In today’s society, information technology has developed to become an essential component of business processes within various industries and has irrevocably transformed the way businesses work by providing more productive, efficient and a more powerful means of producing resources. However, it has contributed to the world’s environmental challenges and caused detrimental effects on the environment via the pollution elicited by manufacturing, wasteful disposal of computers and components as well as the toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing process which can enter the food chain and contaminate water (Green IT, 2012).
Therefore, in recent times, due to global warming and as awareness of environmental dangers have become widespread, there has been increased importance surrounding ‘making IT eco friendly’ or alternatively, the widely popular term, ‘green IT’. Green IT correlates with information technology and the environment as according to Murugesan (2010), it relates to the study and practice of the design, manufacture and use of more efficient and effective computer hardware, software and communication systems in order to help alleviate the carbon footprint and various negative impacts of information technology usage on the environment.
The subject of ‘green IT’ has become a somewhat contentious issue, with the question being raised on whether the phenomenon is just hype or reality. A short video conducted by information technology media group, CIO interviewing numerous IT leaders showed the majority of them believed it was indeed happening today. Furthermore, in 2008, green IT was the top strategic technology for the year as stated by Gartner (Brodkin, 2008).
Green (2008) states that corporations including some of the world’s largest consumer and technology companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Nokia have made it a socially responsible priority to embrace the concept of ‘making IT eco-friendly’ and have adopted a variety of conservational practices linked to three key areas of green IT that are crucial in helping protect our fragile and easily unbalanced ecosystem.
These three key areas of green IT are: using computing esources more efficiently and effectively, electronic waste disposal and the optimization of technology to assist in solving sustainability requirements, aid and influence other ecological initiatives and create greater environmental awareness (Harmon & Auseklis, 2009). The efficient use of energy is vitally important for the environment as the total electrical energy consumption of data centres, servers and computers worldwide is progressively rising, resulting in even greater greenhouse gas emissions as the majority of the electricity is generated by burning coal, oil, or gas (Murugesan, 2010).
Annually, a regular desktop computer uses 868 kW of electricity and with virtually every company in the developed world having some kind of computer and with scores of companies having thousands of them, the overall amount of carbon emissions emanating into the earth’s atmosphere is astounding (Green IT, 2012).
Green (2008) asserts that as consumers increasingly desire more energy-efficient products and want to avoid companies associated with environmentally damaging practices or products, the opportunity presents itself for companies to be more proactive about their ecological stance. One well known corporation making the necessary strides to reduce their business’ impact on global warming is Hewlett Packard (HP), the biggest technology company in the world.
HP has been pushing hard to make their operations, data centres, and products more energy-efficient and is consistently highly regarded as an eco-friendly technology company having topped Greenpeace’s 2012 Guide to Greener Electronics (Please refer to Appendix 1) which comprehensively ranks 15 of the top electronic manufacturers on their practices and policies on reducing their product’s effects on the earth’s atmosphere, producing more sustainable products and making their processes more environmentally sound.
The company has improved since last year by three places on the list having scored strongly on sustainable operations and energy criteria. The company also placed 5th on Interbrand’s 2012 Best Global Green Brands list, 22nd on NewsWeek’s 2012 environmental ranking of the 500 largest publicly traded companies in the world and 3rd amongst companies in the technology equipment industry (Please refer to Appendix 2 and 3) thus clearly signifying its solid environmental standpoint.
Preston (2001) cited early on of HP’s recognition of the need to combine environmental sustainable practices into its core business strategy and its commitment to becoming an ecological leader in the 21st century. The company’s leading sustainable efforts are illustrated through its installation of an EcoPOD next-generation data centre in Georgia, USA earlier this year which is ‘currently the most efficient data centre in existence and can decrease energy consumption by 95% in contrast to traditional services’ (Interbrand, 2012).
Furthermore, according to the Hewlett Packard company website, the enterprise has also delivered on its environmental goals which included reducing the energy use of HP products and associated greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 2005 levels by the end of 2011- the company reduced it to 50% and accomplished it nine months ahead of its plan.
Through the assortment of product design strategies in its range of high-volume desktop and laptop categories, the company also exceeded its aim to save customers one billion kWh of electricity, relative to 2008- HP surpassed this target and helped customers conserve 1. billion kWh through 2010 (HP, 2012). It also exceeded its objective to better the overall energy efficiency of its HP ink and laser printing products by 40%, comparative to 2005 by improving it to 46% (HP, 2012). It can be seen that HP has successfully and positively used its scale, product portfolio and resourcefulness to reduce its environmental influence, allowing its customers to be more aware of their energy consumption and exemplifying the significant association between IT and the environment.
Sustainable discarding of electronic waste is another critical focus due to the increased pollution of the earth and contamination of water caused by the large amount of old computers and other electronic hardware which contain toxic substances, being disposed and winding up in landfills (Murugesan, 2010). Wirth (2010) points out that in 2006-07, 43 million tonnes of electronic waste finished up in landfill in Australia - an increase of 31% from 2001 and only 10% of the 16. million televisions and computers Australians purchased in 2007-08 were recycled.
With Australia’s relatively small population of 20 million people, one can only imagine the electronic waste issues in more populated countries. Furthermore, as electronics contain minerals such as gold and copper which only 30% and 10% respectively are recovered once disposed, the promotion of improved means of electronic waste disposal such as recycling and reusing becomes even more important due to the finite nature of the earth’s resources (Green IT, 2012).
Walsh (2009) adds that this has lead to green groups demanding electronics manufacturers to become more accountable for the afterlife of their products by encouraging them to refurbish and reuse their old computers and to advocate to their customers to responsibly recycle their previous, unwanted computers and other electronic equipment. Dell has taken on its responsibilities and is continually recognised as a leading green brand.
The forward looking company came 2nd behind HP in Greenpeace’s 2012 Guide to Greener Electronics List but moved up eight places since last year (Please refer to Appendix 1) and is also placed 7th on Interbrand’s 2012 Best Global Green Brands list, 26th on NewsWeek’s 2012 environmental ranking of the 500 largest publicly traded companies in the world and 4th amongst companies in the technology equipment industry (Please refer to Appendix 2 and 3).
Since 2004, the company has offered free recycling for its products and from 2004 to 2009; they have facilitated the global recycling of more than 125 million kilograms of end-of-life computer equipment (Dell, 2012). In terms of sustainable packaging, ‘Dell is phasing out Styrofoam and replacing 40% of its packaging content with innovative mushroom-based packing foam and cushioning made from bamboo or recycled content’ in order to create an overall environmentally conscious product (Interbrand, 2012).
While there is criticism for Dell continuing to use hazardous materials in its computers, the company has made a step in a greener direction and has improved in implementing more eco-friendly IT initiatives company-wide. Though technology can be the source of environmental concern, it also serves as a useful tool to assist in understanding and finding the solutions needed to fix environmental issues such as climate change and carbon sequestration.
According to Murugesan (2008), IT can help support environmental proposals by offering innovative methods including software tools that can analyse, model and simulate ecological effects and environmental risk management to calculate future scenarios as well as provide a platform for eco-management, emission trading or ethical investing and instruments to audit and report energy consumption.
In addition to his, IT can also assist in raising greater awareness of the environment to a range of groups such as IT professionals, companies, big and small and the general population via the creation of online communities that facilitate green IT discussion and debate, engaging groups of individuals to participate in making more eco-friendly decisions and offering feedback for electronic manufacturer companies as well as providing educational and environmental advocacy campaigns (Murugesan, 2008).
This could be done through IT operations such as environmental Web portals, dedicated blogs on the subject, eco-focused wikis and open forums as well as visual aids in the form of interactive videos and simulations of the harmful impacts of IT on the environment. For instance, Intel acts alongside a variety of organisations, businesses and people to discover and guide environmental initiatives across industries.
The company is involved in a number of programs including the Climate Savers Computing initiative developed in accordance with Google and World Wildlife Fund to assist in the reduction of the computing industry’s carbon footprint and promote sustainable and environmentally aware computing and business policies and practices (Intel, 2012). Furthermore, technology equipment company, Nokia is another example of an organisation that has implemented greener IT practices internally.
For the past decade, Nokia has been keeping to its corporate responsibility through the employment of eco-friendly initiatives within its company and among its consumers with a concentration on green industrial programs and new products that continue to exceed international benchmarks (Interbrand, 2012). Enhancing positive public awareness, Nokia has spread its use of greener IT via renewing its mobile recycling plan across 100 countries and participating in “America Recycles Day” in 2011 and campaigns among universities to generate consumer awareness (Interbrand, 2012).
Nokia is also in the company of various other large organisations in several leading global sustainability rankings such as Greenpeace’s 2012 Guide to Greener Electronics, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, and Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Sustainable Companies (Nokia, 2012. Please refer to Appendix 1, 4 and 5 respectively). By publicly communicating its environmental undertakings and through multiple appearances on various international sustainability rankings, Nokia has effectively assisted in raising its profile as a more ecologically sustainable company as well as hed a greater light on the need for greener IT practices for the environment.
In conclusion, the wave of ‘making IT eco-friendly’ or green IT with its key areas including energy efficiency, electronic waste disposal and the use of technology to help solve environmental issues is a happening that is surely to be discussed about in future years as businesses continue to adopt more technological means of production and as the technology itself, inevitably develops and progresses. As mentioned by Murugesan (2008), further exploration of ‘greening’ IT is essential as it is and will continue to be a necessary responsibility, not a choice.
While it plays a contributing role in the world’s environmental problem, it is important to also identify its role as being part of the solution. Green IT signals a definite shift in a change in priority for companies which had for the most part, been focused on areas such as IT equipment processing power and related equipment spending. Although, as illustrated through the examples of Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Nokia, it can be seen that electronic manufacturer companies have begun to expand and effectively address their social corporate responsibilities regarding the environment.
Only time will tell moving forward, of how the computing industry will continue to deal with all of the infrastructure requirements and the environmental impact of IT and its use. While there are various challenges facing green IT, recent progress implies that the computing industry will be able to combat the environmental issues head-on, with determination and confidence as companies can take advantage of this movement by seizing these challenges as opportunities to become more strategic, competitive and enter a whole new market.