IT: Do We Save The World – Or Save Our Jobs?

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

The IT industry believes that smart technology can reduce CO2 emissions, but Peter Judge wants to know: did they ask the CIOs whether they actually have the time and influence to do the job?

Today I realised, during a web conference, that IT professionals may have to start saying no. When green demands are laid on us, we may have to be realistic.

A lot is being expected of us and, while it is flattering to be told that we can save the world, maybe we should first ask whether we actually have the resources to do what people expect. 

While the world leaders are debating in Copenhagen how much to reduce greenhouse emissions by, It vendors and others are clustered around, making suggestions about how to achieve those cuts.

IDC has said that ICT has the potential to cut 5.8 billion tonnes of the world’s CO2 emissions by 2020, and that Japan is the country best placed to achieve that sort of cut. Companies including Intel are lining up to suggest ways to do that.

The possibilities have been clear for some time. Every presentation on Green IT now begins with the news that ICT produces two percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions – but is the best hope for reducing the emissions form the other 98 percent of the world. IT we are told is the best hope for providing smarter technology, and tighter controls on other business functions, It allows us to make our operation more efficient by shifting electrons around (emails and video) instead of atoms (products and ourselves).

With all that in mind, we ran a web seminar on how IT should respond to the moves to increease efficiency by carbon trading. Rules like the UK’s CRC regulations will require the whole business to become more efficient in its energy use – and maybe IT could help do that.

Could it be time for IT to make a play for greater control, greater responsibility?

Not exactly, was what I heard in the seminar – and I think it could be well worth your while listening to the recording. Zahl Limbuwala from the BCS and Romonet, reckoned IT will have enough on its plate without trying to take on massive extra jobs.

The first thing that the CRC rules will do is add a new accounting system to the business and – as a purely defensive measure – IT will have to make sure it doesn’t clash with existing systems, and doesn’t introduce a new potential for errors, risk and liability. for David Metcalfe that boils down to a simple message – do it in a proper accounting system, not in an Excel spreadsheet.

No power – but all the responsibility?

If carbon accounting is implemented badly, outside the IT department, it could still fall to the IT department to sort out the mess.

For Richard Tarboton, energy and carbon programme director at BT, there is a big picture – but that is because BT has been in this game longer than anyone else and he actually has the kind of role that the IDC vision suggests IT people should have. 

But generally speaking, IT people aren’t given sight of their own electiricity bills, let alone the ability to control anyone else’s. 

And a big carbon reduction programme will be a campaign to change corporate behaviour across the company and on an individual level. And most IT people don’t get that sort of access to company’s other employees – mostly, IT is there to respond to their helpdesk calls.

As analyst Simon Perry of Quocirca said on this site in March, calls for IT to reduce the energy demands of business as a whole, are making a grave mistake:  “misidentifying which part of the dog is controlling the wagging of the tail”.

If your company asks you to take command of some aspect of carbon reduction – or if you decide to go out there and seize control – the first thing you should do is make sure that you have backing from higher up the company. And the second is to make sure that you have the resources to carry it through.  Ideally, any change that reduces energy use should be funded through the savings it delivers to the bottom line.