Research: Most “Green IT” Not Green Enough

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Only around 16 percent of supposedly green IT products are actually sustainable, according to a new report

The first wave of so-called green IT products and services were tarnished by greenwash but the IT industry is slowly switching on to the importance of truly sustainable offerings, according to research.

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A report this week from enviromental research firm Verdantix, Total Portfolio: IT Sustainability Solutions, explains that many IT products labeled as green over the last few years have actually failed to live up to the claims invented by marketing departments.

“Sustainability and green IT became mainstream business issues in 2007. To capitalise on this glorious marketing opportunity technology vendors rushed to coat existing solutions with a green gloss” said Verdantix director David Metcalfe. “While this makes perfect sense from a marketing perspective, claimed sustainability benefits were rarely proven.”

Verdantix said that its analysis of 24 different sustainable technology categories found that only 16 percent actually offered “significant sustainability benefits”. The company said that its analysis is based on a methodology it calls its Total Portolio approach.

“By assessing IT solutions across the entire product lifecycle – from R&D to retirement – the report provides a complete picture of technology offerings that measure or manage greenhouse gas emissions, reduce energy demand or promote energy efficiency,” the researcher said in a statement.

But despite an inauspicious start, the IT industry is beginning to develop the kinds of sustainable technologies that businesses and consumers are calling for. Key sustainable technologies for the next two years according to Verdantix will include:

  • Digital smart meters for corporate energy management:In the US and Europe a combination of mandatory greenhouse gas reporting and energy efficiency programs makes digital smart meters a hot sector for corporate demand. Smart meter vendors like Energate, Itron and Trilliant will benefit from growth in industrial, commercial and government sectors.
  • Carbon management business intelligence: A glut of GHG reporting legislation combined with expectations of carbon prices rising to 40 euros will drive demand from CFOs for granular, activity-based energy and carbon data management. The opportunity for systems integrators like Capgemini, CH2M HILL and IBM will grow steadily from 2010 onwards.
  • Substitution of video presence for air travel: Telecoms operators like Orange Business Services and Verizon and equipment vendors like Cisco and HP have had two years to learn how to substitute video presence for air travel. From 2010 enterprises will implement video presence as part of a sustainable business process which cuts air travel expenses and associated emissions. The entry of the aviation sector into the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme in 2012 will accelerate demand.
  • Fresh air cooled data centres: Building new data centres is a slow and costly business – but the trend to move to cooler locations will continue and strengthen. Fears about sky-rocketing data centre energy costs in a post-recession economy, standards like the EU code of conduct on data centres and competition between outsourcing firms to win sustainability credentials will drive activity. Every outsourcer and telecoms firm that is serious about sustainability will need an operational green data centre by 2010.

Despite generating a lot of noise around green IT, most IT suppliers have “only just got out of the starting blocks on delivering innovative solutions to support corporate climate change and sustainability programs”, commented Metcalfe.

However the impact of climate change and the global recession will help create a huge market for sustainable products in the future, said Metcalfe. “But tech sector executives need to stop drinking from the poisoned chalice of green IT marketing and focus instead on the real revenue-generating opportunities,” he added.