“Show me the savings.”

That, it seems, is what IT purchasing managers are telling “green technology” evangelists in the vendor community.

And as the recent report by Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. titled “Tapping Buyers’ Growing Interest in Green IT” suggests, hard-nosed pragmatism, rather than philanthropy, is currently the dominant driver of green technology adoption.

The 124 IT operations and procurement professionals in North America and Europe polled by Forrester did provide two reasons why green matters: efficiency and corporate responsibility.

But here’s the crux of the issue – most of these IT decision-makers said a green purchase would only happen in the context of cost reduction.

And while 85 percent conceded environmental factors are important in planning IT operations, only a quarter have written green criteria into their company’s purchasing processes.

One chief technology officer at a manufacturing company summed up the dominant thinking among purchasing managers thus: “We would do green because it makes business sense, not because it’s green. It would have to show cost savings.”

So that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

As Forrester Research senior vice-president Christopher Mines put it: “These are hard-headed, ROI-driven business decisions.”

Vendor messaging

If “cost savings” – or the potential for that – is what most prospective buyers have to see before they will consider green technology, then how are vendors faring in meeting that need?

Not very well, it seems.

A mere 15 percent of the IT professionals surveyed by Forrester had a high level of awareness of vendors’ green initiatives.

As to the causal relationship between going green and saving green – that isn’t clear at all to most folk making the IT buying decisions.

What’s more, it’s definitely the type of information purchasing managers want vendors to provide.

In the words of an anonymous IT worker from the energy industry (quoted in the Forrester report): “Show the long-term or even short-term cost savings and people will buy.”

Green positioning by Big Blue

It’s a message IBM does seem to have grasped far better than many other green evangelists in the IT vendor community.

The “be green and save green” theme is at the heart of Big Blue’s very focused messaging on the subject.

It’s a dominant motif at events the company is currently doing in cities across Canada as part of The IBM Energy-Efficient Data Centre Breakfast Series.

For instance, at the Toronto breakfast event last week, presenters lost no time zeroing in on the “cost savings” issue.

They cited pertinent statistics – published by analyst firms – that highlighted the problem:

• By 2010 for every $1 spent on hardware, 70 cents will be spent on power and cooling; and by 2012 for every $1 spent on hardware, $1 will be spent on power and cooling – IDC

• Twenty-nine percent of clients said data centre capability affected server purchases – Ziff Davis

• Data centres have doubled their energy use in the past five years – Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Presenters at the event also talked about IBM’s energy efficiency products and services, and how they were saving customers as much as 40 per cent of overall energy costs.

One such product discussed in great detail was “Cool Battery”, a new IBM offering aimed at reducing energy consumed by the “chillers” in a typical data centre.

Steven Sams, vice-president, global site and facilities services at IBM related how Cool Battery was installed at an IBM location for two years, in which time “we saved 45 per cent of the energy cost of our chiller plant.”

Green is good

Apart from IBM, a string of other big IT firms have publicized green initiatives in the past few months, including Primus, HP, Dell, Sun and Intel – to name but a few.

Ne’er a week passes before you hear of yet another “green” venture by yet another tech company.

Many of these programs (and the associated messaging) have a “philanthropic” flavour, and emphasize the environmental and social benefits of green programs, rather than the financial ROI.

“We’re doing this because it’s the right and socially responsible thing to do,” is the underlying motif.

It’s the message implicit in programs certain IT vendors have jointly launched with high-profile environmental groups.

Early this year, for example, Dell tied up with The Conservation Fund and on the “Plant a tree for me” program that seeks to offset the carbon dioxide produced when Dell customers power up their computer systems.

Dell has provided a way for customers to make donations, with the assurance that all funds will be remitted to the two environmental groups and used to plant trees in sustainably-managed forests.

Dell’s messaging focused on the environmental benefits of this initiative:

“Through the program, a customer donation of $2 for a notebook and $6 for a desktop computer will offset carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to powering the average computer for three years.”

A similar green venture with an overtly philanthropic message was the HP announcement last week of a $2 million cash and equipment donation to the World Wildlife Fund to establish three projects aimed at addressing the causes and consequences of climate change on a global basis.

One of the three projects – called ICT Innovation as a Driver of Climate Change Solutions – is aimed at identifying how 1 billion tons of carbon can be reduced through the use of information and communications technology (ICT).

Some vendor initiatives have little to do with IT, such as the announcement by Primus Telecommunications Canada Inc. late last week of an alliance with environmental organization Evergreen.

Primus Canada said it would make monthly financial donations to Evergreen to support national projects designed to create greener communities – such as greening of schools and public spaces.

Many roads lead to Green-land

Whatever the motive – whether profit or philanthropy, whether efficiency or a growing awareness of corporate social responsibility, whether outward pressures or inner impulses – “green” has finally caught the imagination of IT vendors and buyers alike.

As Nauman Haque, an analyst at Info-Tech Research in London, Ont. puts it: “Green has become a buzzword in the media, and industry has taken notice.”

And it will continue to do so.

“Looking a few years ahead,” said the Forrester report, “our interviewees expect green to hold more sway in their decision-making, pushed by growing public awareness of environmental issues, ant

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