Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Legislation or explanation?

eWeek Europe recently held a webinar - Green Wash or Green Backs – in which attendees were asked what would drive them to adopt a more environmentally-friendly approach to managing their data centres.  More than 60% said that regulation was the key, with smaller numbers indicating cash savings or the environmental benefits.  The eWeek panel agreed.  Making the EU Code of Conduct for data centres into legislation was seen as one move in that direction.

But it’s much more complicated than that.

Firstly, enforcing such a code is going to be a difficult job.  The code is effective as a set of guidelines to which companies can voluntarily sign up, but if it’s mandatory who’s going to police it?

Arguably, there would be no need in the long term anyway.  As climate change legislation, such as the CRC in the UK, comes in, so carbon will acquire an escalating price.  Budgets will be a more effective driver towards a more efficient (and hence greener) data centre.

There are also other growing pressures on companies, from customers, shareholders and employees, for example.  These pressures are only going to increase, with the threat of losing business, share value and staff by not address the climate issue.

But these external pressure may well take a while to make themselves felt and companies need to act quickly or risk losing out to competitors.  Often senior management understands the issues, the difficulty is in encouraging the rest of the organisation to adopt good practice.  As we reported last week, a recent survey from Defra showed that people tend not to bring their green practices to work with them.

What’s needed is better internal education to change behaviour within organisations.  The emphasis needs to shift to demonstrating to individuals the direct benefits they will gain from a greener company. 

In the case of the data centre, it means pointing out to managers that, for example, buying greener is not more expensive, that virtualisation can provide a much more flexible data centre with less dependency on physical assets, and that it’s safe to allow machines to run hotter.  Re-assurance that it is cheap, easy and safe to adopt a greener approach can go a long way. 

In any case, the last figures I saw were that no more than half of a company’s ICT emissions are from the data centre, so much of the rest is down to the behaviour of individuals.  Putting machines into sleep mode, turning them off at night, using fewer printers, printing less, etc. relies on individuals appreciating the benefits to them of taking actions.

It’s not easy to achieve a positive, green culture throughout an organisation.  One area that might help towards greener ICT is the growing study of behavioural economics and the results that can be achieved through social marketing techniques.  In the long run it’s likely to be more effective to change the organisational culture than to rely on legislation, which is bound to face some reluctance, if not resistance.

© The Green IT Review

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