What is the environmental impact of green IT?

Every CIO knows that they have a vital role to play in reducing the carbon emissions of both their own organization, and the rest of the business. But many ask, what is the impact of the green IT solutions themselves? For instance, telepresence can tangibly reduce emissions from travel, but what of its own footprint - for the rooms, the new kit, the network connections? How much of an impact does that have on emissions? Some ask the same questions of teleworking - if employees are working from home, are they not simply displacing the emissions from heating and lighting  an office to their heating and lighting their own home during working hours?

Orange addressed both these issues at the Orange Business Live in Amsterdam. A study of its own teleworking activities across different sites showed that, while some emissions are displaced, the savings alone from travel avoidance, can mean that teleworking is 5 times more efficient than commuting and working in a central office. There are some hard figures for this, which I will update as soon as I have the raw data.

Orange has also developed a telepresence carbon impact calculator that anyone can use. While many calculators look at ROI (and Orange does this as well), this new calculator assesses the impact of deploying a telepresence room, the emissions generated in manufacture of equipment, distribution and the end of life of the kit (i.e. the whole life cycle), and the road emissions if a teleworker needs to travel to the nearest telepresence room. This is set against the emissions from flying/driving or catching the train to a face-to-face meeting. A lot of companies want to see how it will affect them, so Orange's calculator lets you plug in your users, how many telepresence rooms you might have, their locations and utilisation, and will give a carbon ROI that for your particular organization, compared to how you do business today (without telepresence). Plans are afoot to create calculators that weight the implement-vs-business as usual impact of all Orange's green solutions, and make it freely available on the web site.

Axel Haentjens is vice president of marketing for Orange Business and a great advocate of green IT. In this video he talks about how to account for the environmental impact of green IT solutions (such as teleworking) and comparing it to continuing with "business as usual".  Orange has done this when it assessed the impact of teleworking on its own organisation - proving that the energy used by working at home was less than needed for an office (and also didn't require travel). For some locations (depending on profile) teleworking is 4-5 times more energy efficient than office-based working.
Stewart Baines
Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.