November 22, 2006 6:19 AM PST

Green IT: Do it for the money, if nothing else

While the welfare of the planet may not top their agenda, the vast majority of businesses are still shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to energy savings.

Eighty percent of businesses have never conducted an energy audit and only 29 percent of businesses are investing in energy-efficient PCs, according to research from Intel.

What's more, the majority of companies expect to see their energy bills rocket over the next three years as rates soar. Most companies--94 percent--are also aware that energy consumption from information technology is a major contributor to global warming.

So why the inertia when it comes to addressing these problems?

According to Daniel Fliescher, senior research analyst at IDC, cost is still a major barrier. "I think there is still a perception among CIOs that it costs money to go green," Fliescher said.

He also expressed doubts that many chief information officers also see a close enough correlation between their IT buying decisions and "the death of the planet."

However, he said a greater financial imperative--gained by understanding total cost of ownership issues, including energy consumption--is likely to get IT departments thinking about energy savings differently. That impetus must be injected at board level--from CFO or CEO--and should filter down through the company.

Catriona McAlister, a senior consultant at AEA Energy and Environment, said businesses need to ditch notions of paying a premium for green IT, adding: "There is absolutely no correlation between the cost of a PC and its energy efficiency."

But McAlister also is pragmatic about the fact that moves toward greater energy efficiency--and the resulting environmental benefits--will be motivated by a desire for cost savings rather than environmental concerns.

IDC's Fliescher said while there are a lot of public-relations benefits to green IT, it is still only a question of economics.

"There are a number of 'nice to haves' and we can all market around green issues, but it is the dollar which is really important," Fliescher said.

Gordon Graylish, head of Intel for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said his own commitment to the planet stretches at least as far as realizing that no planet would mean no more sales for Intel.

"I care about it because the world won't be a great market if it's all bubbling away and half is under water," Graylish said.

But he added that equipment manufacturers and businesses such as his own must find ways to make ecologically friendly buying decisions easier for consumers and businesses.

Ensuring PCs can go into hibernation and yet restart quickly again will be vital in weaning users off an overreliance upon stand-by where machines still use up to 96 percent of normal operating power, said Graylish. Similarly PCs must be able to activate if they are required for an automatic update, to their antivirus protection for example.

Manufacturers have already taken the greatest strides, said Graylish, and it is the user community who are now playing catch-up. "The carbon agenda has become incredibly important from an environmental point of view but also from a board point of view," he said.

"The industry is moving forward at a component level," Graylish added, "but individuals still aren't thinking about buying decisions or usage."

Will Sturgeon of Silicon.com reported from London.

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