LAS VEGAS-Is green IT anything more than a buzzword when it comes to producing real reductions in carbon emissions or significant cost savings?
This was the issue debated April 8 at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo here. Gartner analysts Simon Mingay and Martin Reynolds argued that green IT is indeed important, while French Caldwell and Charles Smulders argued against green IT.
Some folks argue that green IT, the optimal use of information and communication technology for managing the environmental sustainability of business operations, is a myth. Others claim it is a crucial factor in how we do business.
Mingay kicked off the pro-green IT argument, noting that scientific analysis shows climate change is happening quickly, making it vital that we achieve atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide of 450 parts per million or less before the world heats up.
“There is good research out there that has shown that as economies invest in information and communication technology, they decrease the material intensity, greenhouse gas intensity, energy intensity and transportation of the economies,” Mingay said. He also allowed that while the scientific analysis could be wrong, the world can’t afford to take that chance.
Smulders in his rebuttal said green IT is a fiction, noting that IT accounts for 2 percent of global emissions. In fact, he said, cattle exude more CO2 in the United States than all of the motor vehicles on the road, and that the expected population explosion from 6 billion to 9 billion in 50 years is more significant than IT emissions. Moreover, he said carbon emissions cannot be reliably gauged, throwing any green IT equation out of whack.
Indeed, Smulders said vendors make a lot of marketing noise and do a lot of “greenwashing” regarding green IT. Few vendors are doing anything with tangible results unless it involves saving a lot of money, and companies are hitting walls in their data centers with regard to power consumption, he contended.
Strategic Reality or Feel-Good Myth?
Reynolds supported the pro-green IT view by detailing the risks to business of not adopting green IT. He said companies are doing more computing, requiring more gear and causing IT costs to balloon. This can threaten businesses’ budgets.
He also said governments will eventually impose taxes and penalties on companies that don’t have good green IT policies. Moreover, supply chain partners and customers will demand that products they buy have lower carbon impact. This will start in the government, and will trickle down to consumer groups advocating green IT.
“You need to pay attention to green IT issues now and have plans in place to move yourself forward,” Reynolds said. “If you fail to do so, you face serious risks in the next five years.”
In rebuttal, Caldwell continued Smulders’ argument, but called green IT a myth made up by people that want to believe they are doing something good for the environment and by businesses that want a new way to sell more products.
Don’t fixate on such catchphrases as green IT, which people embrace with the fervor of religious converts; instead, focus on just conserving power, Caldwell said.
Gartner debate moderator Brian Gammage polled the audience of about 60 people before and after the debate on whether or not they thought green IT mattered.
Before the debate, 58 percent said it mattered and 20 percent said it did not. After hearing Smulders’ and Caldwell’s claims about the myths of green IT, 50 percent of the people polled said green IT mattered and 39 percent said it did not.
Gammage also revealed that the research firm itself believes in green IT because it believes green IT can help companies reduce operational costs and reduce strategic risk related to climate change.