Whether or not business leaders take seriously the threat of global warming, they would be well served to start finding ways to reduce energy consumption and emissions at their companies — both in terms of their operations as well as their products

IT has power to create a greener world

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Consensus continues to grow among political leaders around the world that global warming is a very probable threat that needs to be addressed.

The latest evidence of this shifting mindset is the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report, released last week. The report is a major one, given its scope and number of countries involved, representing a large drop in a bucket of governmental studies and legislation aimed at addressing climate change.

Whether or not business leaders take seriously the threat of global warming, they would be well served to start finding ways to reduce energy consumption and GHG emissions at their companies — both in terms of their operations as well as their products. Acting sooner rather than later means they can stay ahead of stricter laws, as well as on top of the energy crisis that’s already being felt in some datacenters.

“Energy grids are being constrained such that they can’t deliver the energy that companies needs. Legislative schemes are being put into place to control [carbon emissions],” says John Frey, manager of corporate environmental strategies at HP. By not acting, companies themselves will be “inhibited from a growth perspective, or find themselves legislated or taxed into a corner. Most companies don’t want to find themselves in that situation.”

Frey concedes that legislation can help spur a change in a company’s operations and its products, but waiting for laws to guide you isn’t a prudent approach. “Legislation is not going to drive innovation. It is going to bring the high bar up a little bit for those that have not sought a leadership position and gotten in front of the issue.”

Another benefit to staying ahead of the legislative curve: You get to participate in how legislation evolves: “As legislators are looking at whom they can invite in for a dialogue, it’s interesting and satisfying that companies like HP are the ones that get invited to the table first,” Frey says.

A member of the WWF’s Climate Savers Program, HP has long employed sustainable IT practices, according to Frey, which has positioned the company well to stay ahead of legislation. Most recently, the company announced ambitious plans to reduce its energy consumption by 20 percent by 2010. And driving these company’s efforts is indeed green — both of the monetary and environmental perspective. “This is the right thing to do, just looking at energy efficiency from a cost of ownership perspective… When you look at it from the environmental perspective, it becomes an even better decision. It’s not a logical leap a lot of companies make: ‘Hey, our IT group can contribute to reducing our environment footprint.'”

Indeed, the IT industry has a major role to play in a day and age where servers, PCs, networking gear, storage, and applications are vital organs for just about any business, keeping that essential data flowing and operations moving. Frey observed that IT was not explicitly referenced in the IPCC report: “When this issue is talked about in a legislative framework … the assumption is that all these segments, from power generation to general industry, all have an IT component.”

That puts the IT industry in a potentially powerful and influential position as businesses worldwide adapt a greener, more sustainable state of mind, says Edan Dionne, director of corporate environmental affairs at IBM. (Dionne sent me some very thoughtful answers to my e-mail questions, which I am posting here for you to read.)

“Improving the energy utilization of IT equipment and datacenters is important because the application of IT to business and societal energy-efficiency challenges offers us the opportunity to transform the way that society uses energy,” Dionne says.

“For example, IT applications can manage power grids to reduce losses and enable distributed generation,” she continues. “IT can introduce congestion-pricing schemes that reduce road traffic and encourage the use of carpooling and mass transit. IT enables businesses to improve manufacturing processes and supply chain efficiencies to reduce waste and energy usage. IT allows people to work remotely to reduce commuting requirements.”

Big Blue, like HP, is a participant in WWF’s Climate Savers Program, and it, too, has been tackling energy-efficiency issues for years. Just this week, the company announced its Big Green initiative, a $1 billion-a-year service initiative aimed at building and redesigning datacenters that consume less energy. The company also recently garnered recognition from the EPA for pledging to reduce total global GHG emissions by 7 percent from 2005 to 2012.

Dionne offers this advice for companies struggling with how to tackle reducing their energy costs and environmental footprint: “Do what IBM and some other leading companies have done: Assess their own potential impact on the environment; change the necessary policies, processes, and procedures; set benchmarks for achievement; establish a management system to monitor and report progress on those benchmarks; and take corrective action when needed.”

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