Asia's green tech conundrum

Governments must take the lead to encourage adoption of cleaner technology, and decide what they can do to help green IT have a significant impact in the region.

As environment issues take center stage in the Asia-Pacific region, governments must now take the lead in spearheading "real workable" efforts in campaigning and implementing eco-friendly measures, say industry watchers.

According to Gartner, by 2010, green issues will be among the top five IT management concerns for more than 50 percent of state and local government organizations in Australia, North America and Europe. As such, governments must take the leadership position with regard to deploying eco-friendly technologies.

Although green IT is an important theme for many industries, government organizations play especially key roles in regulating and supervising the environmental impact of IT, Richard Harris, Gartner's symposium research vice president for the public sector, said in a statement last year.

Kevin McIsaac, an advisor at IBRS, told ZDNet Asia that while it is very easy to call on governments to spearhead green IT campaigns, "the more difficult part" is deciding what exactly governments can do to make an impact.

Citing Australia as an example, McIsaac said in an e-mail interview that the role of the country's government will largely be education, and setting standards for measurement and reporting. He added that the government also needs to ensure its agencies have green IT strategies, particularly since the government is a very large user of IT.

McIsaac said: "There are a few green IT educational initiatives from the Australian government, however, I've not really seen anything on a large scale that has made a strong impact."

Echoing McIsaac's view, John Brand, research director at analyst company Hydrasight, noted: "The government's role, to date, has largely been to educate and raise awareness of the issue rather than having any direct effect themselves.

"We've not yet seen any real workable or viable efforts from government in reducing energy consumption or moving to more sustainable energy sources," Brand said.

He added that while there are some ongoing projects to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels, none of these initiatives have been able to keep up with the "incredible demands that consumers are placing on them", noting that the global energy consumption levels are set to escalate as emerging markets "come on board".

"Only nuclear power has so far proven to be capable of meeting our voracious demands, but of course, this is not without considerable risk," he said.

Government role still important
Research house IDC said governments in the region will play a significant role in green IT space, noting that it will take "two guises": sourcing/adoption and regulation.

"We expect to see governments [in the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan,] give more consideration to the energy efficiency and environmental impact of IT and include these considerations into their organizational IT strategy," Raphael Phang, IDC's Asia-Pacific research director for Government Insights, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview.

Rising constraints on government budgets will also drive Asia-Pacific governments to explore the adoption of green technologies because investments in green IT are expected to "reap cost savings", Phang said.

"Government IT executives will take advantage of procurement activities to implement procurement, management and disposal tactics that boost innovation among hardware manufacturers and distributors, including building energy-saving business cases into their IT infrastructure consolidation strategies, and collaborating with vendors on disposal, recycling and reuse processes," he explained.

In terms of regulation, Phang said governments will play an "active" role in regulating energy efficiency, e-waste as well as IT equipment manufacturing, all of which also fall under the green IT category.

"Due to increasing energy costs, the initial focus will be on electricity consumption within the data center," the IDC analyst said, adding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has already made a report to the U.S. Congress on this issue.

"More mature economies like Australia, New Zealand and Japan, will start looking at similar initiatives," Phang said. "The likes of China and India will also be investigating this area due to supply side constraints in terms of electricity."

In the Asia-Pacific, Phang cited the consolidation of data centers by governments as an example of a successful intervention from the government. "Although such initiatives are driven more by cost considerations such as reducing power, space and usage consumptions, there has yet to be a wider consideration of social responsibility and costs, beyond the hard-to-ignore economics," he said.

In September last year, Singapore's Land Transport Authority (LTA) signed a three-year agreement with IBM to implement energy-efficient processes across its IT environment. The deal is expected to help LTA locate "hotspots" within its data center infrastructure where energy consumption can be reduced.

Phang added that from a regulatory perspective, no Asia-Pacific government has intervened yet, but noted that the industry can expect to see some regulations with regard to energy efficiency and recycling.

Across the region, several Asian governments have launched initiatives to promote energy efficiency and conservations. In Singapore, for instance, government agency National Climate Change Committee--which is a part of the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources--was established in 1998 to address increasing energy consumption concerns in the country, as well as to recommend policy measures to improve energy efficiency in the island-state.

Hong Kong's Energy Efficiency Office, which is part of the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department, has also implemented a similar initiative.

Meanwhile, in Japan and Korea, there are legislation in place that require government agencies to follow energy-efficient specifications when procuring specific products.

Lynn Tan is a freelance IT writer based in Singapore.