The green IT leaders of 2009

By Ted Samson, InfoWorld |  Green IT, Earth Day, environment

Green-technology projects flourished at organizations of all sizes in 2008, a trend that, at first blush, might seem counterintuitive. Given the economic hardships companies are facing, you might expect that projects seemingly tied to feel-good corporate social responsibility endeavors would take a backseat to initiatives aimed at bolstering the bottom line.

However, as this year's crop of Green 15 award winners demonstrates, the rewards of green-technology projects are far from limited to noble goals such as cutting greenhouse gas emissions, reducing landfill buildup, preserving trees, and the like. Rather, organizations leveraging green tech are realizing gains in efficiency, productivity, and cost savings. These business benefits are key drivers behind many green IT projects -- sometimes overriding good environmental intentions.

[ See last year's list of Green 15 winners. | Keep abreast of green IT news and tips by subscribing to InfoWorld's free weekly Green Tech newsletter. ]

That's no reason to discount the environmental merits of any of the projects that appear in the 2009 Green 15 winners' list or any of the other countless green-tech initiatives being pursued by companies across the globe. Whatever the rationale for a green IT project, one fact is clear. The outcome of a green-tech project is generally win-win: a healthier planet and a healthier bottom line.

This year's winners are, in alphabetical order:

  •  
    • Aramark cuts print waste with better devices, software
    • Burt's Bees undergoes green IT makeover
    • California Academy of Sciences reaps efficiencies through network convergence
    • California State University East Bay turns to green tech to fend off power crisis
    • Con-way Freight slashes annual fuel consumption by 4.9 million gallons
    • Digital Realty Trust sets new standard for green datacenter design
    • GlaxoSmithKline sheds nearly 6 tons of e-waste
    • HD Supply achieves ecodreams through array of green-tech initiatives
    • Intel finds significant savings by pushing the limits of free cooling
    • Niagara Catholic School District turns to e-docs to cut paper and transport costs
    • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory proves just how smart a smart grid can be
    • Procter & Gamble finds a green alternative to travel in telepresence
    • Raytheon reaps green success from sowing sustainability seeds
    • U.S. Navy enlists virtualization to supercharge sprawling intranet
    • U.S. Postal Service taps optimization software to slash transportation costs

Gains from green IT
The business gains organizations reap from sustainable IT vary from project to project. For example, winners such as the U.S. Navy and California State University East Bay reduced energy consumption and saved floor space through virtualization, consolidation, and adjustments to datacenter layout to reduce cooling needs. As a result, they managed to save on electricity and future hardware refreshes while making their networks more stable. All the while, they reduced their carbon footprints -- and even succeeded in postponing expensive, resource-intensive datacenter expansion projects.

Meanwhile, organizations such as Procter & Gamble and Burt's Bees embraced collaboration systems such as telepresence and videoconferencing. They too reaped both business and environmental benefits. On the business side, they were able to significantly reduce costly, time-consuming travel, thus saving on airline tickets while speeding up decision-making through faster meetings. On the environmental end, they slashed travel-related carbon emissions as well.

Similar outcomes can be seen throughout this year's lineup of Green 15 winners. The U.S. Postal Service and Con-way Freight used smart technology to optimize their supply chains. By devising more efficient delivery routes, they slashed transportation costs and fuel consumption. Through print-waste management projects, organizations such as Aramark were able to unplug and retire old personal printers and instead use fewer, more-energy-efficient multifunction devices. The result: lower energy costs, a drop in paper waste thanks to dual-sided printing -- and the logical environmental benefits. PC power management projects, again, yielded lower electricity bills and thus fewer CO2 emissions.

Green IT isn't plug-and-play
The project leaders of many of this year's Green 15 projects cited not only the technological challenges of their endeavors, but also the cultural challenges. Investing in multifunction devices capable of dual-sided printing, a virtualized server environment, or a telepresence studio is one thing; getting their constituents to stop printing one-sided color documents, ordering new servers, or booking flights to Sydney for a meeting is something else entirely.

Getting users, corporate leaders, and stakeholders to support and participate in green-tech initiative takes work. Green 15 winners used strategies such as training and rewards, as well as ongoing updates to employees and leaders on the ongoing success of the programs. Seeing the results inspired employees at all levels to continue supporting the sustainability efforts.

On a final note, it's worthwhile to consider the breadth of organizations represented in this year's Green 15, from large organizations such as Procter & Gamble and the U.S. Navy to more modest-size organization such as the California Academy of Sciences and the Niagara Catholic School District. The lesson: No matter an organization's size or industry, it can realize business and environmental benefits through green IT. Given the state of both the economy and the environment, every project can make a difference.

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