Under Pressure: 10 Sources Pushing CIOs to Go Green

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4. Lawmakers

Pressure gauge reading: 5 

In Europe, with its cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases, the pressure on CIOs to measure and reduce their carbon footprint is real. But in the United States, the regulatory pressure on CIOs is considerably less because comparable legislation doesn't exist here.

"Based on potential changes in Congress, there may be some form of regulation," says Erik Teetzel, renewable energy manager at Google. "The fact that this administration is ending may encourage people to start taking inventory of their emissions" before regulation passes.

Teetzel says most CIOs don't feel pressure to adopt green IT practices created by lawmakers yet. But forward-looking companies such as Google are identifying areas where they can cut back on their carbon footprint whether or not legislation is passed.

"People will get ready for action" related to regulatory compliance, Teetzel adds. 

"Some organizations are looking at this in terms of acting now so that if and when there should be any regulation, they are in a better position to respond," Gartner's Mingay says. "Since there's no mandate, this is more of a risk avoidance than an actual pressure."

CIOs in some leading-edge industries, such as Internet services feel the need to self-regulate before any carbon footprint-related legislation passes.

"In the U.K., I will have to be reporting my carbon footprint based on regulations in the U.K and EU," Digital Realty's Smith says. "Those same processes and reporting structures will impact my U.S. operations."

Some state and local environmental regulations already affect CIOs. In California, Title 24 dictates energy-efficiency standards for buildings including data centers. King County, Wash., requires outdoor-air cooling for data centers.

"Title 24 impacts our California designs in a meaningful way," Smith says. "You'll find little [regulations] like this regionally. This type of pressure is growing."

As far as federal legislation is concerned, most observers expect it to be in the form of a cap-and-trade program or a tax that acts as a financial incentive to companies to reduce their carbon footprint.

"The big question is, how much will carbon be?" Gartner's Mingay asks. "If it's $120 a ton, then everybody will care a lot. …The balance of probability is that companies will be paying for carbon in some shape or size. The $60 billion question is in what format."

"Legislative pressure is inevitable but probably not immediate," Skinner says. "A lot of companies are doing the baselining and benchmarking to see how they stack up, not only for carbon legislation but also for increased competitiveness."

Industry observers expect there will be an increase in legislative pressure on CIOs to go green. For example, in June the Lieberman-Warner Climate Act, which would have enacted a carbon tax, was voted down by the Senate. Many more similar bills are expected.

"There's all sorts of rumbling in the industry about a carbon tax. There's rumbling about the cap-and-trade initiatives and are we going to see that happen as an industry. Even if we don't think it's going to happen, it behooves us as an industry to start to measure carbon and get a good benchmark to use," says John Tuccillo, vice president of industry alliances for APC.

5. IT Vendors

Pressure gauge reading: 5 

Green IT is one of those movements where vendors have been ahead of most CIOs and IT buyers. That means IT buyers are seeing a lot of hype from hardware and software manufacturers about why they need to go green.

Vendors are "painting everything green," Mingay says. "Some of it is credible. In some cases it's just plain green washing."

"There is an arms race among the server vendors to get the most efficient server that will operate in the widest range of temperature and humidity ranges, the one that provides the biggest bang for the buck," Smith says.

Green IT initiatives such as Climate Savers and The Green Grid are being driven by manufacturers including Intel, Google, Dell, IBM, HP, Microsoft and others.  

APC's Tuccillo says one of the key areas where IT vendors are applying pressure is in the development of metrics that CIOs can use to measure IT and data center energy efficiency.

"The near-term fixes are going to be in the areas of increasing the energy efficiency of existing data centers. The first step is to measure what we're doing," Tuccillo says. "It's through groups like The Green Grid and others that we're able to gather that data and compare it against peers."

IT industry groups also are providing operational best practices for IT departments.

"The IT vendor community recognized this was a challenge that could not be met by any one entity," Tuccillo says. "We recognized that this tidal wave was coming, and we decided we'd better work together as an industry to start solving the problem. There's still an opportunity for differentiation for IT vendors, but there's also room for commonality in terms of standard metrics and a common lexicon."

Industry officials involved with groups such as Climate Savers and The Green Grid say they are trying to involve more IT buyers in their activities.

"This can't just be the tech industry pushing," Intel's Skinner says. "We're also working on the demand side of this…A key pillar of what we're trying to do is raise awareness of computer buyers and work the demand side of it so they will make more purchases that are energy efficient."

Still, IT industry observers say most CIOs are not yet choosing servers, desktops or other IT gear based on how environmentally friendly it is.

"I don't think CIOs are buying stuff because it's green. That's not their primary focus. It's an afterthought," Acumen's Stanley says. "The decision criteria from a computing perspective is: Does it get the job done and is it cost-effective?"

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