How Green Is Your IT?

Inefficient information technology sector's carbon emissions set to surpass aviation industry in U.K., survey finds; few IT departments know their energy spend

London — December 4, 2007 — Your company's information technology department may be gobbling up enough power to turn your "green purchasing" initiatives to red and negating the impact of efforts to become a more "carbon-neutral" business, if a new survey out of the United Kingdom is any indication.

The so-called "information communication technology" (ICT) sector in the United Kingdom has a carbon footprint similar to the aviation industry, and its skyrocketing growth means it will soon surpass that poster child for climate change, a report by Global Action Plan with guidance from the Environmental IT Leadership Team (EILT) revealed today.

In all, 86 percent of ICT departments surveyed for the report do not know the carbon footprint of their activities and less than 20 percent even see their energy bills. The report concludes that growth in carbon emissions from the ICT sector is being exacerbated by government policies requiring higher levels of data to be stored.

"An Inefficient Truth"

The report's authors believe that increased efficiencies using proven techniques could lead to rapid and significant carbon savings. Most ICT professionals are aware of green technology and would like to be involved in sustainability initiatives, but they are in great need of support to do so, according to the report.

The report, called "An Inefficient Truth" (a reference to the climate change documentary "An Inconvenient Truth"), was advised by the EILT, the U.K.'s first independent expert user group focused on exploring and publishing best practice sustainable information communication technology strategies.

The environmental non-profit Global Action Plan today calls on the U.K. government to introduce legislation and tax incentives to support the adoption of sustainable ICT policies and strategy in British businesses.

The report includes a national survey that is the first to measure the use of ICT in business and its contribution to the U.K.'s carbon footprint; to identify the proportion of companies seeking energy efficient strategies; and to promote examples of best practice.

Server versus SUV

Key findings in the report include:

  • 61 percent of U.K. data centers only have the capacity for two years of growth.
  • 37 percent of companies are storing data indefinitely due to government policy.
  • Nearly 40 percent of servers are underutilized by more than 50 percent.
  • 80 percent of respondents do not believe their company's data policies are environmentally sustainable.

Trewin Restorick, director of Global Action Plan and chair of the EILT, noted that ICT equipment currently accounts for 3-4 percent of the world's carbon emissions, and 10 percent of the U.K.'s energy bill. "The average server, for example, has roughly the same annual carbon footprint as an SUV doing 15 miles-per-gallon," Restorick said. "With a carbon footprint now equal to the aviation industry, ICT, and how businesses utilize ICT, will increasingly come under the spotlight as governments seek to achieve carbon-cutting commitments."

Barriers to Change

The survey, which was completed by CIOs, IT directors and senior decision makers from 120 U.K. enterprises, found that over 60 percent of respondents consider time pressures and cost the biggest barriers to adopting sustainable ICT policies, and they believe that recognized standards and tax allowances would provide the most valuable support towards reducing ICT's contribution to the U.K.'s carbon emissions.

Restorick added that the survey illustrates that ICT departments have been slow off the mark to address their carbon footprint. "Awareness is now growing but to turn this into action, ICT departments need help," he said. "They need vendors to give them better information rather than selling 'green froth,' they need government policies to become more supportive and less contradictory, and they need more support from within their organizations."

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Logicalis, international ICT provider and sponsors of "An Inefficient Truth," agreed that legislation and tax incentives are important. But Tom Kelly, managing director for Logicalis U.K., said that first and foremost businesses must evaluate the efficiency of their existing ICT infrastructure, citing server under-utilization and the data center as prime examples of energy abuse.

"The government's draft climate change bill proposes a 60 percent cut in emissions by 2050," Kelly noted. "In this environment, a flabby business that guzzles budget and energy is likely to be a prime target for impending legislation.

Kelly said that CIOs have a responsibility to ensure their ICT infrastructure can support a lean and dynamic business, yet as this survey demonstrates, many ICT departments are unsure if and how they can maximize their existing assets. "With data center capacity at a premium and energy bills escalating, CIOs are well advised to look inward for energy saving initiatives and to instigate cultural change throughout the business. In short, efficient IT equals green IT," Kelly said.

Call for "Green Computing"

As a result of the survey, Global Action Plan is calling on ICT vendors and the government to provide businesses with the support and tools to implement ICT best practice. The non-profit is calling on:

  • Government to provide incentives to help companies reduce the carbon footprint of their IT activities.
  • Government to ensure that there is a sufficient supply of energy for data center needs in the future.
  • Government to review its policies on long-term data storage to take into account the carbon implications.
  • ICT vendors to significantly improve the quality of their environmental information.
  • ICT departments to be accountable for the energy costs of running and cooling ICT equipment.
  • Companies to ensure ICT departments are fully engaged in their CSR and environmental policies.
  • Companies to ensure that their ICT infrastructure meets stricter efficiency targets.

"'Green computing' is an opportunity for us all to clearly demonstrate IT's value in helping our companies tackle an urgent, and global, issue," said Gary Hird, technical strategy manager for major U.K. retail organization John Lewis Partnership and member of the EILT. "It is vital that we do a good job collectively, and that means being open about the specific problems we're facing and the solutions we're pursuing. The Global Action Plan survey provides a 'current state' understanding of companies' green IT initiatives and the obstacles we must overcome to help them succeed."

The survey was conducted over a period of eight weeks, with a total of 120 surveys analyzed, representing organizations employing over 500,000 employees and with a combined ICT spend in excess of £475 million, and revenues worth in excess of £13 billion to the U.K. economy.

The full survey results can be downloaded from