Should Sustainability Be an IT Priority?
Everyone likes to talk about sustainable IT, but how many CIOs are actively including it as a priority? Here’s what’s holding companies back from investing in sustainability.
“We can always tell when a new data center comes online.”
These words were from a large electric utility manager during a casual conversation we were having about energy management. The manager was referring to the spike in energy utilization that the utility saw whenever a new data center was added to the system.
Data centers and networks are major energy consumers, and they are natural places to focus for companies that wish to lower their energy footprints as part of their environmental sustainability initiatives.
This is why a major US insurance company opted to spend millions of dollars several years ago to build a new, green data center, and why a major state government thousands of miles away did the same. In both cases, the data center capital outlays were extreme. And in both cases, the organizations projected that they would realize substantial cost and energy savings over time that would enable them to recoup their upfront costs.
Today, nearly every organization talks about sustainability, and IT consultancies like Accenture comment that the “[COVID-19] pandemic has increased pressure on leadership teams to deliver financial value with societal and environmental impact for the benefit of all stakeholders…But the responsible values and the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) intentions of leadership teams are outrunning the ability of their organizations to deliver the necessary behavioral change. To succeed, they must strengthen their ‘Sustainability DNA,’ the management practices, systems and processes that shape new behaviors and decision-making capabilities.”
So, if organizations are all talking about environmental sustainability, what prevents them from delivering sustainability results, specifically in IT?
Sustainability ROI is hard to quantify.
It was easy to justify computer and storage virtualization as a cost- and energy-saving strategy because the corporate C-level could see physical servers and storage devices being moved out of data centers, and it wasn’t hard to visualize the energy savings that were possible because of these removals. It is far more difficult, however, to justify an investment in a new HVAC system that will improve data center cooling near “hot centers” like server farms, where energy savings are tougher to quantify, and where all management sees is a new capital investment in facility equipment.
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