Four Reasons to go Green

Matt Deacon, Microsoft Ltd, January 2009, Version 1.0 UK Architecture Centre


Today the world of IT is faced with many challenges and as the growing economic recession continues so does the need to do more with less. As a consequence one would not be surprised to see the Green IT agenda falling by the way side. However, for many organisations this is thankfully not the case as indicated by Gartner putting Green IT in its “top 10” for 2009 [1], this subject has never been higher on the agenda than it is today.

This article will explore four primary arguments why green IT is an important issue for business and that by adopting a sustainable IT strategy promises much more than just environmental benefits. This is why IT professionals should take note and prepare for action if they and their organisations are not to be caught out.

What is green computing?

Green computing or Green IT is a potentially limiting description that stereotypes the associated activities and practices as being solely focused on ‘saving the planet’ or reducing the impact of IT on the environment. While this is no bad aspiration it often moves us away from the core benefit of Green IT which is simply to develop practices that focus on using computer resources efficiently throughout their lifecycle. As such the phrase Sustainable IT is a far better suited term that encompasses the long term objectives and benefits that such a practice will establish.

That said the press and analysts will perpetuate the word green while it continues to sell papers. So for the rest of us that see this as a long term strategy or future for IT we shall have to live with the term for some time to come. However, when engaging internally the use of the more mature phrase of Sustainable IT is very much advised for all architects when working on defining strategies and liaising with business counterparts even though you know they will refer to it as green too.

Green (or Sustainable) IT is the practice of managing computing resources more efficiently throughout their lifecycle.

Sustainability is not just for Christmas

As stated above, sustainable IT is the practice of managing computer resources efficiently and for this to be successful it depends on developing a long term set of strategies and ensuring that the process is managed and continuously improved upon. However, this should not suggest the need for exhaustive analysis and up front expense. As with any process of continuous improvement one should start small, guarantee success and work iteratively exploring new avenues of how to practice sustainability more successfully. The key is to be able to fully describe, measure, monitor and report on success at all stages in its development. Measurement is an essential factor in establishing any sustainability practice as you will quickly learn.

Chewing the CUD

Implicit in the definition of sustainability is management and the need to consider the full lifecycle of any given resource (product or technology) and therefore one needs to consider from where the resource is first consumed, how it is used operationally and how one disposes of it at end of life. The process of “Chewing the CUD” describes the core principles for sustainable lifecycle management. In order to “Chew the CUD” one must consider how one:

Consumes new IT assets

  • What are the supplier’s sustainability credentials?
  • What were the sustainability costs of their introduction?
  • What was the sustainability business case for their introduction?
  • Were there alternatives and opportunities for reuse?
  • Do they have an Environment Management System in place?

Uses IT resources throughout their in life service

  • What is the sustainability cost of running?
  • Is it being run most efficiently? Can this be improved?
  • How is it maintained and managed sustainably?
  • How can its lifespan be extended?

Disposes of IT assets once they come to end of life

  • Could it be redeployed, recycled, reconditioned?
  • Where will it be disposed to?
  • What is the sustainability cost of disposal?

At all stages of the CUD lifecycle it is possible to factor in a number of cross cutting concerns such as responsibility, efficiency and sustainability so creating a matrix for each asset as shown below:

The Four reasons to go green

In a recent survey for the Register [2] “regulation, money and image” were the top three drivers for environmental initiatives in business. At first glance the ethical or environmental argument does not seem to be that well supported. As stated in the report “It’s interesting to note that ‘genuine concern for the environment’ is very low in the ranking and is unlikely to rise higher. When it comes to companies, it [the environment] really does not figure as important”. Although, this may well be true it does not diminish the potential impact any future changes in the environment will have on that organisation’s ability to operate at all.

While social, political and economic drivers provide strong arguments for business to respond to, environmental factors also play an important part. Without this understanding there could be serious repercussions for any business.



As a consequence we can identify four principle drivers (or reasons) for adopting a sustainable approach to IT and potentially, to an organisation’s business practice as a whole. Taken individually these will have an impact on how an organisation behaves, but when viewed collectively and presented objectively can be a very powerful tool in effecting significant and rapid change within an organisation.






Argument 1: The Environmental Driver

Over the past few decades there has been a war going on in the scientific community, a war between those that can see a clear correlation between human activity and climate change and those that refused to share this opinion. Politicians and lobbyists have used this debate to avoid making decisions that will impact society and the world around us. Now thankfully, the dissenters have mostly been silenced and strong scientific evidence has prevailed. It is clear to almost all that significant and immediate action is required on a global basis if we are to have a chance of avoiding potentially catastrophic consequences for ourselves and the planet. Lord Stern recently stated that "People who said this [the stern report] was scaremongering are profoundwe are playing for is the transformation of the planet." He also reiterated that industry must rise to the challenge and improve “efficiency measures or face climate change of catastrophic proportions”.

Today, there are four primary environmental challenges that need to be addressed by every level of society on a global basis.

  • Energy Demands / Population growth
  • Pollution/Emissions
  • Resource destruction
  • Climate change


Energy demands and population growth

Energy demands are increasing significantly, according to the DTI, energy consumption in the UK increased by 15 per cent between 1970 and 2001 and by 10 per cent between 1990 and 2001 [3]. This demand is global with levels expected to increase by over 60% by 2020 if left unchecked [4].  

While the need to develop clean, renewable, efficient sources of energy is critical to sustaining world demands, it is equally important that we look to invest in sustainable practices and behaviours within our own organisations that look to conserve, reduce and manage our reliance on energy now and moving forwards. This will be an essential element of a sustainable IT or enterprise strategy.


Pollution and emissions

In any system based on dramatic self serving growth it often comes at the cost of excessive wastage both during and after production. Faced with growing demand for energy at such a global scale it is now clear that pollution is reaching significant proportions. All individuals and more significantly organisations contribute to this load either through the energy they consume, or the products they produce or the journey’s they make, all of which need to be taken into account within an organisation’s sustainable IT or enterprise strategy.


Resource destruction

The need and opportunity to recycle is enormous. One needs to understand where the product ends up, once it reaches end of life. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive) [6] is an EU initiative which aims to minimise the impact of electrical and electronic goods on the environment, by increasing re-use and recycling and reducing the amount of waste going to landfill. The UK regulations for implementing the WEEE Directive entered into UK law on 2nd January 2007 making it clear that at least part responsibility lies with the manufacturers. The Microsoft Authorised Refurbishment (MAR) program is a positive indication of self regulation in this area [7].


Climate change

The evidence now is pretty much conclusive that the dramatic increase in demand for energy since the industrial revolution and subsequent mushrooming in emissions are resulting in significant and potentially dangerous effects on the planet’s climate. The now famous ‘hockey stick’ [8] graph amply demonstrates the significant increase in global temperatures over the past 150 years of industrialisation. Responsibility has to be on all organisations to put their own house in order, ensure they invest in sustainable management practices if only to ensure they do best by their shareholders and at a very minimum are able to remain in business at all.

Argument 2: The Social Driver

As revealed in the Register survey previously, under a quarter of respondents agreed that genuine concern for the environment would be sufficient to motivate change within an organisation. So if the organisation itself does not care to change should it be concerned with what their customers think? Once again from the chart around 53% cite public relations and 39% cite customer expectations as likely to motivate change. This is a much more significant number especially when one considers the amplification effect that the Internet can have on such matters of image and reputation.

The importance of reputation and the view of the customer is nothing new to enterprise, but with the growth in communications through the Internet and a rapidly growing global market place the voice of the customer has never been louder, and the power to influence and change perceptions never stronger. Just one dissenting voice on the Internet can severely dent the reputation, sales and profitability of an organisation.

The term “Web 2.0” has commonly come to encapsulate the emerging trends in the use of the Internet as a platform for socialising, sharing and aggregating user-generated information through tools, such as Wikis, blogs and social network sites; all outside of the more traditional channels that can be directly influenced or are under the control of the individuals about which the information might refer.  The power of reputation through the Internet is still in its infancy, but as discussed in the book Wikinomics it explores “how mass collaboration can change everything”.  We are just at the start of witnessing what the ‘human computer’ is really capable of and how this can influence entire markets.

Below are a few examples of social influence at play today that empower the voice of the individual, many others exist and are emerging almost daily.

  • A community where anyone can find and anonymously share real-time reviews, ratings and salary details about specific jobs for specific employers.
  • Adds structure to feedback and reduces the overhead of an honest dialog with users.
  • www.getsatisfaction Real conversations with company employees and other customers who will answer your questions about the products and services you use.
  • Dells own attempt to get users to share and suggest product ideas. Apparently the different coloured dell laptops came out of this.

The next set of social websites focused around environmental responsibility and green-washing in particular (all of particular importance in moving towards a sustainable enterprise):

Argument 3: The Political Driver

So if the rapid degradation of the environment or the view of your customers is not sufficient to seed change in corporate behaviour then what about the view of your government? They too need to listen to their customers and in many cases are already starting to do so. The UK, for which this article will focus on, is the first country to actually put emissions targets into law. On the 28th November 2008 the Climate Change Act was passed by parliament [12] which lays down a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 (26% reduction by 2020). This is considerable when put into context of the expected increase in demand for energy over the same period.


The Carbon Reduction Commitment

A key element of the Climate Change Act is the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC). This is a mandatory cap and trade scheme to be introduced in April 2010 for all large non-energy intensive organisations with an energy consumption of over 6,000MWh. It is expected that CRC will affect over 5,000 organisations in the UK who will need to accurately monitor and report their energy usage to the government. Organisations will be expected to buy Carbon Allowances to cover their annual emissions. The first sale will be in 2011 and allowances are expected to be sold for around £12/tCO2e. For an average sized company consuming around 8,000MWh, this could be as much as £100,000 per year.

It is worth noting at this point that making use of a green energy tariff from your energy supplier will have no effect here as this factor will be ignored by government [1]. These allowances will need to be paid to the government in advance each year and the organisation will be eligible to receive a proportion back depending on the following factors [13]:

  • Emissions since the start of the scheme
  • Extent of advanced metering
  • Whether achieved Carbon Trust Standard

o   Footprint measured in line with CT methodology

o   Achieve 2.5% annual reduction either in absolute or relative terms

o   Demonstrate effective governance, carbon accounting and carbon management

  • Emissions per unit turnover


The results will be reported on a public league table and therefore have a significant impact on the organisation’s public profile and potentially on their customers.


EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency energy consumption in the US doubled between 2001-2006 and will do so again by 2011. In 2006 data centres from Northern Virginia to Washington State consumed 1.5% of the US electricity supply, equal to 61 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy. Electricity to run US server farms costs are estimated at around $4.5b/yr. More than consumed by all colour televisions in the US and equal to consumption of about 5.8 million U.S. households.

In Western European the equation is even more significant. Electricity consumption for Data centres in 2007 has been estimated at around 56 TWh per year and is projected to increase to 104 TWh per year by 2020[14]. In the UK estimates place data centres as accounting for between 2.2 – 3.3% of the national energy footprint [15].

The EU Code of Conduct (CoC)[14] is a voluntary initiative to develop and promote best practice and energy efficiency within the data centre. It is based on US EnergyStar Data Center Infrastructure Ratings which will involve regular monthly monitoring of energy usage.

Although voluntary, the program is widely seen as “regulation through the back door” as articulated by Alec Selvon-Bruce of Hitachi who said he viewed the CoC “as a wider move towards mandatory energy reporting for data centre owners and providers” and provides another example where organisations that enlist may be seen as progressive.

[1] This is due to the fact that energy companies are already targeted with supplying 10% of energy from renewables by 2010 (In 2006 renewable sources provided 4.55% of the electricity in the UK [9]). There is then no ‘labelling’ of the energy such that one can see that this is actually passed on to the consumer of a green tariff or not (there is much expectation of double counting here). BT among others is driving efforts to rectify this loophole [10]. For more information on the fuel mixes for leading suppliers see reference [11].

Argument 4: The Economic Driver

So finally, if the environment, the customer and the government are not sufficient to sway the organisation into action, what about the simple economic benefits of developing a sustainable IT or enterprise strategy?

As stated at the outset of this paper, we are faced, as never before with the need to do more with less. Yet looking at IT over the past 20-30 years it would seem we have never been more wasteful. As the Standish CHAOS reports continue to show on average only 34% of software projects are delivered “unchallenged” with 15% failing completely [16]. Probably my favourite example of this “rip’n’replace” culture in recent years came from Paul A. Strassmann, former Chief Information Technology executive for General Foods, Kraft, Xerox and the US Department of Defense who stated that [17]:

“Every seven years, we have torn up what has gone before and started again … There have been eight cycles of 'build and scrap' since 1946. The first cost $100m, equal to 7 per cent of business investment at the time. The last cost $2,000bn, or 47 per cent. The next would have cost $5,000bn but we have run out of money: we have come to the end of history as we know it.”

It is clear that at all levels this consumptive and wasteful behaviour needs to change, especially if we reflect back on the environmental issues facing humanity. Combined with the unparalleled challenges of the recent breakdown in the global economy it is essential that cost savings move more to front of stage and take on a more strategic focus. IT is a significant contributor to organisational expense not just in terms of equipment purchases but also when looking at cost during its lifetime. In fact as a Gartner report highlighted “For every $ spent on server hardware, add the same amount for power and cooling during lifetime!” [18], it is clear that focus will fall quickly on IT to sort out its act. Those IT organisations that are able to manage their resources in a sustainable fashion will be much better placed to move from a reactive cost cutting position to supporting innovation and change within the business.

However, in stating this it is easy to think solely in terms of cost cutting, or “sweating” assets until more money becomes available in the future. Intelligent behaviour and appropriate purchases and hardware refreshes are a key part in creating a sustainable approach to IT. It is just that purchases need to be validated from a sustainability perspective and not just used to patch over inefficiency problems by “throwing more tin at it”.

As one adopts a sustainability based IT strategy it becomes clear that sustainability creates a framework for efficiency gains resulting in cost savings. But on the other hand it generates opportunities for innovation and profit making, the further it is taken in to the heart of culture and philosophy. The goal of a successful sustainability strategy is to move towards the position of IT as an asset.


Green IT is more than the glib phrase implies. Sustainable IT is not a fad nor the delusions of “tree hugging hippies” but represents a new model for IT that is responsible, efficient and sustainable. It looks at IT from a complete lifecycle perspective and at the collective IT assets as a whole from hardware and software through to the people and processes it deploys. It is a lightweight, agile, and cumulative set of strategies that focus on continuous measurable improvement moving from cost reduction to profit and opportunity creation. Sustainable IT is about “Chewing the CUD”, understanding how we Consume, Use and Dispose of IT assets responsibly, efficiently and sustainably.

The four drivers of environment, customers, legislation and money put forward in this paper provide evidence on how to talk about sustainability in a mature and objective fashion. Therefore avoids the common pitfalls of introducing emotion by over emphasising the environmental arguments in isolation. Taken together these drivers represent a compelling case for taking sustainability to the heart of corporate culture and where better to start than with IT that provides the engine power that fundamentally underpins the business and fuels modern day commerce.


  1. Top 10 Strategic Technology Areas for 2009 (Gartner, 2008.10)
  2. Green – Register Report, Freeform Dynamics, February 2008.
  3. DTI Energy Consumption in the UK 2008.
  4. International Energy Outlook 2002
  5. Directive of the European Council on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment
  6. Microsoft Authorised Refurbishment program
  7. Global-scale temperature patterns and climate forcing over the past six centuries,%20et%20al.%20Global%20scale%20temp%20patterns.pdf
  8. Renewable energy statistics
  9. BT Response to Ofgen on Green Tariffs
  10. Fuel Mix of UK Domestic Electricity Suppliers
  11. UL Climate Change Act 2008
  12. Carbon Trust
  13. EU Code of Conduct on Data Centre Energy Efficiency v1.0 data centres nov2008/CoC DC v 1.0 FINAL.pdf
  14. Anson Wu, Market Transformation Programme figures based on projected 2007 server energy consumption as a proportion of 2006 total UK electricity consumption (excluding transport), updated from 2005 DUKES energy consumption (referenced in 14)
  15. The Standish Group, CHAOS Chronicles Version III, © 2003
  16. Paul A. Strassmann.
  17. Gartner: Why “Going Green” will become essential for data centers 10/2006

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