It wasn't so long ago that all 'green' activity went under the heading of 'idealism'. Nothing wrong with that, but the so-called developed world is not big on that sort of thing. It doesn't put money in shareholders' pockets, satisfy fashion urges or keep children 'happy' at Christmas. (The quotes are because I remember our family's happiest festive times were when we were poorest.)
Now, with Copenhagen looming and the Carbon Reduction Commitment legislation just around the corner, large organisations especially are beginning to realise that a regulatory steamroller is heading their way and they will need to do something about it, quite regardless of their anthropogenic climate change beliefs, or otherwise.
In terms of business operations (as opposed to political lobbying or scientific research), it's probably best that organisations focus on what they can do which will deliver genuine benefits while minimising their impact on the environment. Generally speaking, benefits boil down to cost savings and increased revenues, although public bodies are likely to focus more on the former than the latter.
The tough bit is measurement. Like accounting and auditing, this is necessary to understand progress and to be able to report convincingly, both internally and externally. All the time the global warming, climate change and greenhouse gas discussions have been going on, it's all seemed a bit abstract to day to day life. Now that we're facing the prospect of being nailed by governments, councils, customers and investors, the need to act has crystallised. What a fantastic opportunity for the IT world. If nothing else, it's very good at collecting and processing information in very high volumes and that's exactly what organisations need as they contemplate their own sustainability, in all senses of the word. (We shouldn't be so dazzled by the CO2 story that we forget about raw material use, water, waste and other forms of pollution.)
Some software companies – Access and Microsoft Dynamics spring to mind, although I'm sure there are others – got into carbon accounting before their clients were fully aware that this was going to become important. Hats off to them, and others like them, who knew what had to be done and just got on with it. They will, hopefully, reap the rewards of their early efforts.
As ever, the pioneers aren't usually the ones that walk away with the big prizes. While journalists and bloggers have been complaining about the apparent lack of action, the big guys were getting on with the job. They were watching what's going on out there, putting their own houses in order while preparing new products and services for market. Now they're emerging from the woodwork.
For example, CA managed to secure the name ecoSoftware for its SaaS-based measurement and reporting system aimed at medium to large businesses. It looks into every nook and cranny of a business in order to assess and report on its environmental health. It takes the whole sustainability perspective, rather than concentrating on carbon or energy alone, for example. It takes its feeds from just about anywhere – hand entered meter readings, electronic feeds and inputs from other recording systems. It integrates with other software, especially the major ERP systems. Users can drill in and out of detail, and filter the information in a variety of ways – by business process, by GHG Protocol Scopes, per shipping unit, by floor area, and so on. The end result is action plans based on genuine insights and, of course, the ability to measure progress.
Another company, 1E, is probably best known for its NightWatchman system which minimises the power use of the desktop computing estate. It has recently announced a system for measuring data centre energy use and identifying how much useful work each server is doing. It can change the power profile of each device according to the work it is (or is not) doing. The system reports what's been going on in charts and tables and users can drill into any unusual patterns. It will integrate natively with hardware vendors' own tools or scripts can be created for exceptions or new developments. Crudely stated, the point of the exercise is to maximise the business value delivered with the least use of equipment and energy.
These examples serve to show which way the wind is blowing. Organisations will find that the IT industry will be key to helping them get a grip on their environmental obligations and costs. It is a case of a win all round but, as is frequently the case, no one will win bigger than the IT industry itself.