Green IT Adoption Is Driven by Business, Not Environmental, Considerations

I've been leading Forrester's efforts in sustainable computing and green IT for the past three years, with a particular focus on the role of IT professionals and assets in furthering corporate sustainability initiatives. We work with many clients — both supplier and buyer organizations — to improve the adoption, governance, and communications of their green IT and overall sustainability programs and policies.

One of the centerpieces of Forrester's ongoing research in this area is our survey of IT practitioners at enterprises and SMBs worldwide. We have done the survey twice each year since 2007, and it provides a fascinating window into the motivations, depth, and breadth of corporate commitments to greener IT processes and into IT's role in broader corporate sustainability efforts. I want to share two results from our latest survey (conducted in April 2010) and briefly discuss the implications of those findings. 

 

At first look, the data in Figure 1 (click image for a larger version) is not-so-good news for those of us evangelizing and implementing green IT. Simply put, sustainability and energy efficiency rank low (No. 10 out of 11) on IT's priority list. But let's look a little closer at some of the other priorities our survey respondents identified.

"Improve the efficiency of IT" ranks No. 1. That should be directly related to green characteristics of assets and processes, particularly in terms of energy usage. And look at No. 5 on the list, "Define strategy for risk and compliance." This also directly relates to green IT initiatives for e-waste disposal, carbon reporting, and the like.

The point here is that the selling points of green IT and the metrics used to judge its effectiveness, should not be about "green" — they should be about mainstream business and operational metrics that practitioners are using to measure and improve their effectiveness.

Which leads to our second set of data in Figure 2 (click image for a larger version) about the motivations that companies report are driving their green IT initiatives. The quick summary: Cost and cost, with brand perception coming up into third place. 

 

Again, the environmental characteristics of IT products, services, or processes are only important as the relate to, and move the needle on, mainstream business metrics (cost, revenue, customer satisfaction, and the like). Note the decline in the percentage of respondents citing "Do the right thing" as a motivator, from 50% to under 30% over the lifetime of our survey.

This is not a bad thing! It means that IT practitioners are aligning environmental responsibility with their core metrics and management goals, rather than pursuing it because they want to. Similarly, regulation is not driving behavior amongst this sample. Again, this is a good sign for green IT because it's internally motivated by business requirements, not by external forces like regulators.