce power and cooling needs from the data centre to the desktop. This demand drove the design of the AMD64 processor architecture, which delivers superior performance-per-watt (a term we helped introduce to the industry). While delivering the performance our customers demand, our products save them money by reducing their energy bills. This has driven demand and helped us grow market share. AMD’s commitment to reducing our own environmental impact is outlined in our Global Climate Protection Plan, which spells out AMD’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gases, as well as driving real-world “green” strategies from our operations to how we design our facilities. So, reducing power consumption helps to meet a business need that also has a positive environmental impact.

19) Frances Edmonds, director of environmental programs, HP Canada

CDN: When buying computers and peripherals are companies thinking in terms of the product lifecycle, and considering recycling issues upfront?

Edmonds: The quality of the questions varies considerably, some people know what they need to ask and other people put something very simple. It’s not just the question do you do recycling, you’ve got to ask how do you do recycling. We differentiate ourselves by offering very high standards of environmentally-sound recycling.

If you went to our Web site hp.ca/recycle, you’d be able to access our Planet Partners program, which includes rechargeable battery recycling, original equipment inkjet and laserjet cartridge recycling and hardware recycling. The first three are all free, the hardware recycling we do charge but we don’t make any profit on it. That’s simply for the cost of sending a courier to your door to pick up what you want to return to us and we’ll take any make or brand of hardware back from you.

20) Subodh Bapat, vice president and distinguished engineer, Sun Microsystems

CDN: Are companies paying more attention to hydro use in the data centre today as a green issue?

Bapat: There are three trends that are converging to create the perfect storm for data centre energy issues.

The three trends are number one, people are buying more equipment. All these new business units in every corporate division that want to roll out new applications require more and more servers in the data centre.

The second trend is the fact each generation of servers gets hotter over time. The servers that you buy this year are more powerful than the servers that you could have bought last year, which in turn were more powerful than the servers that you could have bought in the previous year. Each generation of server burns more power than its predecessor.

The third trend is the price of energy keeps going up and up and up. Six, seven, eight years ago, when the current generation of data centres was built, power cost two to three cents per kilowatt hour in the U.S.. What’s happened over the past few years is that price of power has gone up on the average of 14 to 15 per cent per year.