Juxta-surprise: green, or happens to coincide with cheap?

Posted on December 19, 2007

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Ted Samson writes green technology for Infoworld. His pieces are well informed, well thought out and add value to the original material. So, working backwards through oldish links this juxtaposition hit me as strange. On the same day he manages to articulate a distinction that describes a values based commitment to sustainability, but then in a second article, demonstrates the very essence of what is wrong with green IT.

On the 11th of October Ted reviewed two reports from Gartner:

Walking the line between lean and green

and

Green IT No. 1 on Gartner’s top 10 techs for ’08

In Lean and Green, Ted reports on Mark Raskino’s Conflating Lean and Green Is Unwise. Here Raskino differentiates between “green IT” and “lean IT” and cautions not to muddle the two. Green IT refers to “environmentally sustainable IT as well as IT that contributes to sustainable business processes. Lean, on the other hand, “means operationally cost-efficient IT”. There are certainly cases where the two overlap but for the most part, they should be considered separately:

Some organizations will regret squandering their ‘green card’ on superficial improvements or locking themselves into suppliers whose products turn out to be environmentally mediocre

On the other hand, an organization might find itself in a situation where it’s reluctant to move forward with a potentially important lean IT investment for fear, or lack of understanding, of its environmental impact. “During the next two to three years, IT managers will be pressured to learn and apply complex new techniques of leaner IT operations, such as SaaS, virtualization, and multisourcing, that will help free up investment. Adding green considerations to some of those projects makes learning cycles even harder by reducing clarity of focus on outcomes and effective measurement, ” the Gartner report says.

I agree that this is a useful distinction. Green and lean are not necessarily the same thing. We need to move beyond accepting green just because it happens to (often) coincide with cheaper. Instead we need to be doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do.

In Green IT No.1, Ted reports on the Gartner analyst David Cearley’s annual 10 strategic technologies for 2008. These are the technology trends “that may have an impact on a business”. Green IT is first on the list. I applaud Gartner’s call here. Ted, too, is impressed and explains:

Green IT’s high ranking shouldn’t come as a surprise. Yes, it’s a trendy topic, but it’s also one driven by real need.

Here comes the juxta-surprise…

First, companies are struggling with high energy costs to run their datacenters, as well as, for some, a lack of space or sufficient power to run and expand their operations. Emerging products, such as higher-efficiency chips, servers, and CRAC units; power-management software; consolidation technology, such as virtualization, for reducing hardware sprawl; and other innovations can all help put a dent in power bills.

Second, green is, for now anyway, marketing gold as more consumers are eager to see companies become greener. Perhaps more important, more investors are also paying attention.

Third, legislators are also paying attention to issues of carbon emissions, as well as materials companies use in their products. Thus it would behoove companies to find ways to make their operations and product more eco-friendly before the governement does.

Remember Willard’s 5 stages? In two articles on the same day we have evidence of stage 4/5 thinking:

Driven by a passionate, values-based commitment to improving the well-being of the company, society, and the environment, the company helps build a better world because it is the right thing to do.

but this is undone by the accompanying stage 2/3 thinking:

Stage 2: The business manages its liabilities by obeying the law and all labour, environmental, health, and safety regulations. It reactively does what it legally has to do and does it well. Emerging environmental and philanthropic social actions are treated as costs, projects are end-of-pipe retrofits, and CSR is given lip service

Stage 3: The company … realizes it can save expenses with proactive and incremental operational eco-efficiencies, cleaner processes, and better waste management. It recognizes community investment and social marketing can minimize uncertainty, enhance its reputation, and help maximize shareholder value. However, sustainability initiatives are still marginalized in specialized departments — they are tacked on as “green housekeeping,” not built in and institutionalized.

Perhaps Stage 4/5 is a pipe dream. Perhaps in the article focusing on costs Ted is simply reflecting the reality of where most of computing really is. If so, we have a lot of work to do – stay with us Ted.

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