The Green CIO

By David Thompson

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Environmentally friendly corporate actions are gaining momentum across businesses around the globe. Alternative fuel and power sources are becoming more available and more affordable, even as organizations are committing to minimize their environmental impact whenever and wherever possible.

In such an atmosphere, CIOs have a unique opportunity to strengthen their companies’ green efforts through a variety of measures. After all, one of the biggest expenditures for a company is IT assets and those IT assets consume a great deal of power.

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What’s more, disposing of these assets requires careful consideration to ensure that they do not poison landfills. The IT industry is one of the biggest producers of carbon, emissions, and waste, so good corporate responsibility calls for CIOs and their organizations to take steps to minimize their environmental footprint.

Where to Start

The good news is there are many paths to becoming a more earth-friendly company. CIOs can start by putting pressure on vendors to use less toxic substances in their PCs, storage, servers, and other devices in order to make it easier to properly dispose of these devices. Vendors respond to their customers and customer requests one quarter can make their way onto a vendor’s product roadmap not long thereafter.

Similarly, organizations can leverage third-party reclamation firms to aid in the company’s disposal strategy. In many cases, the reclamation company does not even charge for such a service because it is able to make a profit on the silver, gold, and other valuable elements it recovers before disposing of batteries, monitors, and other IT components.

Computer recycling in the form of donations can also be very beneficial, not just for the company and the environment but for communities. Many school systems have computer and peripheral equipment donation programs to which businesses can give their surplus laptops, desktop systems, and associated components and accessories.

These devices, in turn, are placed in area schools for the benefit of elementary through high school students in the region. Donating surplus equipment is a mutually beneficial activity that can increase, improve, and enhance education while shrinking an organization’s environmental footprint.

Another potential piece of low-hanging environmental fruit involves IT asset management. End user systems can be configured to reduce the power consumption of that device by default—perhaps the hard drive shuts down after a period of inactivity or the monitor goes dark. These settings can become part of the standard image that is placed on all desktop and laptops throughout the company. And, of course, the user can always opt to override the systems when necessary, but many users will actually choose green practices when they understand their positive impact on the environment.

Be Cool

Data centers are another potential area for proactive energy conservation. In the data center, it’s all about staying cool. A growing number of hardware providers are now offering energy-saving products that use far less power than more traditional devices. Some consume less power, others utilize power more efficiently. Either way, reducing power requirements is an environmentally responsible thing to do.

Then there’s the actual air in the data center. Everyone knows that data centers run best when they’re cool. But cool doesn’t always mean air conditioning. When the outside air is cooler than the air inside, organizations can bring in that cooler air and turn the air conditioner off.

What’s more, a growing number of organizations are focusing a portion of their green efforts on data center power itself. Some are opting for leveraging DC power for a portion of their infrastructures since DC, or battery, power generates less heat than traditional AC power.

That’s not all. Firms that buy a significant amount of power can evaluate the option of purchasing power from a renewable energy source such as hydroelectric providers. Where possible, organizations can also look for cleaner sources of power, such as nuclear power, to drive their data centers.

The bottom line is, good corporate responsibility must include an environmental strategy and initiatives aimed at doing as much as possible to protect and save the planet for future generations.

Environmental responsibility also makes good business sense, since reducing power demands results in bottom-line savings. What’s more, customers demand it, which makes taking the green path an effective tactic for retaining customer loyalty and trust.

David Thompson is CIO of Symantec. Prior to joining Symantec, Thompson was senior vice president and CIO for Oracle and oversaw its Global Information Technology group.