Top 10 tips for green IT

We run down the top 10 ways to cut energy use and green up your business technology.

With increasing pressure on companies to be more environmentally friendly from shareholders, the Government and the public staff at every level are being forced to learn new green skills, and IT managers are by no means exempt.

The IT industry is currently responsible for around two per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. That's the same as the aviation industry, but IT's emissions are growing at a much faster rate. BT alone uses 0.7 per cent of the UK's electricity supply.

Reducing the environmental impact of an IT department is no easy task, and the effectiveness of many common strategies is dubious, to say the least. Carbon offsetting, for example, may appease customers and give the marketing department something to show off, but the real-world benefits are debatable. So, what can be done? Here are ten strategies that really work.

1. Teleconferencing

Teleconferencing has been around for decades, and videoconferencing has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years. Despite this, though, tens of thousands of people fly to meetings abroad every day.

The benefit of face-to-face conversation is undeniable, but modern, high-definition videoconferencing has brought remarkable clarity to what was once a flaky technology, and the price is falling rapidly.

For international companies, investment in multiple videoconferencing rooms or just renting the rooms from Cisco could save hundreds of tons of carbon emissions every year, and pay for itself in travel savings within a year. Overall IT spending and energy consumption may rise, but the bigger picture reveals significant savings.

2. Ditch paper

The phrase "paperless office" is inextricably linked with 1970s Tomorrow's World' episodes, but the idea has made little progress towards the mainstream. The undeniable fact is that people still work with print outs everyday, and printers are one of the biggest offenders as far as office energy users go.

Around 40 per cent of those currently in use need to be manually turned off, but regularly aren't. Paper is also an environmentally-draining product, requiring the felling of trees and the use of huge quantities of bleach. Sourcing recycled paper, making duplex printing the default, and investing in printers that automatically power down are easy first steps.

Better still, a PIN-based collection system encourages staff to only print what is necessary and keeps logs to highlight heavy-use areas.

3. E-documents and online tools

Another approach is to reduce the need for staff to print documents at all, by making online experiences better. Internal tools, if badly designed, will steer people towards paper alternatives, so design them better. For example, holiday request forms are printed out in their hundreds every year in most offices, only to be read by HR, entered into a database and disposed of. A one-off investment in a well-designed online tool possibly built into the existing intranet will eventually yield large savings, and the same can easily apply to customer facing services.

"30 per cent of our online banking customers are enrolled in paperless statements. Needless to say, that's a significant expense saved for us," Catherine Palmieri, managing director of Citibank.com, was quoted as saying at the recent Green IT conference in London.

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