Fresh from warning that the IT industry must do more to tackle the energy crisis IT analyst Gartner used its Symposium in Cannes last week to urge firms to look beyond power issues and address the sector's broader environmental concerns, such as the carbon emissions released by manufacturing processes, the need to use more renewable resources and the problems posed by recycling IT kit.
Gartner warns that if vendors fail to get their environmental house in order they are inviting a raft of new regulations, which given legislators' historically inept grasp of technology are likely to be far more onerous than if vendors self regulate.
One Gartner analyst pointed to the current contradictions between the data protection act (DPA) and the Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) directive as a prime example of this type of poorly thought out regulation. She argued that while WEEE tries to encourage firms to reuse rather than just recycle equipment the DPA gives CIOs massive responsibility to ensure all end of life kit is wiped of all corporate data.
"The government has made it far cheaper to destroy the hard drive and have the machine broken up and recycled than wipe the hard drive and have it reused," she said.
Resisting environmental legislation rather than trying to embrace self regulation can also prove bad for brand image, according to Gartner, as has been evidenced by all the PC manufacturers who complained for years that they couldn't remove lead from PCs and are now complying with the RoHS regulations that demand that they do so.
"It begs the question that if you could remove the lead why didn't you do it sooner?" adds our analyst.
She advised that vendors should look to head off imminent legislation, such as the proposed rulings on energy efficiency and the extension of RoHS in 2010, not through lobbying but by investing far more in green initiatives. Failure to do so will only result in ill thought out regulations, like WEEE and the DPA, that probably won’t do as much to benefit the environment as if vendors embraced green practices voluntarily.
This is all good advice for vendors but what does Gartner's proposal for a wider approach to reducing IT's environmental impact mean for CIOs?
According to Gartner, they should take a "fresh look at life-cycle management within the organisation to identify opportunities to minimise the impact of IT on the environment, at the same time as meeting business objectives".
Now this would be great advice in an ideal world, but the simple fact that there is a need to remind firms that they have an environmental responsibility proves we live in anything but.
If a CIO works for a firm that has made green issues core to their brand, then yes a full environmental audit and multifaceted programme to not just reduce power consumption but also recycle and reuse more IT kit and audit suppliers' manufacturing processes is essential.
But most CIOs are not fortunate enough to have a blank cheque to implement green initiatives and for them the first few years of a green business project really has to focus first and foremost on reducing energy demands.
Such projects deliver an easy win in terms of cutting costs and tangible environmental benefits by reducing greenhouse gasses - an issue that board level executives increasingly understand.
Other issues such as waste and hazardous substances are hugely important, but if you think the board will only authorise one green IT project tackling the energy crisis has to be the top priority.
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