IT's Critical Role in a Low-Carbon Economy

IT's Critical Role in a Low-Carbon Economy

At this year's reception for the recipients of AMR Research's Sustainable Leadership Awards, I shared the winners' podium with Bonnie Nixon, director of environmental sustainability at Hewlett Packard.

The AMR awards recognize companies that exhibit leadership in environmental practices, and my company, TRIRIGA, received the Clean Technology award. Bonnie accepted the Sustainability and Innovation award on behalf of HP. Since we both apply technology innovations to help organizations reduce their carbon footprints, I took the opportunity to catch up with Bonnie and discuss the ways IT enables a low-carbon economy.

TRIRIGA helps organizations target their buildings to measure, manage and reduce carbon emissions, while HP looks more specifically at the sustainability opportunities from IT such as data centers and computers. Our combined perspectives made for a lively conversation, and the following Q&A offers highlights:

George Ahn Courtesy of Tririga

George Ahn: Congratulations on HP's recent award from AMR Research, tell us a bit about what other organizations can do to become sustainability leaders.

Bonnie Nixon:
Thanks, George. HP was honored to receive the Sustainability and Innovation award from AMR Research. Our commitment to sustainable and energy efficient product design, reduced packaging, supply chain leadership, and worldwide recycling and takeback really defines our leadership, and we hope it will serve as an example for other organizations.

Bonnie Nixon Courtesy of RMI

Organizations that aspire to become leaders in this field need to align and integrate sustainability into their overall business strategy. They need to consider the lifecycle of their entire operations and their product and service offerings, seek to minimize their overall footprint and then organize for successful implementation. Responsible companies must recognize that green decisions equal green dollars. Savings are inherent when one makes smart decisions around areas like energy, water and waste reduction. At HP our commitment to reducing packaging means that we can fit more packages on a palate, which calls for fewer (recyclable) palates, less trips on aircraft carriers and less carbon emissions.

GA: What are some of the biggest opportunities IT provides to drive energy reduction and sustainability for the enterprise as a whole?

BN: As a great deal of business leaders today strive to reduce their environmental impact, they often do not realize how the IT industry can assist with their goals. The IT industry accounts for 2 percent of the global footprint-however, the opportunity is to use information technology to help reduce the other 98 percent. There are many opportunities for IT providers to drive energy reduction. Let's take a look at our facilities. Our buildings house data centers, which require a large amount of energy to run efficiently, from cooling systems to the energy needed to run the machines, to the software applications running on the machines. Companies can conduct thorough data center and other buildings' assessments to measure and manage their energy usage, eliminate older technologies and improve service levels, while decreasing the environmental impact of their facilities and ultimately saving fuel and electricity costs. For example, in 2008, HP completed consolidation of 85 HP internal IT data centers into just six locations in three U.S. cities, which are responsible for 10 percent of HP's total global energy costs. This has reduced HP's yearly energy consumption by 60 percent.

GA: Transparent reporting on carbon emissions and energy efficiency has emerged as a major concern today, particularly for large organizations. How can technology help organizations develop sound business strategies focused on their carbon reduction goals?

BN: Applying technology can support carbon emissions reporting and responsible resource management to approach overall environmental consciousness. Digital technologies can provide enterprise customers and consumers with mobility, convenience and access to data-from their banks, hospitals, schools and law firms. One example from HP's offerings includes the HP Data Center Environmental Edge, a monitoring system that provides customers with a new level of visibility of their data centers by using small sensors to monitor power and cooling distribution. This continuous monitoring enables customers to eliminate inefficiencies while increasing data center capacity and reducing energy consumption.

GA: What do you see as some of the greatest challenges organizations face moving forward, particularly when it comes to the use of technology to prepare for a low-carbon economy?

BN: One of the key challenges facing organizations is a shift in understanding about the role IT has to play as we move towards a resource intensive, low-carbon economy. Many believe they cannot reduce costs and simultaneously reduce their carbon footprint. It is true that capital investments are often necessary, but in the longer term savings are inevitable. For example, replacing old legacy servers with new can save 4 to 5 times the energy and cost half the price. With improved energy efficiency and reduced impact comes cost savings.

Organizations also often think that utilizing IT to reduce impact has to be a major undertaking, when in fact it can be quite simple with the right products, tools and software. Behavioral changes like turning off your PC, turning off your printer, turning off your display can go a long way. For example, simply turning off computers at night can save a company with 10,000 PCs over US$ 260,000 a year and 1,871 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. You can download a widget to track cumulative energy savings associated with users turning off idle PCs when not in use at

GA: In your opinion, what are the most exciting new developments on the horizon?

BN: With an urban population explosion of approximately 1.2 billion people on the horizon, and unprecedented levels of demand for electrical power, water, transportation infrastructure and improved efficiency, this is a unique time in our history. Economic, social, political and market forces are pushing companies to adopt a more intelligent approach to the generation and delivery of energy.

Emerging Smart Grid technologies are critical in the new world context and are made possible by a complex mix of embedded computing, metering and data management technologies, and will allow utilities to anticipate and shape consumer demand for electrical power. In addition, for nearly a decade HP has been working on a sustainable city infrastructure that addresses challenges related to issues like climate change, depletion of natural resources and scarcity of water. This infrastructure would be created by systems of resource microgrids, helping to manage energy as a key resource and apportion it based on the need. In an era where continued growth and development paces a growing strain on the carrying capacity of the biosphere, our sustainability labs are developing a new template for how the next generation cities will be designed, built and managed.

I look forward to a number of exciting and innovative IT solutions that will enable consumers and companies alike to reduce their environmental impact and protect the planet for generations to come.

George Ahn is president and chief executive officer of TRIRIGA. He has more than 18 years of software industry leadership.

Image courtesy of HP.