It's Not Easy Buying Green

Few IT executives take the environment into account when making purchases, but their ranks are likely to swell, Forrester finds

The good news is that the vast majority of information technology executives say environmental concerns matter when it comes to planning. The bad news is far fewer are doing much about it. That's the finding of a report released on May 14 by Forrester Research (FORR).

Of 124 executives surveyed by Forrester, 85% said environmental concerns are "important." But only about one-fourth of companies have a formal procedure for considering green criteria when it comes to making purchases. "It's a distinct minority of buyers that are really putting the vendors through their paces in terms of the greenness of the products they are buying," says Christopher Mines, the Forrester analyst who wrote the report.

Green IT can mean anything from the way vendors design and manufacture products to how efficiently those products operate to the ease of recycling them. Currently, corporate buyers are most interested in green IT products that will help save energy and money. "This is largely, but not entirely, about cost savings," Mines says.

HP Is Leading the Way

And few things focus the mind on cost savings like soaring electric bills, particularly for the power-hungry data centers that house servers. As companies look for energy-efficient IT products, vendors such as Dell (DELL), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), IBM (IBM), Sun Microsystems (SUNW), Intel (INTC), Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), and others are creating energy-efficient chips, desktop computers, servers, storage equipment, even portable data centers.

HP, for instance, has vowed to reduce combined energy consumption across all its operations and product lines 20% by 2010. "HP has never attempted to do anything like this and neither has anyone else," says John Frey, manager of corporate environmental strategies at HP. Still, he says the company is ready to forge ahead, creating benchmarks where necessary like the company did with the recycling of electronic products (see, 4/10/06, "HP Wants Your Old PCs Back").

In November, HP was the first major computer manufacturer to join the 80 PLUS, an electric utility-funded incentive program to integrate more energy-efficient power supplies into desktop computers and servers.

New Energy Star Standard

Ecos Consulting, an energy-efficiency consulting firm, began the program to address inefficient power supplies that convert high-voltage AC power that comes from a wall socket to the low-voltage DC power computers need to operate. "If you took that silver box out of your computer, it was only 60% efficient," says Chris Calwell, vice-president of policy and research at Ecos Consulting. "If you took 100 watts from the wall, only 60 watts got to your computer," he says.

So, the 80 PLUS program set out to make those supplies at least 80% efficient and in February, 2005, the first 80 PLUS power supply hit the market. When the Environmental Protection Agency releases its new Energy Star standard in July, it will require that power supplies for desktops be at least 80% efficient, a sign that 80 PLUS is making an impact. "80 PLUS is doing a great job," says Forrester's Mines. "For any systems manufacturer that wants to buy more efficient power supplies, they're there."

Last year, an industry consortium of IT companies called the Green Grid was formed to address the growing problem of power consumption in data centers. "We're seeing a growing crisis in the amount of power consumption taking place with the natural growth of computing power it takes to run our daily lives," says Bruce Shaw, a board member of the Green Grid and director of worldwide commercial and enterprise marketing at AMD.

Services Matter, Too

The first step for the Green Grid is to create a uniform way to measure power consumption in data centers analogous to the auto industry's measurement of miles per gallon. The task of measuring IT work per watt is a tough one, says Forrester's Mines, although he says he's confident the Green Grid can do it.

Finally, IT suppliers are not only creating products to help corporations become more energy-efficient, they're creating services as well. The Forrester report notes that Dell, HP, and Sun offer a range of services from tools to calculate data-center power consumption to services that help increase the efficiency of cooling systems. And just last week IBM announced a range of services designed to help corporate customers better control power consumption in their data centers.

Still it may take some doing before enterprise customers are aware of these initiatives. Only 15% of the respondents in the Forrester survey said they had a high-level awareness of vendors' green initiatives, and many complained that they weren't hearing anything at all from their vendors. In fact, some executives surveyed said they'd be swayed in their purchasing decisions if vendors told them more about green IT products.

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