Most of the environmental improvements have centered on the "low hanging fruit," says Herrera, such as paperless environments and increased data center efficiency. Most of the major players have also built lines of business consulting on energy efficiency.
"Customers often want energy efficient IT when they are outgrowing their data centers and face increased real estate costs for adding a new center," says William Tanenbaum, partner in the outsourcing practice of law firm Kaye Scholer and chair of its green tech and sustainability group. "They can avoid these increased costs if they can get more IT horse power out of existing data centers, and they can reduce to costs of running the existing facilities... by using virtualization, internal smart grids and other advanced technologies."
Sustainability Is Blowing in the Wind
Projects like HP's data center in England--cooled entirely by North Sea winds--are more rare. "Only the companies with the deepest pockets can afford to use solar, wind, or geothermal to partially support the power requirements of a data center," says Mark Ruckman, outsourcing consultant with Sanda Partners. And even the most advanced new data centers exist in a much larger ecosystem of legacy infrastructure environments.
"A provider might have a single new data center, and they publish a sustainability goal in their marketing materials that could only apply to this one data center that is almost impossible at all of their other data centers that are 10 to 20 years old," Ruckman adds. "I suspect [many of] these providers are paying an increased power rate to buy green credits from their power providers."
"Clients don't see this as a big thing," says Venu Ayyagari, director at outsourcing consultancy ISG (formerly TPI). "They worry about process improvements and cost savings."
That should change. "With the rising cost of electricity, many companies are looking for innovative ways to cut power costs, [which is what is] making the ROI on sustainability investments [for providers] most achievable. "This is a topic that will get much more attention over the next 5 years."
15 Sustainability Questions to Ask
For those IT service buyers who want to be ahead of the curve, outsourcing industry observers offer up these questions to help determine the actual value of a provider's sustainability practices:
1. Do you have at least two years experience implementing and auditing environmental management systems?
2. Is the delivery center LEED certified?
3. Do you have integrated and automated controls and operations?
4. What percentage of total data center power usage is provided by sustainable sources, and what are the sources?
5. What is the total cost of the sustainable power compared to power from the grid?