Green IT quote of year: “Virtualization isn’t about being green, and we all know it”

Posted on March 1, 2009


Saltwater Creek walkway, TimaruIt’s nice to be proven right once in a while. I’ve been saying for a long time that we’re making a mistake in connecting green with short-term business benefits (see earlier posts about the lean=green fallacy 1, 2, 3).     Now a report from InformationWeek by Michael Healey finds that 

A mere 12% of the 419 business technology professionals we surveyed for this report say they’d be willing to pay more for a greener product

In The Eco-Enterprise And The Reality Of Green IT Healey questions whether “our vaunted green IT initiatives really just ROI-based business decisions wrapped in environmentally friendly packaging?”

In a survey of 419 North American business technology decision makers Healey attempts to go beyond the decisions that have clear monetary ROI returns.  But, perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s not much there:

hard ROI was rated as the most important criterion for evaluating green alternatives


When it comes to purchasing requirements, the top ranked green feature was power consumption; the lowest ranking was whether or not a sustainable manufacturing process was used.

As we’ve seen before (green 5-9), this not not because of a lack of personal understanding of environmental issues, nor a lack of personal commitment.  A total of 92% agreed that they seek environmentally friendly alternatives in their personal life yet few are doing much at work:

Almost all of the business technology professionals we surveyed feel they understand the issues and look to green alternatives as a way of life. More than 40% say that they drive their personal behavior to green alternatives, even if it means paying more. However, especially when budgets are tight, that’s a nonstarter for most organizations.

Why is green IT such a “non starter?”.   Some is because it’s difficult:

Simply comparing details on what impact a given product has on the environment is a significant challenge because of a lack of consistent tools and metrics.

Some is because of inconsistent policy and direction.  Some stems from a lack of standards.  Some from self-serving green IT messages (ie from vendors).  Mostly though, it is because being sustainable is not highly rated in the business environment (except perhaps as a marketing tool).   And sometimes it is because we have deluded ourselves: 

We’ll call it out now: Virtualization isn’t about being green, and we all know it. Sure, the green effect is a great side benefit, but it’s not the driver. Most poll respondents list green as a minor factor in the decision process, with 76% saying it was a minor or non-factor in the decision to virtualize.

Although Healey clearly sees the impact of Green IT as going beyond power consumption/virtualisation and advises “Think  Broad”, he still stays safely with IT’s own footprint: 

Green IT is about more than just power consumption. It incorporates the entire environmental impact of technology, from the paper we load in our high-end networked printers to the hazardous e-waste we throw away.

I’d like to see him broaden the reach to the potential of IT to facilitate greater change.    This means in all areas of computing and all areas of sustainability (see NZ air traffic control, Eli Blevis’s work in HCI, or Sophie Hallstedt’s  management support systems reported yesterday).