Information Technology has been at the forefront of innovation and business efficiency in literally every industry since the advent of readily accessible computing in the 1970’s. Hence, IT should take a leading role in combatting global warming and climate change. In short, we are at the advent of Green IT.
Examining the issues we face at a macro level, we really need a 3 pronged attack to deal with increasing energy usage and its impact on the planet. IT can play a significant role in all of these:
1. We need lots of abundant, affordable clean energy
There is no doubt that moving to clean energy, be it renewables or nuclear(?) is going to be more expensive than the relatively cheap and abundant carbon based fuels that we have today. However, this should not become a hindrance in pursuing this objective. IT’s role in this paradigm shift, moving to a low carbon economy, will be paramount. Smart green energy is the best way forward and technology will enable this.
2. We need to continue to pursue energy efficiency to ensure a sustainable future
If we assume that energy is going to get even more expensive, the best way to ensure sustained global growth and getting the majority of the world’s population out of energy poverty is to ensure that we become more energy efficient. In simple terms, we need to do more work with less (expensive) energy. If we fail, it will hinder economic growth and prompt developing economies that cannot afford ‘expensive clean energy’ to pursue dirty energy strategies.
Technology almost always focuses on increasing productivity and efficiency. The simple task of turning a bit on or off is actually about doing a piece of work more efficiently, be it a calculation, word processing or getting your company’s accounts out earlier than ever before. From a business perspective, IT is a large consumer of energy and making the service you deliver as an IT professional more energy efficient will become more and more important as the cost of energy continues to escalate.
3. We need to conserve our natural resources.
We have an obligation to future generations to continue to look after our water resources, our oceans and our natural wilderness. These resources are critical to ensuring that our biome remains in balance and will ensure that water and food security do not become threats leading to global and regional conflict. Again, the role of technology in monitoring the effects of human induced climate change and managing depleting resources will become key. Taking this further, moving to ‘birth to birth’ manufacturing processes which reutilise raw materials after usage will again be driven by advances in design driven by technology.
The role for the IT Department and sustainable computing
If we accept that we are entering a paradigm shift and that technology is going to be a key enabler moving forward, then the IT department and the role of IT is going to become more and more important. IT is going to be a key change agent to drive efficiencies in organisations. IT will enable companies to measure where they are and build plans to make improvements. IT will be the means whereby companies will become ‘smart’. ‘Smart’ in respect of all aspects of the business from, logistics to facilities management, manufacturing processes to full dematrialisation of carbon intensive business processes. ‘SMART’ in implementation of objectives - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely.
The ‘smart’ CIO is the leader who is going to lead these initiatives in the boardroom. The opportunity for IT in many organisations is to move up the value chain and be at the forefront of business strategy and business leadership. The change within the next 10 years is going to be enormous and companies that will win in this new low carbon economy will be the innovators, innovation led, driven and sustained through new technologies.