CBW, p.55 / Better living through green IT
Companies often use technology to improve efficiency, lower costs and streamline the flow of communication. But to protect the environment? IT analysts claim that several new programs can help businesses become both lean and green. Others aren’t so sure.
Gartner, a U. S.-headquartered information technology company, recently published a report that details the amount of paper used by companies and the impact on the environment. It found paper consumption of companies, especially big corporations, can grow to unbelievable volumes. “For example, one corporation we work with estimates that it printsmore than 26million pages annually—the equivalent of more than 3,250 trees,” the report states.
Producing that much paper demands a lot of energy. There are environmental impacts related to manufacturing, transporting and distributing the paper; not to mention the costs associated with storage and keeping the records air-conditioned in an archive. And often for little purpose. Gartner found that only 1 percent of archived paper documents will ever be looked at again.
As one possible solution, the report mentions “enterprise content management” (ECM). Basically, ECM serves as a software platform for managing a company’s data. Gartner says the technology not only streamlines datamanagement and improves communication with employees and customers, it also goes a long way toward cutting down on all this unnecessary paper use.
“With electronic records, organizations can store the record once and reference it tomany other documents throughmetadata and folders,” saidMark R. Gilbert, an analyst with Gartner.
Markéta Kuklová, spokeswoman at the Czech branch of the software giant Microsoft Corporation, offered another example of how IT can help the environment, especially bigger companies with branches scattered across a country or multiple countries. “It is mainly the system of unified company communication,” she said. That system “connects the possibilities of sending fastmessages, e-mails, VoIP (voice over Internet protocol), audio- and videoconferencing, and document sharing.” She said this type of systemlowers the need for company employees to travel, which not only saves on traveling costs, but cuts down on the environmental burdens of travel, such as car or plane emissions.
Green IT skeptics
But not everybody is so sure can these technologies can really reduce a company’s impact on the environment. Nobody disputes that IT, when used wisely, can help reduce a company’s paperwork. But using IT also means usingmore computers,more servers and more data centers, which also means more electricity consumption. For example, servers need high amounts of electricity not only to be operated, but they also must be cooled, which affects both electricity consumption and the bottom line. “The situation has come that ... in some big metropolises, it is becoming difficult to secure a sufficient supply of electricity for these purposes,” Michal Mikulec, storage and virtualization consultant in Czech IT company Asseco Czech Republic, told CBW.
Consider this piece of research fromthe U. S.-basedUptime Institute, an educational and research organization focused on data centers. It found that from10 to 30 percent of all servers in datacenters are doing nothing. Yet instead of being shut down, they are still operating. “The way out from this situation can be server-consolidation utilizing virtualization,”Mikulec said. For example, he mentioned a technology developed byU. S.-based IT company Vmware called distributed power management. The technology enables users to reduce the number of servers running at the same time by transferring their operational load to virtual servers during peak times. “In this way, you can get electricity savings from 30 to 90 percent,” Mikulec said, which is good news for the environment.
“We could say that IT canmake our performance in the work and personal spheres faster andmore effective. I can imagine also indirect effects like lower energy consumption because of higher efficiency. However, we could question IT’s role in these,” Richard Boura, product field operations director of the Czech branch of IT company IDS Sheer AG, told CBW. Technology actually can sometimes be an enabler of environmental harm. He gives an example of the car industry, noting that the whole industry is heading toward betterperforming cars while at the same time trying to lower energy consumption. IT definitely is one of the instruments enabling this. “But could we say that IT has caused lower oil consumption? Hardly,” Boura said.
“IT is only a tool, a paddle, that cannot do anything only on its own unless somebody comes and starts working with it,” Boura explained. He said that wemust have the will to use this “paddle” for the best overall outcomes. Still, the idea that IT can save the environment is a bandwagon that many companies are jumping on. “In short, being lean and green is good for business and also good for the environment,” Kuklová said.
Author: Marcel Bodnár