Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Green IT – from TCO to TCP

(By Anthony Miller – Wednesday 9th September 2009 7:30pm). Whenever I can I like to get along to Fujitsu Services’ quarterly client Executive Decision Evenings as the quality of the speakers is usually top notch and the discussion afterwards stimulating. The most recent briefing was on ‘green IT’ though the title was a snappier ‘Will going green keep you out of the red’. The speakers were Sir Jonathon Porritt (the self-styled chief government tree-hugger!), Catalina McGregor, Founder and Chair, HMG Green IT Delivery Unit, Cabinet Office, and Paul Coby, CIO, British Airways.

Now, I have to admit to having long been a sceptic about the ‘green IT’ agenda, seeing it as little more than politically opportunistic window dressing on common sense cost saving and, as such, a great vendor marketing ploy.

But I am changing my views.

Catalina McGregor showed an arresting Greenpeace video clip on the social cost of recycling which to my mind moved the IT procurement argument forward from that of ‘total cost of ownership’ (TCO) to ‘total cost of pollution’ (TCP - my ‘invention’, I hasten to add). In other words, it’s not just about the environmental impact of running the kit (to my mind still primarily a cost argument) but also of the manufacture, distribution and disposal (you probably knew that anyway).

Unfortunately, we don’t (yet) have dangly tags on IT equipment to tell us the ‘TCP’ value for each piece of kit to help us make a more informed purchase decision. But then, what decision would we make if we did know? How much of a premium would we be prepared to pay for a laptop with a lower ‘TCP’ than a cheaper but otherwise functionally equivalent model? 3% for slightly green? 5% for nicely green? 10% for very green indeed? Or suppose the TCO of the kit was lower (‘good’ business decision) but the TCP was higher (‘poor’ environmental decision)?

I may be slow on the uptake of the green agenda – and I am not there yet – but it seems to me that there is a lot more work to be done to bridge the gap between the hard-nosed financially-driven procurement debate and what I suspect still appears to many to be more of an emotional and ethical argument. I am beginning – perhaps belatedly – to see that the two are actually not incompatible. But let’s be realistic - on which bottom line is your procurement department being measured?

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