Green IT: Looking Beyond the Data Center

Green IT: Looking Beyond the Data Center

For IT departments, the first response to the emergence of "green IT" has been to focus on data center energy consumption. And many programs have never moved beyond that. But the reality is companies can do much more to reduce IT's environmental footprint while significantly reducing costs.

The answer lies in sustainable computing practices, considered the next phase in the evolution of green IT. Sustainable computing takes a more fundamental approach to green IT by emphasizing the value of the three R's -- reducing the demand for new technology by extending equipment lifecycles; reusing assets when possible through redeployment, resale or charitable donation; and ensuring a zero-impact approach to recycling.

These sustainable computing practices are laid out in a just-released, Redemtech-sponsored IDC white paper, Beyond Power: IT's Roadmap to Sustainable Computing.  

As outlined in the paper, few organizations have fully leveraged the benefits of Sustainable Computing to date because green IT is still relatively immature, but pockets of excellence have emerged that demonstrate just how powerful these practices can be in their environmental, financial and social impact. And adoption of these practices is expected to accelerate as pressure grows on businesses from customers, investors and government regulators to reconsider current practices.

Think Environmentally

When it comes to environmental objectives, the ultimate goal is to minimize the factors that contribute to the global climate problem and prevent waste from poisoning the environment or harming human health. While carbon emission is one of the primary culprits, eliminating harm from e-waste is another important goal. Many organizations believe they have already accomplished this objective, but according to the Basel Action Network, 80 percent of the e-waste collected for recycling is exported overseas where dismantling shops lack the processes to prevent hazardous materials from harming workers and the environment.

The first step in addressing this issue is to look for ways to extend the life of IT hardware. This reduces the demand for new hardware and amortizes the environmental impact of manufacturing over a longer period. Many organizations are surprised to discover how resource-intensive computer manufacturing is: According to the United Nations University, a PC requires as much raw material as a mid-size automobile to manufacture, while 81 percent of the energy it uses over its lifetime is consumed during production.

With IT budgets tightening, lifecycle extension may prove to be a necessity for many organizations. This practice reduces total cost of ownership and also diverts capital expense, making it an effective and sustainable green IT strategy.

Lifecycle extension can be supported by a proactive program that drives greater reuse of IT assets, both inside and outside the corporate enterprise. Redeploying IT equipment to other areas of the company that can still obtain value out of them can go a long way in controlling carbon emissions, waste and cost. Done correctly, it should include testing, cleaning and refurbishment, upgrade of the equipment as necessary and re-kitting with new peripherals to ensure end-user satisfaction.

Charitable donation and remarketing are also effective strategies for reducing the volume of e-waste entering the waste stream. Remarketing allows companies to obtain some replacement value to offset total cost of ownership for equipment that has no internal reusability and would otherwise need to be donated or recycled. Charitable donation can also help divert computers from the waste stream while supporting social responsibility objectives. In both cases, testing and reconditioning of the equipment is critical to ensure a productive secondary life, while effective data sanitization is a must. Take-back of donated systems is also important to closing the environmental liability.

Act Socially

While proper lifecycle management can greatly boost a company's ecological and environmental sustainability position, it can also contribute to achieving goals on the social front. This can be accomplished through managed proactive donations, avoiding unethical labor practices and controlling unethical exports.

PCs in good working condition are in high demand by charities and secondary users in developing nations. However most of what's exported is inoperable junk stripped of any valuable components. Providing usable systems to under-served communities through charitable donation can help to reduce the digital divide while deferring e-waste from entering the waste system.

The impact of e-waste on human health should also be considered. Some asset disposal companies use prison labor to keep costs down. Unfortunately, the use of prison labor allows health and safety laws to be bypassed, undercuts the financial well-being of legitimate IT Asset Disposal (ITAD) vendors, invites security risk with felons wiping potentially sensitive data, and opens the client companies up to association with what can be perceived as unethical activity.

Gain Financially

The management of corporate IT assets and their disposal should ensure that the interest of financial stakeholders is being maximized, both in terms of containing costs as well as supporting the company's operations to maximize efficiencies and top-line revenue growth.

The fact is that a greener IT policy should lead to financial efficiencies and possibly substantial reductions in operating costs. Financial benefits in IT asset disposal practices can take several forms, including security and data privacy risk mitigation, cost containment, and maximizing ROI.

In terms of security and data privacy, protection against loss of data should be the company's primary consideration when assessing its ITAD strategy. This can be achieved through sufficient expertise in legal and compliance issues, having a comprehensive security posture and implementing a corporate ITAD function that focuses on cost containment and possibly residual value capture. The use of qualified ITAD experts should help determine priorities, processes and expectations.

Moving Forward with a Sustainable Computing Initiative

Given the complexity of the tasks, it is generally out of the scope of an IT department to handle asset disposition on its own. It's recommended that companies hire a professional service firm with specific knowledge regarding asset management and disposal handling to perform a complete assessment covering environmental, social and cost, and security concerns. Companies should have the service provider conduct an inventory of their assets, along with an analysis of the company's utilization profile, which would determine which solution fits best.

Companies like Redemtech have identified multiple opportunities to significantly reduce IT's environmental impact through policies and processes directed at the acquisition, management and retirement of desktop computers and laptops.

As an industry, it's time for us to acknowledge that the drive for newer, better, faster technology, particularly on the desktop, can be in conflict with an environmentally and financially responsible approach to IT management. The opportunities to reduce costs and environmental footprint through Sustainable Computing practices will ultimately dwarf those available through a program focused only on energy consumption or recycling or otherwise reusable technology.