Measuring the degree to which an organization is green will eventually form part of leadership’s dashboard of overall performance metrics for the business, said an expert with Hewlett-Packard Co.

Currently, the top driver for implementing a green IT strategy is reducing energy expenses, but assessing how well an organization is doing in that area requires the ability to measure it, said Maggie Davis, worldwide environmental lead with Palo Alto, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard Co.

“Metrics are going to allow IT managers and project leads to deliver the proof that initiatives are being successful and have a positive impact,” said Davis.

Davis was on a cross-Canada road show to help businesses develop what they’re calling a Green IT Action Plan, as part of Hewlett-Packard’s Eco Solutions program for maintaining an environmentally responsible IT company and helping customers do the same through energy-efficient products and operations, resource conservation and end-of-life programs.

Enterprises and the public sector are expressing interest in being green in regards to how they print documents, use energy and recycle, said Davis. Specifically, many of them consider paper conservation as the ideal starting point because “it’s really an easy low-hanging fruit.” An average office prints 10,000 sheets of paper per worker per year, noted Davis.

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Green IT

But whatever the green tactics, be they printing less and consistently recycling cartridges, Davis emphasized that these approaches should change the business processes that employees habitually follow. For instance, if a process requires printing and copying documents, putting them in an envelope and sending them off somewhere, a better way may be to scan and e-mail them to the intended recipients. “It eliminates that paper step and shortens the time it takes to get the process done in the first place,” said Davis.

Employing green metrics allows companies to assess their environments, said Davis, “because if you don’t know where you are today, how do you plan for tomorrow?”

Jean-Paul Desmarais, enterprise marketing manager with Mississauga, Ont.-based HP Canada Co., who was also on the roadshow, said measuring the company’s current status with respect to power costs, paper use, and recycling is the first step in a Green IT Action Plan.

He suggests the business should then identify opportunities where the greatest and swiftest impact can be made. Then, market the plan and gain support from various parties within the organization. Set measurable and timely goals, like “an X percentage of something, an increase of this, or a decrease of that.” Identify which devices – like multi-purpose hardware that prints, copies and scans – work best with those green goals and modify business processes accordingly.

But Desmarais acknowledged that changing employee habits is a long-term task and will require some change management. “You make that change person by person,” he said.

Hewlett-Packard isn’t the only one to push the importance of green IT metrics. Forrester Research Inc. has a Green IT Baseline calculator to help businesses justify investments in green technologies and the time spent to institute operational best practices. Doug Washburn, analyst with the Cambridge, Mass.-based research firm, said understanding where an organization stands with respect to green IT will help it prioritize money and time expenditures, “otherwise, you’re putting money out blindly in areas where you think you may have an impact, but you don’t really know.”

For instance, said Washburn, cooling a data centre can consume more energy than people think.

But measuring how green you are helps combat the skepticism about green IT strategies, said Washburn. “When IT professionals try to ensure there are financial benefits to go along with it, if you haven’t measured where you are today, how are you going to prove you’ve done a good job reducing costs?”

Research conducted late 2008 by Forrester revealed a “very healthy” adoption of green IT strategies by companies, said Washburn. A little more than 50 per cent already have a plan in place, and 34 per cent are considering it.

Washburn said the reality is all companies, regardless of size or industry, are interested in green IT metrics, but some are more capable of executing on this desire than others. Larger organizations may have more resources to measure how green they are, but those companies with a good synergy between IT and facilities are more likely to deliver on a green strategy, he explained.

Desmarais said executing a green IT Action Plan requires altering the often tense relationship between people and profits, where cutting one affects the other. But adding “planet” to the equation produces a “triple bottom line” where, he said, “change management becomes an opportunity” because positive proof-points can be built into communications, thereby minimizing opposition and making people feel good.

Other Canadian cities along the Hewlett-Packard road show include Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary.

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