More than the bottom line

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This article appeared in the 17 March, 2008 issue of CRN magazine.

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More than the bottom line
Andrew Baker Business Partner Executive, IBM Australia

We’ve heard so much talk over the past couple of years from all types of industries worldwide, about the need to reduce our collective impact on
the environment.

The IT industry is no exception. In fact, it churns out similar levels of greenhouse gas emissions to the airline industry and accounts for about two percent of global emissions, according to Gartner.

However, the IT industry also has a unique opportunity to contribute significantly to the Green solution. Almost every change businesses make in response to climate change will require enabling technology. Technology will be key to supporting flexibility and responsiveness, helping to track and report on carbon emissions, and developing smart solutions to adapt existing products and services for a carbon-constrained economy.

Companies are investigating and adopting Green strategies for a range of reasons. Cost savings are driving change at the moment, but environmental concerns will drive more in the near future.

Active environmental policies offer other benefits to business too, most notably attracting and retaining staff in the current skills-constrained climate.

Is helping the environment a high priority?

Results from an IBM survey of 120 Australian small and medium businesses found that while more than half (55 percent) of Australian SMBs surveyed have an environmental policy in place, so far only 33 percent have made changes to their business operation to reduce energy costs during the past year or plan to during 2008.

This demonstrates that businesses have the right intentions – being Green is important to them – but they need to follow though. If they don’t, the business could not only suffer on an economic and environmental level, but could risk losing staff (and potential staff) who care about Green initiatives to companies taking an active approach.

Change for the better

When talking about Green, we often forget about employees or technology users inside businesses. In my view, one trend is clear: we are in the midst of a skills shortage. Employers need to compete to gain and retain skilled workers. In order to do this employers need to run companies that are attractive to employees.

The CEO may not get out of bed in the morning thinking about how he or she can change the business to benefit the environment. Younger employees, however, are more likely to have stronger opinions on the issue. The new generation of workers want to see employers make changes; they want to see more than a good pay packet.

In fact, many companies have seen the benefits of corporate responsibility: according to an IBM study released this month, companies said placing corporate social responsibility (CSR) at the core of their business strategy will make them more competitive and able to attract the best talent.
Many companies even view CSR as a growth opportunity, with 68 percent of those surveyed focused on generating revenue through CSR activities, while 54 percent believed it gave them a competitive advantage.

Green dollars

So what does this mean for you as a reseller, retailer or systems integrator? At IBM’s Business Partner Summit last year, we briefed partners on our Green policies, delivering the message that this is a great way to get through to customers making IT purchasing decisions.

The environment should be high on your list when presenting to potential clients. To attract and retain the best, employees are looking for clear and defined messages about the role of their business in the community – including its environmental priorities. This is a good commercially based opportunity to get the message across to your customers.

The nexus between environmental improvement and a better bottom line is helpful to say the least. It should be used as a selling tool that positions your business as one that understands the urgency of the situation.

Suggest to your clients that they may want to consider rolling out server virtualisation technologies, particularly if they have servers ticking away that are under-utilised. Many organisations are switching over to virtualised server environments to achieve maximum utilisation from a smaller number of servers, using far less power in the process.

For example IBM’s virtualisation technologies can allow clients to go from five to 10 percent utilisation to nearly 100 per cent. This translates to power savings of more than 25 percent. Sustainability Victoria virtualised as part of its Green program, and in the process reduced the power needed to run its data centre by 68 percent. It’s not just feel good, there are real savings to be had.

Something else to suggest is a plan for disposing of IT equipment in a secure and sustainable manner. Certified recycling services will ensure data is wiped clean and the systems reused, resold or recycled, keeping harmful materials out of landfill.

IBM is taking a strong position on the issue and last year kicked off the Big Green program which committed $1 billion a year in funding to develop programs which benefit the environment. In addition, we have developed a suite of energy-efficient software, hardware and services designed to give clients a road map, tools and systems to help them address the IT energy crisis.

Final word

It can be quite easy to be cynical, especially when many companies with so-called “Green” policies are not yet taking energy-reducing measures. Making a positive contribution means doing something for and with your employees.

The benefits of adopting Green strategies go far beyond money saving. Increasingly, environmental issues are becoming important to customers.

Moreover, in the current skills shortage, it’s important for employees, too. Australians are increasingly choosing to work for employers who can provide a rounded work environment, including taking an active environmental approach to doing business.

If technology buyers don’t have the environment in mind when they’re selecting products or services, they should. The benefits – to their reputation, their employees and their potential clients – go well beyond the bottom line, and this makes the environment a potent and influential selling tool.

If buyers don’t consider this when making purchasing decisions, they will lose out to competitors who could be saving more money, getting more attention, and taking the best staff with them.

Being green is vital for businesses focussed on growth.
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