“they all seem good”: need for a green computer RFP template

Posted on June 3, 2007


Short story: Green IT is rapidly reaching saturation. We are now at the stage of computing practitioners having to chose between green options. This is good but some guidelines are desperately needed.

Longer story: Forrester‘s recently published research on green IT has been reported as “Green meets deaf ears in IT” and Green issues overlooked in IT procurement, says Forrester.

In a survey of 124 IT buyers in North America and Europe, they found good news in that 85% said green factors are important. However only 25% had written green criteria into purchases and only 15% were aware of vendors’ green initiatives (see discussion on channel-register) .

The consensus seems to be that IT buyers don’t care about green, and if they do, it takes second place to cost.

Ted Samson has a slightly different take: Vendors’ green messages are loud, but not clear. He argues that vendors are “pouring more green into their sales pitches, but their messages aren’t reaching the right ears clearly”.

In our experience most (if not all) of our major vendors do indeed have green statements on their proposals. Ricoh, for example, append an “Our Earth Our Tomorrow” document to all proposals and contracts. Similarly, HP pushes its “Commitment to the Environment“. eg Ricoh and HP

My problem is one of greenwash, not with the usual “papering over the cracks” connotation (to badly mix a metaphor), but more of a swamped by an incoming tide. Unlike some others, I have no doubt of the sincerity of the suppliers and congratulate them for seeing their environmental strategy as part of their competitive advantage. Unfortunately we are now at a stage where all companies are claiming green of various shades (Ricoh’s printed material even has a pretty green tree frog). The outcome of this, is that purchasers are not using green factors as purchase criteria: “they all seem good” is what one of our buyers told me.

So, we’re almost back to the beginning, green is meeting deaf ears, but not for a want of trying. We are now at the stage of computing practitioners having to chose between green options.

I think what is needed is some rigor and clear explanations. On both sides. Some common language or comparisons would be useful but most important would be some guidelines.

In wider purchasing, there are developing guides to sustainable purchasing.

Whistler’s Sustainable Purchasing Guide has a strong foundation in Sustainability (the Natural Step approach) and give guidelines for 20 purchasing areas. They have a detailed assessment for electronic equipment, giving Choose and Avoid, along along with eight options for purchasing.Whistler Choose Avoid Electronic Equipment

What we really need, though, is for sustainability to be an integral part of the whole purchasing process. ITANZ gives a set of guidelines for Requests for proposals (RFP) “which are designed to assist organisations procuring IT hardware, software and services”. They are:

  • Facilities Management Guidelines
  • IT Agreement Guidelines
  • IT Procurement Guidelines
  • Outsourcing Guidelines
  • Professional Services Guidelines
  • Software Agreement Guideline
  • Software Licensing Guide
  • System Integration Guidelines
  • Systems Maintenance Guidelines

The Facilities Management Guidelines, for example, concerns the:

contracting out and management of an organisation’s own systems at their own locations. Also covers the supply of associated services. It assumes that the decision to engage a facilities manager has been made and the supplier selection is complete. It includes an agreement template.

Services described include:

account management; system management; operational management; network management; support; administration; quality assurance; transition services; project management; audit; capacity planning; reporting – frequency and mode; disaster recovery; data backup and storage; consulting.

and Service Levels will include:

service availability; service reliability;· user Support Levels;· operational tasks (backup, restore, etc).

This is a nice document, it contains all that one might wish for in establishing an agreement. Except that there is no mention of sustainability. At all, in any of the guidelines.

Other fields are there already. The American Institute of Architects has a Greeen RFP template.

An exciting new field is emerging. It is called ‘sustainable design’ or ‘green development.’ Although this new architecture is difficult to describe in a sentence or two, its overall goal is to produce buildings that take less from the earth and give more to people. Note that sustainable design is not a new building style. Instead, it represents a revolution in how we think about, design, construct, and operate buildings. The primary goal of sustainable design is to lessen the harm poorly designed buildings cause by using the best of ancient building approaches in logical combination with the best of new technological advances. Its ultimate goal is to make possible offices, homes, even entire subdivisions, that are net producers of energy, food, clean water and air, beauty, and healthy human and biological communities. … As an architect, builder, or developer, you can use the principles of sustainable design to capitalize on this trend, to distinguish your projects in the marketplace, to save money, and to waste fewer resources, all the while doing your share to preserve the environment. Applying that idea to construction yields a checklist of criteria that a sustainable building should meet. Ideally, such a building would:

  • make appropriate use of the land
  • use water, energy, lumber, and other resources efficiently
  • enhance human health
  • strengthen local economies and communities
  • conserve plants, animals, endangered species, and natural habitats
  • protect agricultural, cultural, and archaeological resources
  • be nice to live in
  • be economical to build and operate.
  • And so too does the American Planning Association whose Green RFP contains several examples:

    Below is a sample from the City of Seattle on how to describe the sustainability and design integration approach: Sustainability should be integrated into all phases of the design process using an approach which balances social, economic, and environmental factors. Sustainability should be incorporated into the earliest design discussions …Sustainable building integrates building materials and methods that promote environmental quality, economic vitality, and social benefit through design, construction and operation of the built environment. Sustainable design, construction, and operations merge sound, environmental, economic and social effects of building or built project as a whole.

    Perhaps there are Green IT RFP templates out there (if so, please let me know) because otherwise, as usual, work to be done…