Forum: vendors go with green flow — but is it so?

Research shows little financial commitment from users and mixed delivery from vendors

Business has always been about the bottom line. Social benefits are nice, but if the business doesn’t make a profit there’s little point.

Last week Wellington’s largest cab company, Combined, was reprimanded for “green washing”. It had used its LPG-based cabs as an advertising gimmick to pitch itself as being carbon-neutral. It just wasn’t so.

The same might well be said about some IT vendors. It’s nice to go with the green flow, but is it really so?

A recent “green” survey, by Australian research company IBRS (see page 11), spells the reality out. The question that drew by far the most response concerned satisfaction with green offerings from IT vendors. Only 3% of respondents were very satisfied, while a whopping 38% were dissatisfied. Yet, you’d be hard put to find marketing from any vendor that hasn’t hopped on the green bandwagon.

Most significantly, the survey showed high awareness at board level of the need to appear green. A third of green IT strategies were owned by the board or CEO, and a quarter by the CIO. Green IT is obviously seen as a high-profile issue and not just another IT project.

IBRS concludes that the majority of Australian and New Zealand organisations have a strong mandate from the executive to reduce the environmental impact of IT.

But… and it’s a big but, who’s going to pay for it? Less than a quarter of the IT organisations surveyed had been given a budget for green IT projects. And only 23% had a formal strategy and/or programmes for green IT.

There is, says IBRS, a significant disconnect between top-level executives’ green strategy and IT’s ability to execute that strategy.

Anecdotally, IBRS says its customers are saying that IT organisations are focusing on green projects that reduce IT costs and have a short pay-back period. In other words, they have to be self-funding.

Reducing operational costs and reducing the organisation’s environmental footprint get equal top billing as drivers for adopting green IT strategies. But meeting current environmental regulations scores low. Instead organisations are concerned with future directions and with meeting any new regulations government might impose.

The survey found two-thirds of respondents hadn’t begun green projects in what are regarded as important areas — printers, desktops and the datacentre. This is clearly a reflection of lack of budget for such projects.

While 84% of respondents thought green IT was either very important or somewhat important, the survey didn’t show whether that “importance” was in respect of the public perception of the organisation or in regard to the substantive issue of addressing environmental concerns.

The lack of commitment to budgeting for green IT projects clearly suggests that it’s more about being perceived to be green than doing the necessary hard-yards.

There’s always that bottom line one to think of — even if short-sighted thinking ultimately has a deleterious effect in the longer term.

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