Market Research and Insight

Greening your business computing strategies is not only a smart way to enhance your brand in the eyes of customers: it can save you...

Greening your business computing strategies is not only a smart way to enhance your brand in the eyes of customers: it can save you money in both electricity costs and equipment wear-and-tear. In fact, an overwhelming majority – 71 percent – of mid-size companies say cutting costs is their primary motivation for pursuing green IT strategies, according to research from the Aberdeen Group.

Green IT not only pays off for small- and medium-size businesses, but it does so many times over.

“We’ve found that companies that are most mature with green IT initiatives are seeing sometimes as much as four- or five-fold more savings in those areas than peers who don’t have green IT initiatives in place,” said David Hatch, senior vice president and general manager at the Aberdeen Group.

As one Canadian CTO pointed out in a 2009 IBM study, “Rising costs of fuel and electricity furthers the business case, so even if it wasn’t a green initiative, the business case is there. So, it’s not that we’re tree huggers, but we’re interested in saving money, as well as consumption and emissions.”

It’s also relatively easy to improve your computing efficiency, if you get a few myths out of the way:

  1. Recycling old computers is the best way to save energy – Actually, while recycling is preferable to disposal, reuse is the way to go. In fact, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), refurbishing a used computer is 25 times greener than recycling.
  2. Turning your computer on and off repeatedly uses more energy than leaving it on – While there’s a small power surge every time you switch on a computer, it still makes more sense to shut down when you won’t be at your desk for a while. As the US Department of Energy’s Energy Savers site notes, “The less time a PC is on, the longer it will ‘last.’”
  3. A top-of-the-line, brand-new efficient computer always uses less energy than an old one – Don’t let a fantastic Energy Star rating fool you, “Mr. Electricity” – also known as Michael Bluejay – warns: sleeping, hibernating and switching off are always important, no matter how “efficient” the computer. “An inefficient computer that sleeps when you’re not using it uses far less energy than an Energy Star computer you keep running 24/7,” he points out.
  4. Cloud computing means green computing – It can, but not necessarily. The amount of energy you could save by switching to cloud-based apps depends on a wide variety of factors: what kind of energy (clean or dirty) you currently use in-house, what kind of energy the cloud services provider uses, how often you use the apps, how much more frequently you might use them if they become easier or cheaper to use via a cloud-based service, and so on.
  5. Using a screen saver saves you energy – That might have been true once, but no longer. In fact, some studies have found that using a screen saver on a modern monitor actually consumes more energy than letting the screen go dim or into sleep mode.
  6. It’s just a little electricity” – The idea that you’re not saving much energy by switching off an idle computer ignores some other important factors. One, as the EPA points out, is that a computer that rests more lasts longer. And, two, active computers generate significant amounts of waste heat … which means if you’re leaving all your office PCs on overnight, you could also end up paying more in cooling costs.
  7. Google searches use lots of energy – A few years back, the internet was buzzing with news reports that a Harvard researcher had calculated that a couple of Google searches produced as many carbon emissions as boiling a kettle of tea … only it wasn’t true. The study didn’t focus on Google, and the emissions it reported weren’t that high: physicist Alex Wissner-Gross found that the average generic website visit came with a carbon footprint of around 20 milligrams of CO2 per second. Google, in fact, came out on top in Greenpeace’s most recent report on clean energy efforts by IT companies.
  8. Even though they use more energy, PCs are more cost-effective for businesses than laptops are – While there are still circumstances where desktop computers might make more sense than laptops, a lot of the old beliefs surrounding the PC-vs-laptop debate no longer apply. Laptops these days can handle almost all the functions the typical business needs. And even a laptop loaded with every imaginable bell and whistle will generally be more energy-efficient than a comparable desktop model: 50 to 80 percent more efficient, according to common estimates. There’s also the added benefit that laptops can keep going for a while even during a power blackout. “In areas with blackouts and power-surges, the notebook (batteries included) could save even more,” EU Energy Star notes. “In these areas desktop PCs would typically require the backup of a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) to keep you from losing data. And a UPS is not only a significant extra cost, it is also a significant energy-eater.”

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

Dan Ilett