How to gain green IT cred

The push is on for companies to go green, and IT professionals will likely feel the pressure to deliver. Although most ITers don’t have specialized eco-skills, there are ways to develop this knowledge, and to parlay what you already know.

Businesses often see IT as a natural pick to lead their sustainability efforts, says Simon Mingay, the lead green IT analyst with Gartner Inc. IT touches every area of an organization, with data already collected — or available to be mined — about green opportunities and other information needed to make smart decisions, he says.

Meanwhile, many businesses don’t have environmental specialists on staff. Taken together, this is an opportunity for IT to take the lead.

This will require some in IT to acquire expertise in additional areas. “These are new skill sets that extend the traditional domain of the IT professional,” says Eme Onuoha, director of sustainability for Xerox Canada Ltd.

Be warned, though: There are few green-IT certification programs and degrees. What’s being toutd as the nation’s first green IT college-level program, a two-year associate’s degree, was co-developed by IBM. It begins in December, and is being offered both online and at the Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Neb.

With few exceptions, “a lot of this is learning is on the fly. There is no standard curriculum,” says Adrian J. Bowles, vice president with Datamonitor Group of London and founder of SIG411 LLC, a green consultancy. That means you’ll be learning this on your own — often at the same time your bosses are asking you to deliver some green results.

We asked several enterprise IT leaders, and here are four new skill sets that they listed as valuable to know. Learn one or more if you want to be the green go-to person at your company.

Facilities design and management

Organizations of all stripes are trying to create more sustainable work environments, with some aiming for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. As such, IT professionals are being asked to help create a green footprint.

“That’s not something we’ve traditionally done before as IT professionals,” says Brad Gammons, vice president of global energy and utilities for IBM. IT professionals will have to think about how their decisions impact sustainable design and, in turn, how the building’s design impacts the IT infrastructure.

“It has a lot of impact on the type of devices you use, where you locate people and how you design work spaces. You have to look at how you cluster computers, bodies and servers,” Gammons explains.

IT will also need a better understanding of the complex infrastructure used to maintain smart buildings, where IT monitors all sorts of infrastructure related to the physical space, from security and access control to the heating and ventilation systems, says Clay G. Nesler, vice president of global energy and sustainability at Johnson Controls Inc., in Milwaukee. The company provides energy-related products and services for buildings.

“In the old days, building management systems were islands. They had their own infrastructure, and vendors would build their own computers,” he says. “Today more and more of that is sitting on IT infrastructure.”

IT will increasingly need to understand the metering and monitoring systems going into green buildings and how the buildings’ computerized infrastructure has requirements different from other computer-related systems, Nesler says. “

You don’t reset a large centrifugal chiller the way you would reset a server,” he adds. “There are health and safety issues to the equipment, and if you’re looking at a system console, you might not know this.”

Carbon management

As companies try to cut their carbon footprints, they’re turning to their IT leaders to develop the systems need to calculate and track carbon throughout the organization and its sometimes vast supply chain.

Thus, someone in IT needs to know about embedded carbon and how to measure it in the products and processes throughout the company, Bowles says.

Consider, for example, something as seemingly straightforward as application development. As companies track their carbon figures, IT leaders should know how application development contributes to the company’s overall numbers. You’ll have to ask, for example, whether an application will require new hardware to test and run, or how much additional server space (and thus energy) it will require — and how those translate into carbon output.

Bowles says IT will have to work with other business units to calculate, capture and report on the activities, purchases and output made by their departments, too.

“It’s understanding the economics and the implications of carbon management: What do we track today, what should we track and what will we be asked to produce in the future? Because you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” Bowles explains.

International and U.S. state environmental laws

IT leaders are encountering state laws and international regulations that impact everything from the IT products they buy, to how they dispose of them, to their company’s carbon footprint, says Austin Hipes, director of field engineering at Network Engines Inc. (NEI), a Canton, Mass.-based application-appliance maker.

Some of the most well-known laws in this area include the European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive, or RoHS, and the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, or WEEE, which sets collection, recycling and recovery targets for electronics throughout the European Union. Similarly, China has the Measure on the Control of Pollution Caused by Electronic Information Products (more commonly called China RoHS). And numerous U.S. states have enacted laws governing the disposal of computer parts and electronics.

Sources on this topic say that because so many companies have global operations, many in IT have to know these regulations. Hipes and NEI marketing vice president Jeff Hudgins say IT leaders must understand environmental compliance issues so they can ask vendors the right questions regarding specific state, national or international environmental standards before buying, deploying and disposing of equipment.

“They have to spec all the requirements around the environmental safety component. You have to have a strategy from cradle to grave. And the IT person had better have done that research. In the past, IT might have called maintenance to just haul off [old] equipment. Now, if there still is a maintenance worker to haul it off, he’s likely to ask, ‘What do you want to do with it?’ ” Hudgins says.

Energy management

IT leaders must develop a better understanding of their entire organization’s energy needs as well as a better relationship with their electrical utilities, says John Skinner, director of marketing, eco-technology, at Intel Corp. in Santa Clara, Calif., and an alternate board member and marketing co-chairman at Climate Savers Computing.

Skinner acknowledges that many companies have facility workers or energy procurement officers who handle electricity bills, but emerging trends will force IT professionals to get more involved. Skinner sees several reasons for gaining electrical expertise. First, energy management systems are becoming increasingly sophisticated, prompting the need for IT to better understand how to use the monitors and sensors to make smart consumption decisions.

Also, more and more utilities are establishing an expertise on how to develop energy-efficient IT departments; CIOs will want to tap into that expertise to better their own department’s energy performance — and will need to be conversant in electricity to have meaningful discussions.

Additionally, utilities are offering big incentives to commercial customers that take certain steps, such as enabling computer power management across their PC networks or designing energy-efficient data centers. Beyond that, more utilities are starting to offer variable rate incentives depending on when companies use electricity and how much they use. All of this requires IT systems that can regulate electricity use. More utilities are establishing an expertise on how to develop energy-efficient IT departments; CIOs will need to be conversant in electricity to have meaningful discussions.

Some see IT playing an even greater role in energy management. Vuk Trifkovic, a senior analyst at Datamonitor Group of London, says that as the electric power supply grid becomes increasingly taxed, even in developed countries, IT must understand how that effects its infrastructure requirements. He points out, for example, that there are areas in London where IT can get the floor space to site a data center but cannot buy enough power to supply it.

Recasting existing IT skills in a green light But being a green leader isn’t all about acquiring new knowledge. Sustainable initiatives will require IT professionals to retool some of their existing skills as well. Here’s a look at several common IT skills that can be recast with an eye toward being green.

Business analytics

Companies have traditionally used analytics to drive down costs and increase revenue, and Datamonitor Group’s Bowles says IT should harness business analytics to drive green projects. To do that, they’ll have to determine what to analyze — he sees energy consumption and carbon emissions as starting points — and then decide how to present and use that information to get results.

Change management

Sharpen up on these skills, because getting everyone to buy into sustainable initiatives takes work, says Bill Griffith, Ph.D., a professor of management at Antioch University New England in Keene, N.H., which offers a green MBA.

Xerox Canada’s Onuoha explains that green initiatives often require people to change longstanding behaviors; some might resist and resent the change, particularly if they don’t understand the reasons behind it. In that regard, green initiatives are like most other IT projects in that they require you to sell them using clear objectives that your colleagues will understand, get buy-in and then help the workforce to adopt them with as little stress as possible.

For example, “How do you convince that person who for 10 years has had the privilege of a scanner or an inkjet printer under their desk that they shouldn’t have it any more?” Onuoha asks. “If the IT manager can’t articulate that, then they can’t influence the culture and they won’t influence behavior.”


“IT is crying for people who are experts in telecommunications,” says Brad Gammons, vice president of global energy and utilities for IBM, because many green initiatives call for more flexible work environments and work arrangements that reduce travel requirements. As more companies promote home-based workers and hoteling options (where those remote workers can have space when they need it in the office), companies will need experts who can not only implement the technology needed to support such scenarios but also understand the security required to make it work effectively.

Asset management/analysis on total cost of ownership

As companies start to analyze the products they choose based on green criteria, IT leaders must consider new factors as they calculate the TCO of their assets, Onuoha says. They’ll have to look at the amount of greenhouse gases it takes to produce and transport the products they buy, how much energy they use once deployed and how much it costs to dispose of them in the end.

Moreover, IT will be asked to provide systems to analyze other areas of the corporate supply chain in the same way, Onuoha says.

“If you can apply a lifecycle assessment to as much of your supply chain as possible, it gives you a better understanding of what impact your enterprise has on the environment and sustainable development,” he adds.

Mary K. Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer. You can contact her at