Green IT sprouts slowly in Asia

Although the number of companies implementing eco-friendly practices has grown, environmental issues still rank low on Asia's business agenda.

More companies have heeded the call to go green, but environmental issues remain a low priority on corporate Asia's business agenda.

According to ZDNet Asia's IT priorities 2008/09 survey, 85 percent of the 722 respondents indicated that their organizations were doing their bit for the environment, up from last year's 33 percent.

When asked what green IT initiatives had been adopted, 54.6 percent said they were implementing power-saving policies. Other popular eco-friendly activities were recycling or reusing IT equipment (40.9 percent); purchasing IT equipment that were certified eco-friendly (40.9 percent); and reducing the usage of IT equipment (32 percent).

Getting started on green

•  Encourage green IT discussions in the organization quickly and early.

•  Identify and prioritize areas for adopting eco-friendly measures.

•  Allocate resources.

•  Constantly monitor implementations.

•  Highlight results in business and environmental terms.

Only 15.1 percent said they were not making any commitment to environmentally friendly IT practices.

Green IT, however, did not make it to the top 10 IT priorities list. Only 0.2 percent of respondents polled said their organizations have dedicated the most resources to them.

Industry observers whom ZDNet Asia spoke with noted two reasons why some Asian companies are still not big on green IT: economics and corporate social responsibility.

Philip Carter, IDC Asia-Pacific's associate research director, said: "Asian organizations are very price-sensitive, therefore, they will tend to invest in green technology where it also reduces costs--mainly in the form of electricity."

As such, Carter said, they will regard their eco-friendly investments as part of an "infrastructure optimization strategy" rather than a "green IT strategy".

Commenting on the survey findings, John Brand, director of analyst firm Hydrasight, said: "In many cases, green IT is just another thing for the IT organization to think about. When [the IT budget is] shrinking already, organizations are often simply worried about keeping systems up, let alone 'what color they are'."

The second reason for the green IT inertia, noted Carter, is because "corporate social responsibility is not a very advanced concept in this part of the world".

He added: "Apart from Australia, New Zealand and Japan, businesses are not likely to invest in green technology as part of a moral obligation to contribute to environmental sustainability."

Kevin McIsaac, an advisor at IBRS, noted: "If the organization has a green strategy or some kind of social responsibility strategy, then IT along with all other business units are being told to report on their carbon footprint and find ways to do this...the bottom line is 'how can I go green while reducing my costs'."

Making the case for green IT
To convince Asian businesses to adopt eco-friendly measures, a "very clear business case" is needed, said Carter.

McIsaac said: "The organization needs to see how [green IT] will save money or improve their market position." Citing the example of a winemaker, he noted that the company, by demonstrating that its growing and shipping processes were eco-friendly, was able to sell its products at a premium to Tesco in the United Kingdom.

On the importance of businesses regularly reviewing and measuring the effectiveness of their eco-friendly deployments, industry observers concur that it is "critical".

Ludmila Fedorovitch, Intel Asia-Pacific's environment programs manager, said: "It's crucial for businesses to set the criteria they will measure, identify the initiatives that will address the goals and set short-, mid- and long-term measures to reach the desired outcomes."

"As with any business initiative, 'what gets measured, gets done'. By regularly reviewing the effectiveness of eco-friendly initiatives, businesses are able to monitor and, if needed, adjust their efforts to ensure that they are on track to meet their goals," Fedorovitch explained.

Intel has launched environmentally friendly initiatives internally, such as adopting green building standards. In 2007, the chip giant implemented green measures, including environmental and energy saving features, when it broke ground on its first fab in Dalian, China. The voluntary China Green Building code was used and some LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) criteria were included in the designs.

Alex Tay, IBM Asean's regional services product line manager for business continuity and resiliency services, site and facilities services, said: "Since going green is also a journey and not a one-time project, regular reviews allow each milestone achievement to be tracked, and lessons learnt to be documented, before moving on to the next green project."

Big Blue has implemented eco-friendly initiatives within the organization, as well as provided its customers with green products and services through the Project Big Green initiative that was launched in 2007. IBM has committed US$1 billion each year to "greening" its customers' infrastructures and itself.

Lynn Tan is a freelance IT writer based in Hong Kong.