Male attitudes could be slowing IT sustainability drive

NZ appears to lag in making IT part of sustainability programmes, says IBM

Only 15% of local IT managers believe that virtualisation would reduce emissions from IT infrastructure without compromising IT performance levels, according to the first New Zealand-centric study into “Green IT” by IBM and the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development.

The online survey, which involved 2,302 business respondents, including 200 IT managers, aimed to investigate local organisations’ perceptions around environmental sustainability, and what role IT played in organisations’ energy plans.

Sixty-five percent of respondents said New Zealand must be environmentally sustainable to succeed in the global economy, says Peter Neilson, CEO of NZBCSD. However, IT managers and IT professionals were less likely to hold this view, says Neilson.

But, he adds, the survey found more females tended to believe in sustainability than males, and therefore, with the assumption that IT managers are predominantly male, the less enthusiastic approach to sustainability is not necessarily the characteristics of IT managers as much as it is the characteristics of them being male.

Two thirds of respondents said their organisations are struggling to act sustainably. Only 21% believed that their organisation had an environmental or sustainability development strategy, compared to 55% in Australia and 41% in the US, says Neilson.

Nearly half of government agencies have such a strategy in place, compared with 24% in the IT industry, said the survey.

On the positive side, 47% have started recycling programmes, 38% monitor energy use and 34% use energy efficient lighting.

A third of respondents cited energy as the fastest growing business cost, and half of respondents said their organisation have made operational changes to reduce energy costs and environmental impact in the last 12 months. Twenty-four percent plan to make changes in the next year.

But 26% of local IT managers did not think it is possible to reduce IT emission without compromising performance.

Of the companies that had a sustainability strategy, only 39% included IT infrastructure as a key part of the strategy, compared to 61% in Australia. The computing area is not identified as key to saving energy, money, and to reducing impact on the environment, says Neilson.

New Zealand businesses appear to lag behind the rest of the world in making IT a key part of their sustainability programmes, says Andrew Fox, IBM New Zealand’s systems and technology group manager.

With a rapidly increasing storage demand and growing datacentres, IT is a problem, says Fox. Globally, IT accounts for 2% of the world’s man-made carbon dioxide emissions, which is equal to the whole aviation industry, he says.

But IT is also an area where companies can make a difference, says Fox. IBM sees IT as a missed opportunity when it is not included in organisations’ sustainability plans, he says.

There is an assumption among organisations, that if IT is changed to be more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly, it will miss out on something else, says Fox. But that does not have to be the case at all, he says.

Besides the obvious reason that we all need to do something to save the planet for future generations, there are also other reasons, primarily financial and operational, for why organisation should care, says Fox. Today, running infrastructure costs nearly as much as buying it in the first place, and a normal computer room wastes on average 60% of its cooling, he says.

The survey showed that the most common reason for New Zealand IT managers to reduce the emission from IT is cost savings, while 62% of Australian IT managers are more likely to reduce IT emissions out of concern for the environment.

Fox, a strong believer in virtualisation, cites a successful virtualisation project at the University of Auckland. The university slashed server numbers from 200 to 15, and achieved a 50% reduction in energy costs, as well as a 50% reduction in physical storage. Server utilisation improved with 60% and storage utilisation by 15%.

Meridian Energy is close to its target of using 60% less energy and 70% less water in its new Kumutoto headquarters on Wellington’s Queens Wharf, says Meridian CIO Rob Bolton. The naturally insulated building, which doesn’t have air-conditioning, maximises the use of natural light and warmth, ventilating the building through natural airflow. It also has a water tank on the roof.

The organisation makes use of new technologies such as video-conferencing, software phones and Cisco’s unified communications platform to further reduce the environmental impact.

Reducing energy costs and having a sustainability strategy are definitely on CIOs minds these days, although they might not be the most pressing issues, says Bolton. Meridian found a solution for its previous, less efficient datacentre in leveraging off an existing datacentre, he says. All servers now reside in a shared, purpose-built, third-party datacentre.

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