Green Field Opportunities

Originally published on the Annex Consulting website.  http://www.annexgroup.com/articles/2011q3/advice5-0911/

As an IT consultant I am always looking for technology that can help my clients be more competitive.  In my field ‘more competitive’ translates directly to ‘can I help them make more money, save more money, or build a stronger brand?`  Green IT is one of the few opportunities that can achieve all three.

Defining Green ICT (information communication technology) is important, since there is so much green wash out there!  The widely accepted definition is that it includes ICTs with low environmental burdens.  It also includes the usage of ICT as an enabler to reduce environmental impacts.   In terms that make actual sense, ICT is technology such as server virtualization, which saves electricity, but it is also software, for route optimization or automating the environmental control systems of a building.

Beyond energy savings, why is this topic important?   Most simply stated it takes electricity to run our networks, PCs, datacenters, and mobile phones.  In Vancouver we have simply shifted the smokestack of industry from False Creek to Alberta where gas fired electrical generators provide our electricity when the dams are low.  In 2007, the total footprint of the ICT sector – including personal computers (PCs) and peripherals, telecoms networks and devices and data centres – was about 2% of the estimated total emissions from human activity released that year.  This figure looks set to grow at 6% each year until 2020 (data centres will grow faster than any other ICT technology, driven by the need for storage, computing and other IT services).

The opportunity for smaller IT consultants is not with larger organizations such as Telus, BC Hydro or Bell, as they already have departments dedicated to the topic.  In my opinion, the opportunity is in helping mid-sized firms find ways to save energy throughout their operation, increase employee retention or introduce new technology that will allow them to do a better job servicing their market.   My practice takes it a bit further, to helping my customers design products or services that are built to compete in markets that are already demanding that companies report on their carbon footprint.

However, there is a lot we can learn from the bigger guys as they provide very good examples of what can realistically be done.  You can normally find out what they are up to by looking for a Corporate Social Responsibility Report on their website.  Telus’s is located at http://csr.telus.com/.  Bell Canada’s is located at http://www.bce.ca/en/responsibility/environment/index.php.

From an IT perspective, the lowest hanging fruit in the organization is to make sure that the PCs, screens, laptops and other peripherals are shut off before employees go home for the evening. It sounds simple, but astoundingly, not all organizations require this.  There are a number of programs, including those built into Windows that can help with this.  In the server room, energy can be saved through server virtualization, using Blade servers and better cooling designs.

Helping a customer become more competitive can also create new revenue generating possibilities for IT consultants  in the development of guidelines for the purchase of new equipment and its use    The guidelines can even include standards on how long cell phones are kept before they are trashed or how the electronics are disposed of.   The creation of these guidelines often starts with an audit to illustrate where the customer is now—which is another revenue generating activity.

Moving away from traditional IT, the next big trend is using IT to integrate the control of lighting and heating in an office or plant.  This is much more than a programmable thermostat—it is the use of IT to ensure proper light levels, monitor equipment like pumps to see if they are working properly, or control automated window shades to reduce air conditioning needs.  A great report, although long and boring, on where some of the opportunities that exist can be found on my website at claybraziller.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/02_smart2020report.pdf.

When companies start to combine finance, IT and business efforts together, the new opportunities available grow exponentially.  All the technology has a software heart and there is no one better suited to bringing this idea forward than an IT professional, although many people do argue that point with me—but obviously I am slightly biased.

About the Author
Clay Braziller is an engineer and marketing professional that is passionate about the impact of technology and the importance of sustainability. His typical roles include internal technology champion, the creation of business plans and facilitation. For more information, please contact  clay at braziller.com or 604-961-6360.

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