Business Hardware

Strategy to Turn Green to Gold

Going green, or environmental sustainably, remains a top-of-mind issue despite today's global financial turmoil. The scientific and economic evidence is compelling for supporting the need to take action. Considering going green represents both an opportunity and a risk, what should CIOs and other IT leaders do?

Enterprise management needs to become concerned about the full list of environmental impacts, including pollution, use of raw materials, and waste-produced physical impacts and other outputs felt by neighbors. The environmental standard ISO14001 and other such standards can help in identifying problems and improving greenness.

Start Small and Build

For most enterprises, however, starting with a comprehensive approach is too advanced and overwhelming. If your enterprise is just starting its green endeavors, then energy use is a practical place to start, offering great potential for realizing relatively immediate efficiency and cost savings and reduced CO2 emissions.

The CIO and IT can effectively help make a real difference overall in environmental impacts and improve profits at the same time.

Green issues impact the enterprise in three different areas: strategy, business operations and IT itself. For example, they may make certain strategies and competitive positions more or less tenable, or give rise to new ways of competing and succeeding. Green issues also may make some business operations uneconomic or, in the extreme, illegal.

In enterprises looking to create green capabilities, CIOs need to extend core applications to facilitate making strategic business decisions that are both operationally efficient and environmentally effective. Building these enterprise systems requirements will likely have to be phased in over time, so CIOs and IT executives need to start now.

Also, getting IT itself to think and behave greener is essential -- as a credibility-building exercise and as good practice for the other stuff your enterprise needs to do. This includes measuring IT's green issues and constructing business cases that have longer payback periods.

Changes resulting from green-inspired initiatives require a decision-making mechanism to understand implications and prioritize actions for the enterprise. Three key parts to this management infrastructure are: the right roles, right approach and sound measures.

Gartner case studies research shows that enterprises use some form of coordinating body for their environmental activities. For IT-only initiatives, the IT steering committee plays the role of central coordinating committee.

Organizational inertia is inevitable, however, as green initiatives, although considered important, are rarely urgent. This issue can be overcome by viewing going green as a long-term endeavor rather than a project, and applying a systematic approach such as Total Quality Management, Lean or Six Sigma.

As for a sound measurement system, a constant problem area facing enterprises is not the measures themselves but rather where to stop measuring. Again, standards such as ISO 14001 can provide general guidance, while bodies such as The World Business Council for Sustainable Development can help sort out trickier details.

At first blush, this management infrastructure for delivering green initiatives represents a challenging list of prerequisites. But existing management structures, decision-making processes, disciplines and techniques can often be used to deliver green initiatives, provided some central planning and coordination are achieved.

Decide How IT Should Respond

Aside from how the enterprise as a whole will be impacted, the question for the CIO is what role IT will play in responding to the opportunities and threats created by a greening of the environment?

IT can mix and match three roles, providing a combination of services in different green initiatives or the same initiative. First, IT can provide data-gathering and analytic tools and infrastructure control in identifying, prioritizing and coordinating IT investments in green. Second, IT can provide analytical and technical insight to support enterprisewide operational process changes. Third, IT can take managerial responsibility to expose green opportunities and threats that impact core and support business activities and augment IT's skills and credibility to drive operational process changes.

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