Jamming to the green beat of eco-efficiency


Ian Campbelleavesdrops on a global chat about eco-friendly IT strategies

FEARS THAT the recession may kill off an organisation’s enthusiasm for investing in green IT were laid to rest, according to facilitators of an online IBM event last week. One of the key messages that IBM took from wide-ranging discussions was that participants were focused on long-term environmental issues, despite the economic crisis.

“The recession has crystallised the need to focus on the economic dimension of eco-efficiencies in general,” said Constantin Gurdgiev, event facilitator and head of macro economics at the IBM Institute of Business Value. “Organisations are aware of the constraints in the current climate but see it as an opportunity to drive through gains and efficiencies at a business level.”

The Global Eco-efficiency Jam was the latest in a series of IBM online events, run over 51 hours with invited participants let loose on a message board platform for making comments or simply following discussion threads. About half of the 1,600 active “jammers” were IBM people; the rest were mostly IT professionals and consultants from 925 private and public organisations from 60 countries.

Eavesdropping on the global chat, you could find evidence that supported Gurdgiev’s analysis but there were also signs of a disconnect between IT people and their business leaders. Several participants highlighted how they had to persuade their chief financial officers to invest in eco-friendly technology on the basis of saving money rather than saving the planet.

Gurdgiev accepted it was an issue but detected a change. “In the past, eco-efficiency was associated with a combination of benefits. It would help achieve some savings and was strategically good for business, but on the profit or loss side, it was mostly treated as a cost. What I got out of the jam was a general agreement that there are now more tangible benefits for a company.”

The problem with the jam is that it preaches to the converted – people who are passionate about eco issues are the ones who will take part. There are a lot of companies out there who tick the green box for corporate social responsibility but have other priorities in their day-to-day business – survival being one of them.

They are missing out, according to Gurdgiev, who said companies that wholeheartedly pursue a green agenda were now seeing some unexpected rewards. “An emerging theme is the improvement in the quality of supply if you use less energy, posing less risk to operations and services. This was apparent in several jam discussions around data centres but also around the workplace.”

The struggle to measure the benefits of eco-friendly strategies was another recurring theme. Without solid metrics, it is hard to persuade business leaders to invest, a plight suffered by a number of jammers.

“The green economy is very new so there are no unified standards. Inter-governmental organisations like the OECD need to drive it but it will take time to build up the databases that can give us the metrics we want,” said Gurdgiev. “A lot of data is being generated by different projects in different countries, sometimes at a city level like in Dublin and Stockholm. When these reach a critical mass, there will be data that can be aggregated and processed – but we’re not there yet.”

IBM follows each jam with a document that attempts to draw conclusions and identify trends from the flavour of conversations. Although it can be little more than a snapshot, there is no doubt that a lot of serious and sensible discussions were taking place. They may have been IBM customers or partners invited into a controlled IBM domain, but the forum was refreshingly free from sales pitches.

The general tone was not overly technical and refreshingly constructive. Perhaps it was because jammers were named and identified, but there was none of the aggression that undermines traditional message boards where some people revel in their anonymity and use it as an excuse to be rude. In fact, there was an outbreak of courtesy with exclamations like “great point, Bob” or “you’re right, Jane”, enhancing the sense that IBM has created a genuinely constructive, ego-free platform for collaboration.