Maturity for Sustainability in IT: Introducing the MITS

Maturity for Sustainability in IT: Introducing the MITS

Martijn Smeitink (Department of Information and Computing Science, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands) and Marco Spruit (Department of Information and Computing Science, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/jitsa.2013010103
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Large scale IT usage harms the environment during its life-cycle and this results in a threat to sustainability. This research provides an approach to help IT organizations recognize and prioritize appropriate measures. A green ontology consisting of suggestions to improve IT sustainability is introduced based on earlier work. Then, to be able to judge where sustainability impacts the IT of an organization, the dimensions Govern, Source, Make, and Return as derived from the Supply Chain Operations Relationship model are applied within a sustainability context. Furthermore, four maturity levels are defined for IT sustainability based on the available sustainable development literature: Cleaning up the waste, Preventing waste, Product reengineering, and IT as an opportunity. Finally, the resulting Maturity for IT Sustainability (MITS) model is presented which categorizes all ontology measures appropriately within the two MITS dimensions.
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1. Introduction: Maturity For It Sustainability

Society has certain expectations for business behavior to act appropriately, which makes business and society interwoven (Wood, 1991; Porter & Kramer, 2006). Porter and Kramer however state there is often a lack of integration and alignment between corporate responsibility initiatives and general business strategy. According to Keays (2010) clarity in vision on sustainability is often lacking, preventing organizations to become more sustainable. It has been calculated that the global information and communications technology (ICT) industry is responsible for approximately two percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, a figure which is quite high and supposedly equivalent to the aviation industry (Pettey, 2007; Boccaletti, Löffler, & Oppenhein, 2008). A lot of organizations are not aware of how they can change their operations to combine their concern for rising energy costs with environmental initiatives. Furthermore, 40 percent of U.S. small and medium businesses do not know how much their IT systems contribute to overall energy costs, even though IT can take up to 50% of the energy costs (McKeefry, 2008). Examples of successfully implemented ideas exist, but little on what should be implemented and in what order to reach a certain maturity level. Furthermore, little or no research has been done on if and how Green IT is related to organizational goals. Porter and van der Linde (1995) have stated that a “Green” strategy paves the way to competitive advantage by forcing companies to innovate. Researching green opportunities provides more innovative solutions than remaining at a regulatory compliance level. The regulatory compliance level is ever changing. Even apart from regulations, it is possible that implementing sustainability measures can not merely provide a competitive advantage on the short term, but also in the long run. Short term advantages can be increasing the capacity of current datacenters. Not sustaining the datacenter may make it impossible to acquire enough power from the power grid which poses a direct threat for the economical sustainability of the IT function (Reams & Brown, 2010), which would not have happened if the company had been more environmentally sustainable. Longer term advantages can be the great increase of efficiency, by reusing excessive heat for useful purposes like heating a pool (Miller, 2008), or reusing heat for greenhouses (Keijzer, 2009).

The implementation of a more environmentally aware IT is often called “Green IT.” According to Gartner’s hype cycle (Stevens & Pettey, 2009) Green IT will be mainstream in the near future. However, research on maturity for IT sustainability is still scarce. Recent investigations lead to the conclusion that a lot of companies are missing out on opportunities. According to Schop (2010), around 70% of Dutch companies ignore the opportunities Green IT can bring for their organization. The usage of IT in this case is ambiguous because on the one hand IT can be perceived as being one of the causes of environmental problems, whereas on the other hand IT can also be seen as part of the solution to solving environmental problems. IT usage is a big energy consumer, plus the production of IT components also requires a lot of energy and environment unfriendly production methods.

This study contributes to IT sustainability research by focusing on the organizational view to IT sustainability. This means actual production of equipment is out of scope, but everything influencing the IT organization and its surroundings is within scope. Research on IT sustainability has mainly focused on describing harm done by IT on the environment and scarcely on how IT can be an enabler for sustainability. This research focuses on describing the influence of IT sustainability not in a societal context, but within an organizational context. The Maturity for IT Sustainability model which we develop in this work combines organizational viewpoints with sustainability stages into a tangible roadmap with a multitude of appropriately mapped measures.

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