Strategies for Greening Enterprise IT: Creating Business Value and Contributing to Environmental Sustainability

Strategies for Greening Enterprise IT: Creating Business Value and Contributing to Environmental Sustainability

San Murugesan (University of Western Sydney & BRITE Professional Services, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-834-6.ch004
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IT is both a solution and a problem to environmental sustainability. Though IT significantly benefits us in many different ways and helps to address environmental problems we face, it, on its own, can harm the environment if not managed properly. IT contributes to environmental problems in a few different ways, which most people don’t realize. IT systems and their use can be made more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable, and businesses and individuals are obliged to minimize or eliminate where possible the harmful environmental impacts of IT to help create a more sustainable environment. This chapter outlines strategic approaches for greening enterprise IT and offers recommendations that will help an enterprise define its green IT strategy and create practical guidelines for its implementation. To provide motivation for greening enterprise IT, beginning with a brief overview of environmental impacts of enterprise IT, this chapter discusses why greening enterprise IT is a necessity, not an option.
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Information technology (IT) has permeated all types of businesses – small to large – in significant ways, yielding substantial benefits to them and their stakeholders. The adoption of advances in IT – smart mobile phones, netbooks, wireless broadband, 3G and 4G communications and cloud computing - by businesses and their customers will continue offering them novelty and convenience and improving operational effectiveness and efficiency. As highlighted later in this chapter, IT can also be used in several ways to help to address environmental problems we face and to improve environmental sustainability. But IT is also contributor to environmental problems confronting us - a downside of widespread adoption and use of IT, is potential harmful effects it can have on the environment if not managed properly.

IT contributes to environmental problems in a few different ways, which most people don’t realize (Murugesan 2007). Computers and other IT infrastructure consume significant amounts of electricity, placing burden on our electric grids and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Business IT is a big energy consumer drawing about four percent of world energy use - 600 billions watts of power – and that amount is expected to double in the next five years. With energy prices soaring, regulations demanding lower energy consumption, electric supply dwindling (Samson 2007, Miller 2008), and environmental concerns mounting, the need to reducing energy consumption by enterprise IT – datacenters, PCs, servers, printers, and communication equipments - is clear. Additionally, IT hardware poses severe environmental problems both during its production and its disposal as highlighted later in this chapter.

But IT systems and their use can be made more efficient and environmentally sustainable. Businesses and individuals are obliged to minimize or eliminate where possible the environmental impact of IT to help create a more sustainable environment.

IT systems, when used in a strategic manner addressing its environmental impacts, can lead to much reduced carbon emissions across entire business operations and add value. CIOs, IT managers, and developers as well as businesses and individuals that use IT are all called upon to use IT in ways that make business practices, its infrastructure, products, services, operations and applications environmentally sustainable. They can use IT for building environmental sustainability in three different ways (Murugesan 2007):

  • 1.

    Greening IT systems and usage. On its own, IT can become greener and environmentally sound.

  • 2.

    Using IT to support environmental sustainability. By coordinating supply chains (Shrivatsava 2007), making buildings and vehicles more energy efficient, and offering innovative modeling, simulation, and decision support tools, IT can support, assist, and leverage other environmental initiatives. IT can also enable workers to telecommute and videoconference instead of requiring them to travel for work or meetings thereby reducing fuel consumption and the travel-induced environmental pollution.

  • 3.

    Using IT to create green awareness. As an effective information dissemination medium and as a platform for collaboration, IT can assist in creating environmental sustainability awareness and in learning about sustainable development as well as promoting best practices.

The key focus of chapter is on how all enterprises (both IT and non-IT) can make their IT systems as well as the use of their IT systems greener. Topics such as environmentally-friendly design and manufacturing of computers and peripherals are beyond the scope of this chapter.

Key Terms in this Chapter

WEEE Directive: The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive aims to reduce the amount of e-waste going to landfills and to increase recovery and recycling rates (

RoHS Directive: The Restriction of Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (RoHS) ( aims to restrict the use of certain hazardous substances. It also bans placing new electrical and electronic equipment on the European Union market if it contains more than the agreed-upon levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, or flame retardants.

EPEAT: Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, or EPEAT, (see assists buyers to evaluate, compare, and select desktop computers, notebooks, and monitors based on their environmental attributes ( It also helps manufacturers promote their products as environmentally sound.

Sustainability: It is generally defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (

Carbon Footprint: It is a measure of the impact of activities of an organization or an individual have on the environment, and in particular climate change. It is the total set of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an organization, an event or a product. For simplicity of reporting, it is often expressed in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), or its equivalent of other GHGs, emitted; it has units of tones (or kg) of carbon dioxide equivalent. A carbon footprint is made up of the sum of two parts, the primary footprint and the secondary footprint. The primary footprint is a measure of direct emissions of CO2 resulting from consumed electrical energy and one has direct control of these. The secondary footprint is a measure of the indirect CO2 emissions from the whole lifecycle of products we use - those associated with their manufacture and eventual breakdown.

Greenwashing: It is the practice of boosting one’s green credentials by making fictitious claims about their products or services as carbon neutral, energy- or fuel-efficient, or environmentally sound. Exploiting the call for environmental sustainability, many companies try to bolster their green credentials by exaggerating their products’ and services’ eco-friendliness in marketing campaigns. While one shouldn’t greenwash, sadly, this trend is increasing.

Green Audit: To address accusations of greenwashing, a new kind of corporate audit is emerging: the green audit. A green audits assesses a company’s environmental credentials and its green claims for its products, processes and services to determine whether the company’s processes, supply chain and/or product line can be promoted as truly environmentally sustainable.

Green IT: It is the study and practice of designing, manufacturing, using, and disposing of computers, servers, and associated subsystems efficiently and effectively with minimal or no impact on the environment. It encompasses the dimensions of environmental sustainability, the economics of energy efficiency, and the total cost of ownership, which includes the cost of disposal and recycling.

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