Now Is The Time For Green To Take Centre Stage

“It’s not easy being green,” lamented Kermit in his signature song of the ‘70s and it was not so long ago that the business community was also singing that same tune. However, just as our lovable frog is back on the silver screen, so being green is a much more integral part of business strategy these days.

Technological efficiency and environmental impact is now at the heart of many an operational plan and CFOs are becoming much more engaged with IT decisions traditionally reserved for CIOs.

Not so long ago you’d often hear a member of the so-called C-club (CIOs and CFOs) saying, “Well we made £1m in cost savings this year and by the way we planted a few trees to offset our carbon use as well.” Today they’re more likely to be saying, “We’ve substantially increased our operational performance this year by implementing important environmental measures.”

We see it everywhere. More and more businesses are sourcing their IT from data centres powered by renewable energy; using carbon emission reduction software; building new offices been designed with their environmental impact in mind; or using recycled materials for key components. When we talk about Corporate Social Responsibility today it’s more often with the focus on the word responsibility.

Certainly this greater business emphasis on environmental benefits has been flagged up by the entrants to last month’s Green IT Magazine Awards.

Environmental performance is fundamental to many of the finalists’ strategies. Leafing through the entries highlights the more holistic approach being taken by senior management teams to promote positive change via green initiatives.

Reporting mechanisms are much more focused on carbon emissions and while this is a must for many companies because of the controversial Carbon Reduction Commitment Scheme, the general feeling is of a much more integral approach to using environmental responsibility as a key financial indicator of good business strategy. This runs right the way across the public and private sectors.

One stand out feature of many of the entries submitted was the number of businesses that have appointed dedicated sustainability teams or individuals, empowered with driving through the change required for environmental best practice throughout the organisation. It would appear that the days of giving a notional ‘green remit’ to the Building Services Manager or HR guru are long gone.

Now, sustainability professionals are being recruited for specific skill sets such as cradle to grave or lifecycle analysis and carbon accounting as the benefits both fiscal and corporate become clearer to the Board Room. As this trend becomes more commonplace we will eventually see sustainability and Green initiatives breaking out into the mainstream.

That’s not to say that achieving this will not be without its challenges. A survey conducted by CompTIA, the non-profit association for the IT industry, last year suggested that among organisational priorities, green IT initiatives tend to rank around the middle. One in five firms currently has a dedicated budget allocated for green and sustainability initiatives, but 44 percent indicated that they will be moving in that direction for this financial year.

The evidence provided by the awards entries suggests that fiscal benefits and senior management buy in are the key drivers to delivering environmental change.

For instance, there’s the Government department where the Chief Financial Officer is also the organisation’s environment champion. He talks of how these two roles allow him to make best choices around the use of resources and help to embed smarter working practices which result in the cost-savings he needs to make. How important is that in these times of economic austerity!

Elsewhere a private sector company talks of how a project to rationalise and modernise its document imaging provided a huge opportunity ‘not only to derive efficiency and cost savings, but also to make a significant step forward in measurable environmental performance.’ And then there’s the sea water being used to provide an innovative new cooling system – all those drought-ridden areas beside the sea should take note of this one!

On the technology front, increased levels of cloud adoptions are playing their part too. It’s a major factor in helping businesses to reduce their internal power consumption. By outsourcing to the cloud, businesses can use fewer servers to manage their data and scale that part of their overall power consumption through peak and quiet times of demand.

Analyst firm IDG revealed in this April’s Enterprise Cloud report, that companies are investing heavily in cloud computing, with more than a third of the 1,650 companies surveyed, 34%, stating that their current IT budgets now allocated to cloud computing solutions.

Interestingly close to two-thirds of all companies expect to increase cloud spending in the next 12 months with 16% being the average cloud budget hike. If we can make a definitive case for cloud technologies as an enabler for both cost reduction and greener working practices then the IT Industry will have a really powerful story to tell.

The dots are there. They just need to be joined up in a clear, coherent ‘non greenwash’ fashion.

A survey by Google earlier this year suggested that the rise in cloud computing would result in the closer involvement of the CFO in areas more traditionally reserved for the CIO. The survey concluded that this reflected the perception in the boardroom that IT has become more central to the business since the advent of cloud computing particularly in terms of innovation. One more leap and ‘being green’ will be a CEO issue.

It’s good to see CFOs banishing Waldorf and Statler’s grumpy cynical approach and treating environmental sustainability as part of their focus even it is driven by the need to cut costs. They might not architect the strategy but they are certainly integrating it into those dreaded spreadsheets of theirs much more coherently than ever before. As Muppet fans, we’re used to a certain pink diva ‘hogging’ the limelight but perhaps now is the time for the green one to take centre stage.

Phil Worms is the director of corporate communications for iomart Group, one of Europe’s largest providers of managed hosting, cloud computing and business continuity services. Having spent 25 years working in the IT industry he is recognised as one of its brightest thinkers. He regularly contributes internet and "new media" related features for trade publications and national newspapers and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is an advocate of social media using it for both business and charitable causes. Phil has sat on several national advisory committees ranging from the provision of broadband access to online safety initiatives. He is now heavily involved in the debate surrounding the greening of IT with energy efficiency and carbon emission reduction a particular topic of interest. In his spare time Phil is dedicated to raising money in an attempt to bring a new arts and music centre to his hometown of Helensburgh. It is this venture that has given him his finest moment – being mentioned on David Bowie’s official website when he organised a mass community recording of the classic song Heroes!