The Five Things You Should Know About Green IT Baselines

The Five Things You Should Know About Green IT Baselines

Whether you have a green IT program or you're thinking about implementing one, a baseline of your current IT operations is critical to your success. Yet, many companies are skipping the assessment process.

While 54 percent of IT executives surveyed by CIO.com had goals to green their departments, only 20 percent had metrics to document their progress. It makes as much sense as trying to lose weight without knowing how much you weigh. How do you set reasonable goals? How do you devise a strategy? How do you measure progress?

While it can be tempting to start with the low-hanging fruit, in order to make the business case for initiatives and report on impact, you will need a clear picture of your current state.

So why aren't more organizations conducting a baseline and using metrics to set targets? The reality is that while everyone would choose to have a baseline in their ideal world, it requires time, money and resources.

A comprehensive green IT audit doesn't have to break the bank if you approach it creatively. Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), for example, brought in a consultant to guide them through their first green IT assessment. The consultant told them what data to gather and provided analysis and recommendations. REI's IT team did all the legwork of gathering the data with the guidance of a knowledgeable sustainability professional.

"We took the time to conduct a thorough first assessment," says Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) corporate social responsibility manager Kirk Myers. "We have laid the groundwork and the advantage to doing a lot of the work ourselves is that we now have the internal capacity to conduct follow up assessments."

Whether you create a baseline internally or seek the assistance of a professional, here are five things you need to know about green IT baselines to get the most out of your efforts.

1. The scope should be broad

Much of the circulating information on green IT is produced by green IT solution providers; therefore, it promotes solutions like data center optimization, desktop power management and server virtualization. While these are certainly some of the highest-impact areas of IT, a baseline should consider the entire role IT plays in the organization. This means looking at procurement and recycling policies, resource consumption, and ways technology can enable a greener business.

For a comprehensive baseline, experts recommend a combination of policy-based metrics (e.g. Do you have a responsible purchasing policy you adhere to?) and statistics such as greenhouse gas emissions and resource consumption (e.g. Total paper consumption).

Having a complete picture will help you identify the biggest impact areas and best solutions. Looking at IT from a holistic perspective will help you to steer clear of band-aid solutions and ensure that you invest your resources in the areas of highest potential impact.

REI's Myers agrees, saying, "Understanding the starting point is critical to being able to lay a strategic plan. You can't make informed choices without a thorough look at your operations."

2. Your first baseline will be a learning experience

You've heard the old saying that the process is often the most valuable part of an exercise. With your first green IT assessment, this will likely be the case. Collecting the data you need to create a comprehensive assessment requires bringing together information from your asset tracking systems, purchasing systems, facilities management systems and management policies (more or less formal). You may discover missing or inconsistent data in areas you thought were well tracked.

Going through the process will help to identify these gaps and give you a sense of what you will need to implement for the next cycle. The first assessment is often based on significant assumptions that you can clear up by setting up new processes.

3. Online calculators are useful -- but only to a point

Simple online tools and calculators are a good first step to give you a ballpark sense of your footprint and cost savings. However, they are not highly accurate. The broad assumptions made by these calculators are restrictive and they are known to overestimate the amount of power and money to be saved. What they are extremely useful for is helping you determine if there is a business case for a comprehensive green IT baseline and plan.

If you know your baseline is the first step in a larger green IT program, it's worth the investment to conduct a customized assessment. It will go much further in providing a clear picture of the highest leverage initiatives for your enterprise.

4. The cost should be relative to the savings

If you outsource your audit to a consultant, the cost should be relative to your potential savings. The consultant's cost should be based on the size of the organization and project, and the larger the organization, the more opportunity for savings. Ask your consultant what your return on investment (ROI) will be for their services.

Five Top online green IT calculators Although online green IT calculators have built-in limitations, they can be a useful first step to almost any green IT audit. Here are five calculators that estimate the benefits of different green IT projects.

1. Forrester's Green IT Calculator -– Forrester's online calculator that estimates the energy usage of computers, monitors and telecom. The tool walks you through the key green IT baseline assumptions, including the number of IT assets, energy draw and hours of up-time. For additional accuracy, you can customize your price and CO2 emissions per kilowatt. The calculator is a good starting point, as it offers a simple snapshot of current IT energy consumption. It is not suitable for establishing a comprehensive green IT baseline.
2. VMware's Total Cost of Ownership Calculator -- This calculator is very comprehensive in bringing together all the costs of managing hardware and estimating the benefits of virtualization. The environmental impact is not a focus of this calculator. It quantifies the potential cost savings obtained from VMware virtualization solutions.
3. Microsoft's Virtualization Calculator -– This calculator integrates the environmental and cost savings to be gained from Microsoft's virtualization products. Produces a benefits report with annual savings broken down into energy usage, costs and CO2 footprint.
4. Telus' Green IT Calculator -- This is the most transparent calculator regarding virtualization, unfortunately it is only available in Canada. This calculator addresses the major assumption that exists in other calculators about the energy intensity from different energy sources in different regions.
5. Redemtech's Sustainable Computing Assessment -- This assessment allows you to compare your IT lifecycle management policies to industry best practices. This assessment is an excellent source of inspiration and ideas for lifecycle management initiatives and is useful when assessing your procurement and recycling policies. You need time and lots of information to complete the assessment, depending on the size of your organization.


Assessments typically range between $10,000 and $50,000 for mid to large organizations and the cost of the assessment will likely be relative to the potential cost savings. Typical assessments will result in several times their cost in potential savings with relatively quick turnaround.

5. Baselines make your life easier

With the results of your green IT audit in hand, identifying which green IT opportunities to pursue will be easy, engaging employees will be more effective, proving the business case will be a snap –- the list goes on.

In addition to providing you with a measurement of where you currently sit, an audit will give you the metrics you need to:

• conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine if your strategies are worth the actual cost of the solution;
• converse with staff and suppliers;
• make the business case for new products;
• engage your employees with targets;
• demonstrate your department's role in GHG and cost reduction to your executive team; and
• measure your program's effectiveness over time.

After years of implementing green IT initiatives, Intel conducted their first IT baseline last year. Intel Information Technology program manager Sally Wellsandt has found the new data extremely useful in driving change. "Almost everyone reacts to data," says Wellsandt. "When you can show employees that an innovative project reduced emissions by X percent, that helps engage their hearts and minds and gains their support for further action and involvement in our green IT projects."

Britt Burnham is the Director of Outreach and Employee Engagement for Terrabytes, a leading green IT firm operating in Canada and the U.S. Terrabytes helps organizations conduct audits and implement successful green IT programs.

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