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CIOs increasingly seen as 'green ambassadors'

Cisco claims chief information officers are driving the sustainable business agenda in their organisations while bringing the issue to the attention of their suppliers
Written by Natasha Lomas, Contributor

Chief information officers are increasingly becoming "green ambassadors": taking responsibility for driving the adoption of sustainable business practices in their own organisations and encouraging their suppliers to think green too, according to networking giant Cisco.

David Meads, operations director financial services for Cisco UK, told ZDNet.co.uk's sister site, silicon.com: "I can't recall the last time I had a conversation with a CIO where sustainability wasn't on the agenda…

"I'm not suggesting it was the agenda item, although we've had some of those meetings as well, but increasingly [in] CIO conversations… sustainability and wanting to understand what our perspective was — what we're doing from a product development point of view primarily but also what we're doing as an organisation — is a topic of most meetings that I'm having with CIO levels."

Meads added: "Certainly I'm seeing equally the number of CIOs that I'm meeting are the green ambassador, or at least sitting on a green council, because it's recognised they have a role to play."

His view is supported by research commissioned by Cisco into attitudes to sustainable business practices. In a poll of 200 IT decision makers, almost two-thirds (61 percent) said sustainability is a key issue for them, while almost half (44 percent) said it is now a board-level issue in their organisation.

Speaking at a roundtable to discuss the findings, Michael Fahy, head of infrastructure for Europe, at investment bank Lehman Brothers, agreed green thinking is on every CIO's agenda, but he said the main driver for this is efficiency, rather than sustainability for its own sake.

According to Fahy: "Everyone has this very high on their agenda and every conversation I have with any of our suppliers — Cisco included — always has an element talking about [this], less about sustainability but more about efficiency. So efficiency and sustainability effectively dovetail to being the same thing, from a technology leader perspective."

It's inevitable that technology consumes vital resources — the key is to make it efficient, he argues. "So from a sustainability point of view the driver is to ensure that net consumption is as productive as possible in terms of its output and its value. So rather than producing cycles that aren't necessarily valuable — or running more cycles than are necessary — the objective is to get that envelop down as small as possible. That has two benefits: efficiency, and it also basically contributes to sustainability."

"Because they both travel in the same direction it doesn't mean to say that one invalidates the other," he added.

Fahy said the drive for efficiency at Lehman Brothers has meant the company has shifted to charging for internal services based on consumption — by calculating how much resource is required to run individual applications, instead of, say, considering how much space they take up in the datacentre.

He explained: "From a technology perspective we're supplying information. That information is consumed in applications and services. Those applications — they use servers, they use storage, they use network etc etc — now, the scale of that application will determine how much storage, network it uses. And within that you can do a correlation between if you've got maybe 1,000 servers in your environment and 300 of them are being used by this particular application and it has this power consumption (because not every server has the same power consumption and it has a utilisation level) you can work out how much net consumption that information's basically costing you to get."

He said this internal hunger for efficiency does not stay within the organisation's walls, but is pushed out to other business, as pressure is put on suppliers to boost efficiencies of products and services. "Every meeting I have with our suppliers — going back over the last two to two and a half years — it has been where are you going with primarily about efficiency."

According to the Cisco research, almost a third (30 percent) of IT leaders say they expect their budgets for technologies aimed at improving sustainable business practice to rise and a quarter anticipate an increase of between 10 and 25 percent. Meanwhile, almost half of IT leaders say they are willing to pay a premium for goods and services from sustainable suppliers.

New technologies being considered by IT departments to promote sustainable business include digital video communications, and Web 2.0 and instant-messaging tools, the research found. Cisco also commissioned research into UK workers' attitudes to sustainability and found a significant section (13 percent) said they would not work for an employer without a sustainable business practice policy.

Meads said "Generation Y" is having a "massive impact" on enterprise collaboration technologies, as they bring a love of social networking and Web 2.0 to the workplace. Jo Causon, director of corporate affairs and marketing at the Chartered Management Institute, added: "We're certainly seeing people expecting more remote working, more virtual [working] and therefore the technology needs to help with that."

But just as the IT department alone can't drive a sustainable agenda, the kids can't either, according to Meads. "It's important not just to have the Generation Y coming in new to the business and promoting the use of these technologies but actually have the people at the top of the business driving it as well… driving behaviour from top down. I think when it is embraced at that level... it can have a huge benefit."

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