Top 10 Initiatives to Start Greening Your Business

Tim James

There is much hype in the IT industry today around Green IT and carbon initiatives - but what does this mean in practical terms and can it add real business value? The short answer to this question is that green business is good business and most if not all green initiatives reduce costs and thus add to the bottom line. We all should be investing in this, not only now but for the future.

With the plethora of information available today on green IT and vendors claiming to be greener than their competitor on an almost daily basis, what practical initiatives can organizations be taking to start embracing the new low carbon economy. sustainableIT’s top ten initiatives are as follows:

Initiative #1. Start awareness programmes

The start of any greening initiatives should always be targeted at your staff. Staff need to be made aware of the issues around global warming and what they can contribute from both within your business and on a personal level to start making a difference. Work with your HR and communications departments to develop communication strategies including internal awareness sessions and literature.

A parallel exercise at this point of the process should be to embark upon campaigns such as replacing old lighting infrastructure with more efficient compact fluorescents as well as paper recycling. This will demonstrate to staff in tangible terms that the business is serious about embarking upon greening itself and you will be surprised at the feel-good factor that is created. If your facilities or building management is outsourced, work with your services provider to start embracing greener technologies.

Initiative #2. Turn off when not in use

Any device that is left on when it is not being used is inefficient and is wasting energy and thus contributing to CO2 emissions and your costs.

Identify devices that are left on overnight and turn them off. A good example is PCs: why do you still leave these on? Many will argue that turning machines off is bad for them or that they need them on for patching purposes overnight. The reality is that this is an antiquated approach to IT infrastructure management. Most of the major vendors claim up to 80,000 reboots in respect of fault tolerance of new workstations. Enterprise-wide automated PC power-management solutions also exist today which power off and power on devices according to business demand. These solutions save so much energy that their payback periods are typically only a matter of months. Working with your outsource partner, find ways to become more efficient in this respect: after all, it is you that bears the cost of the energy bills.

If a device is left on, make sure that there are no technologies available that can power it off. For example, technology exists to automatically power down server estates when not in use based on business rules. Over and above this, virtualization technology allows you to dynamically move loads to alternate infrastructure and power down unused equipment dynamically.

Initiative #3. Print output

Paper production is one of the most resource-intensive industries on the planet. The industry is the 3rd largest consumer of energy in the US and to produce a single piece of paper will use as much as 10 litres of water. Research indicates that the average office worker in the UK prints as much as 1,000 pages per month, most of which is discarded immediately. There is no reason to assume that office workers globally will have a significantly different business profile. The paperless office is a misnomer.

Ensure that printers capable of duplex printing (print on both sides) are configured to do this by default. This alone can save between 30 and 40% of your paper. If you want to get even more aggressive, print multiple pages on a single page. By printing two pages on each side of a duplexed page, you can print a 40 page document on 10 pages, and still read it easily.

Encourage staff not to print emails and turn off any banner printing that you have in the office.

A way of enforcing print reductions is the ‘big brother’ approach by implementing print audit software which can monitor print output down to a user level. These technologies usually include top-10 reports, exception reporting as well as quotas that can be set for staff on an individual or departmental level. Because you are auditing, you can also use these solutions as a chargeback mechanism - always good at driving desired behaviours.

If necessary you may need to revisit any baselines you have in your outsourcing agreement around print management and renegotiate these.

Initiative #4. Server virtualization

In general terms, servers operate very inefficiently and use less than 15% of the resources available to them. Server virtualization allows you to take applications loads (memory, storage and IO) and virtualize them on a single physical platform. From an end user perspective this technology is invisible but the technology can have some dramatic savings in respect of energy and, to a lesser extent, manpower.

Latest virtualization technologies dynamically move loads between servers to optimize the IT infrastructure and power down servers when not in use, all without the end user knowing that the load has been moved.

For the outsource provider, this solution may not be top of the list as there is potential for baseline and revenue reductions. Pragmatic win-win approaches need to be considered as all organizations should be investing in virtualization technologies.

Initiative #5. More efficient hardware and thin client (PC virtualization)

When embarking upon desktop refresh decisions and determining your IT architecture roadmap, you need to start looking at efficiency as a key buying criterion in your procurement process.

Latest generation chipsets are designed to be more efficient, particularly from vendors that have openly embraced green IT. There is also a resurgence of thin client thinking as some of these devices use less than 10w, as opposed to new generation workstations that use 70w. Thin client is not a one-size-fits-all solution but may be worth considering in your enterprise architecture. When used in conjunction with PC virtualization in any of its number of forms, dramatic energy cost savings can be achieved.

Initiative #6. VOIP and workforce mobility

Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) provides dramatic savings in terms of telephony call costs as you move your voice calls from traditional media to lower-cost data infrastructure. More importantly in respect of greening your business, it allows you to embrace a mobile workforce strategy in its true sense.

VOIP gives you the ability to virtualize your organization by allowing some or all of your workforce to work from mobile locations, including a home office, without you or your clients losing touch with them. Their VOIP extension follows them to their mobile location and becomes an extension of your infrastructure via the internet. This saves on a number of costs including, travel, travel time, workspace and facilities. Companies can create hot desking infrastructure to cater for mobile workforces when they are office-bound.

Initiative #7. Web and videoconferencing

Air travel accounts for 2% of the CO2 emissions globally and any initiatives designed to reduce this should be encouraged.

Traditional video conferencing solutions still offer the best quality in respect of virtual meetings; however web-based technologies are rapidly catching up and there are even open-source sites available today that offer free conferencing solutions.

In practical terms, nothing should ever replace face to face interaction but staff working together in geographically disparate locations should be encouraged to initially meet face to face to build a relationship and thereafter move to web or videoconferencing media. Again, benefits include reduced CO2 emissions, no travel time, reduced costs and employee satisfaction.

Initiative #8. Measurement tools

IT should take the ‘greening’ lead by providing business with tools that will give them the ability to track and monitor CO2 emissions.

As more and more governments adopt legislation imposing CO2 reduction targets, measuring CO2 emissions will become a fundamental part of day to day business processes, actually informing decision making. Early adopters will see business benefits now and will gain a competitive edge in the new carbon economy.

Enterprise carbon management solutions provide businesses with the ability to calculate CO2 emissions based on work activities performed, as well as make informed decisions based on time, carbon and financial dynamics.

Initiative #9. Applications for business

The innovative application of technologies can have dramatic cost savings in your green initiatives, sometimes conceived to reduce cost but having a major impact on the environment as well.

Vehicle location intelligence is a good example whereby vehicles are tracked via GPS and using GPRS or 3G send data back to a central server to establish location, travelling speeds, idle times etc. With escalating oil prices these same technologies can be used to reduce costs by route optimization and ensuring that vehicles are not being abused by diverting out of pre-determined route corridors.

There are multiple examples of technologies that IT can be adopting to assist business in their energy savings initiatives.

If you don’t already have one, establish a Green IT innovation committee or steering group with your outsource provider. This should be used as a vehicle to drive all green initiatives and investigate the innovative use of technologies to reduce CO2 emissions.

Initiative #10. Data and application optimization

Research indicates that as much as 35% of data is duplicated within applications. This drives inefficiency in the server infrastructures that power the applications. Dirty data results in inefficient queries and wasted processing power. This same analogy can be used for applications that have not been optimized to produce desired results quickly.

By focusing on optimizing both data and application stacks, IT can free up resource that can be utilized elsewhere in the infrastructure. Archiving data that is not required for online applications can also improve database and application performance.

In conclusion, when one wades past the hype surrounding green IT, these initiatives make fundamental business sense and should be embraced in all efforts to make business more efficient. One of the significant paybacks for IT organizations is that often these benefits are very tangible and measurable. IT organizations with their outsourcing providers are encouraged to produce baselines before embarking on any energy or cost savings initiatives to use as a measure to demonstrate value.