May 312011

I keep six honest serving-men 
(They taught me all I knew); 
Their names are What and Why and When 
And How and Where and Who.

– “The Elephant’s Child,” by Rudyard Kipling

Green IT practice translates the green IT strategies, plans, and policies in the day-to-day workings of the organization by using its transformational and operational capabilities. My approach to green IT in practice is based on four distinct yet interrelated dimensions of business: economy (why), technology (what), process (how), and people (who). I have discussed this approach in detail in my book Green IT Strategies and Applications.1

Reiterating my oft-expressed view of green IT in practice: unless the greening effort is tied closely to the business goals of an organization, there is much less motivation for an organization to undertake green enterprise transformation. Reduction in power consumption without reducing performance drives such green IT business strategy. I outline the green IT practices in the following way:

1. Economy (Why)

The economic dimension deals with the financial justification for green enterprise transformation. The key practice in this dimension revolves around metrics that enable justification of the investment in green IT initiatives. Following are some of the economic factors appearing in green IT practice:

  • Green ROI metrics justify the business decision to invest in carbon reduction. These are measures that reflect the business value emanating from the costs, effort, and risks in undertaking a green enterprise program. For example, the replacement costs of electronic devices is matched against the power and costs saved over the lifetime of those devices. Costs associated with changes to the service-level agreements with partner organizations and corporate customers are compared with the carbon and cost savings resulting from these changes.
  • Metrics that demonstrate the net present value (NPV) of the carbon initiative over a three- to five-year period. In this period, the carbon economy can be expected to be in full swing, and the carbon reduction investments made today will affect the worth of organizations on the stock exchange then (around 2013-15).
  • Incorporation of intangible and/or otherwise noncarbon measures, such as organizational image, subtle marketing, and motivated HR, in the overall justification for green IT. For example, the image of an organization as perceived by its customers (or employees) can be measured through a survey and, then, the same image measured again after the green transformation has taken place. The difference in the two views of the organization by its customers can be made to count toward the economic benefits resulting from green initiatives.
  • The comparison of carbon performance across multiple organizations and industry sectors, especially when businesses are geographically dispersed. This comparison facilitates understanding of the economic advantage of green initiatives among competing organizations.
  • The formulation of KPIs (key performance indicators) that provide financial benchmarks indexed to carbon benchmarks. For example, a KPI can be “reduction in scope 2 carbon emissions by 10% per year over the next three years” and can be extended and mapped to “reduction in cost of production by three to five percent per year for the next three years.” KPIs not only measure progress in carbon efficiency but also provide an indication of what needs to change.
  • Regulatory compliance can be considered as a part of the economic dimension of green IT practice, especially when there are financial penalties associated with noncompliance.Consider, for example, the mandatory reporting requirement in Australia based on the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act for organizations generating more than 125 kT (Kilo Tonnes). Failure to comply and report incurs financial penalties of AUS $220,000 (maximum) plus $11,000 for each day that the offense continues for failure to register/report, and $110,000 (maximum) for failure to keep records.
  • Carbon trading based on the recording and reporting of emissions. This trade in carbon in a carbon economy on carbon stock exchanges will make use of CEMS, enabling it to mature into systems-based automated trades monitored and enforced by law.

2. Technology (What)

The practice of green IT in the technology dimension deals with reduction of emissions from IT equipment, such as monitors, computers, data servers, and network equipments. Examples of the technological dimension of green IT practice include:

  • Sophistication in managing desktops, laptops, and other individual computing devices when not in use. This includes switching them off when not in use, using a blank screen saver, centralized power management, and use of smart operating systems.
  • Use of smart metering devices that measure and relay emissions in real time and provide feedback and correction to the equipment.
  • Printer use in an efficient way through default draft printing, default page cap per user, double-sided printing, distance printing (i.e., not have a printer by the side of the desktop), and recycling of ink cartridges.
  • Virtualization and optimization of data servers and desktop machines.
  • Use of low-carbon-emitting green monitors and computers instead of the aging and high-power-consuming computers.
  • Implementing basic to advanced carbon emissions management software2 for collection and dissemination of standardized carbon data.
  • Preferential use of renewal sources of energy such as solar, wind, and nuclear. This would be based on increased ease in selecting the source of energy and greater transparency in viewing the effect of the choices through sophistication in carbon reporting systems.
  • Environmental intelligence (EI) comprises technologies like data warehouses, analytical tools, and reporting tools. This EI will combine existing business intelligence systems and organizational processes with the tacit green knowledge people carry.

3. Process (How)

The process dimension of green IT practice deals with the use of IT systems in improving business processes (e.g., supply chains) and use of standards (e.g., ISO14001). The process dimension in the practice of green IT is affected as follows:

  • Business optimization processes such as lean or SixSigma would be also responsible for carbon reduction. As I mentioned earlier, I have outlined this for lean-green as a method that extends the principles of lean toward green.
  • Modeling and implementation of new green processes. These are processes that are built from the ground up keeping carbon in mind. For example, procurement and disposal processes for electronic equipment that are directly based on the total carbon calculations over the life of the equipment. Energy Star-compliant or EPEAT certified and approval by the green IT program committee.
  • Embedding green organizational policies within the systems that support business processes. Typically, this would be the modification of ERP applications using SOA-Web services resulting in green CRM, green SCM, and their integration with CEMS.
  • Collaborative green business processes that bring together multiple partnering organizations, government bodies (local, state, or national), and generic international bodies such as IPCC and research centers to get together electronically and share information and knowledge to reduce emissions.
  • Apply 14000 family of standards — notably ISO14001 for environmental management systems (EMS). This standard will provide the basis not only for internal and external EMS implementation but also a starting point for the comparison of organizational green maturity.
  • Processes associated with reuse and recycling of equipment that balance the longevity of the equipment and its ongoing power consumption. Electronic wastage disposal will be closely tied with carbon measurements — starting with the design and production of the equipment, and their procurement, operations, and disposal carbon costs. Eventually, equipment that simply cannot be used, reused, or donated needs to be disposed in an environmentally responsible manner.
  • Collaborative business processes, based on Web services that enable support and sharing of carbon reduction across multiple organizations.

4. People (Who)

The people dimension of green IT practice deals with the soft, sociological aspects of changes to the organization. Following are some of the areas associated with people that undergo change in a green IT initiative:

  • Changing customer preferences with respect to favoring green products and services needs to be considered and incorporated in product and service design, development, and production.
  • Basic training and creation of awareness of environmental sustainability and green ITamong various groups of people, including employees, customer groups, and suppliers.
  • Use of social media networks that generate public opinion, provide carbon-related information, publicize green standards, as well as facilitate “crowd-sourcing” (e.g., a member of the crowd reporting a wastage such as street lights on during the day, an oil spill in the neighborhood, or unethical dumping of batteries or mobile phones).
  • Developing trust and ensuring security associated with carbon data. This applies to both internal and external parties interested in the carbon performance of the organization.


1 Unhelkar, B., Green IT Strategies and Applications: Using Environmental Intelligence, CRC Press (Taylor & Francis), due June 2011, ISBN: 978-1-4398378-0-1.

2 See for more details on CEMS.


Bhuvan Unhelkar

Bhuvan Unhelkar is a Senior Consultant with Cutter Consortium's Business Technology & Digital Transformation Strategies practice. He has more than two decades of strategic as well as hands-on professional experience in the information and communication technologies (ICT) industry


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