Green IT will have to wait until 2008

A lot of PCs are probably going dark right about now. Even more will be turned off tomorrow, and in the week ahead. Although retail and e-commerce operations may see a peak, other industries might find this the “greenest” technology period of the year. Like everything about green IT, though, it happens only as a by-product of something else.

When we recently published ComputerWorld Canada’s year-end editorial about the top trends of 2007, we didn’t include green IT. Although the hype was there, the evidence of a real trend was not. Particularly in Canada, research firms like Info-Tech aren’t seeing a lot of activity in the enterprise. Sure, they’re virtualizing infrastructure and trying to bring energy bills down, but that’s not really what green IT is supposed to be about. Neither is the effort by all sorts of vendors to create more power-efficient products.

Green IT, at least as I would define it, is a conscious effort to run your technology-powered business in a more environmentally-friendly way. By that I mean the use of IT equipment that minimizes the use of the Earth’s resources, whether that be the amount of heat it generates, the amount of carbon emissions it causes and the space it takes up in landfills. The key word here is conscious. If it’s something that happens incidental to a cost-cutting exercise, it’s not really green IT. That’s not to say that environmentalism as a by-product isn’t helpful, but it’s not the kind of mind shift those of us who care about climate change are looking for.

What environmentalists want, I believe, is a difference in attitude towards the way we conduct transactions electronically with customers and internally. The idea is to put sustainability and preservation of the environment first (or at least not last) and then focus on what will satisfy the self-interest of the corporation and its shareholders. As a major engine of business activity, you can see how technology will play an increasingly big role here. You can also see why it’s so slow to take off.

IT managers are busy enough trying to initiate other mental shifts in the culture of their organization. They are trying to teach, in many cases, their coworkers and managers to think more carefully about protecting customer or company information, or how to better collaborate, share, and store data. They are working hard to convince the C-suite that technology needs to be thought of a strategic asset to the enterprise, not a questionable expense within the capital budget.

There are no doubt many ways in which Green IT can help the bottom line and even make companies work more efficiently. IT managers have yet to actually become, however, environmental activists on masse, using green approaches to prove their forward-thinking approach to business. Maybe in a few years we’ll start to see such leaders emerge. As Al Gore proved with An Inconvenient Truth, it takes a long time for the message to get through.

Green IT has to start with the heart and then extend to the technology. This year saw the right kind of products start to emerge. Maybe the passion will arrive in 2008.

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