Green IT: CIOs Can Demand Sustainability from Vendors

Sustainability is a top priority for CIOs

Pamela Rucker doesn't want to spend money with IT vendors that waste water or energy, or that have large carbon footprints. After all, she says, as vice president of IT for environmental services firm PSC, it would be hypocritical to not hold vendors to high standards.

When considering a deal with a software, hardware or services provider, Rucker demands to see its written policies governing sustainability. On top of that, IT staff might walk through vendor facilities to verify a company's green claims: How high heat density is in the data center; how water consumption is minimized; whether renewable energy sources are used; how old computers are recycled. Rucker and team don't just take such claims at face value, they look for proof.

"I've gotten more than one 'Let me get back to you' response from major vendors," Rucker says. One company recently professed to be environmentally responsible but had no documented policies. "We have not done business with them."

To read more on this topic, see: A Green Global Supply Chain? Yeah, Right. Maybe Next Decade and Alcatel Kicks Off Green Networks Group.

With an estimated $644 million in sales last year, the privately held PSC is small. Even so, Rucker's efforts help green the supply chain, says Ron Blitstein, a fellow at the Cutter Business Technology Council and managing director at IMprove Technology advisors. The key is properly evaluating vendor claims about sustainability, he says.

CIOs can evaluate vendors' claims with data from environmental groups, Blitstein says. Such resources include the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), a set of 51 environmental criteria created by the Green Electronics Council that includes factors such as eliminating use of certain chemicals and plastics, and research from the Green Grid, a group of IT professionals working to establish a standard measurement of data center efficiency.

Sustainability is a significant priority for CIOs, according to CIO.com's October survey of IT buyers. While 32 percent of 797 respondents said they had no plans to launch a green IT program, 68 percent said either they already have one in place or they're starting to address the issue. Large companies such as Disney and Verizon have announced plans to cut their electricity use substantially, including in IT. Some vendors, like Alcatel-Lucent, make green initiatives part of their sales pitch.

Internally, PSC's green goals spur both large and small efforts. For example, the company has an extensive e-waste program that responsibly disposes of used IT equipment and its data. More simply, at the end of every IT staff meeting, someone is assigned to turn out the lights.

From outside vendors, Rucker requires sustainability criteria--from data center management to help desk outsourcing to WAN services--in most requested proposals. "If you want to be considered, you have to do something about this," she says. Blitstein agrees that the request for proposal is a way for CIOs to push vendors toward sustainability.

Rucker's vendors also have to document that they take green IT seriously. Difficult as it may be, she'd love to have a thoroughly green supply chain someday. "It's not enough to say you're responsible for only the carbon you produce," she explains. "If [I] use transportation or [an outsourced] data center that is wasteful, then I'm adding additional carbon to the environment. I don't want that."

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Kim S. Nash

CIO (US)
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