Information Systems for Environmental Sustainability

IT, Resource Productivity, Environmental Preservation, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution “IT Takes Lead in Cutting Carbon”

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Financial Times has an article that  summarizes how IT can make companies more green.

IT for reducing travel

Videoconferencing is one early example of using “IT for green”. Visual collaboration – whether conducted via dedicated, state-of-the-art telepresence suites or simple desktop PCs or laptops equipped with webcams – has become commonplace, reducing travel budgets and miles travelled.

In an otherwise sluggish year for the IT sector, the worldwide market for videoconferencing technologies achieved 16.7 per cent growth in 2009 and is expected to grow from $1.9bn last year to more than $8.7bn in 2010, according to IDC, the analysis company.

“The videoconferencing market is in the midst of a transition – from meeting over video as an option of last resort, to an alternative that’s preferred over travelling,” says Jonathan Edwards, an IDC analyst.

IT for reducing transport miles

At Kimberly-Clark, Peter Surtees, European supply chain director, has been working with the company’s IT department on a roll-out of transport management software to reduce the miles travelled by its haulage contractors delivering tissues, paper towels, nappies and other products from its manufacturing plants to retailers.

The system, from i2 Technologies, a US supply chain management software specialist acquired by JDA Software last November, has enabled the company to optimise allocation of delivery contracts to a wider range of smaller and niche operators.

“The more carriers we have, the more likely we’ll find a contractor with trucks scheduled to return empty from deliveries. If we can fill those returning trucks, there’s less ‘empty running’, and so fewer carbon emissions,” says Mr Surtees.

The company estimates that it is saving £1m annually in transport costs and securing more competitive deals from its expanded list of haulage contractors. It is reducing distances travelled on its behalf by 380,000 miles a year, with an annual saving of 540,000kg of CO2.

IT for measuring, monitoring, mitigating carbon emissions

Big IT vendors are accelerating this process by adding environmental modules to their enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. SAP, for example, acquired carbon monitoring tools specialist Clear Standards in May last year; Oracle has teamed up with IBM to offer its own carbon monitoring product; and Microsoft last year launched its Environmental Sustainability Dashboard for users of its Microsoft Dynamics ERP suite.

“With the dashboard, we wanted to make it easy for companies to extract environmental intelligence from information that, in many cases, they already collect,” says Jennifer Pollard, senior product manager for Microsoft Dynamics.

Data from electricity bills, including units, quantity and price, might be fed into the dashboard directly from financial accounting applications. The dashboard is implemented on clients’ behalf by Microsoft’s global partner network.

Role of IT Executives

“Close integration and the help of IT staff will be needed to gather it all, in order to get the most accurate picture possible of a company’s overall footprint,” he says.

Edmond Cunningham, an IT and sustainability expert at PA Consulting Group, agrees: “IT leaders are in a unique position to reinvent themselves as green advocates or visionaries, and not just within their own departments.

“The knowledge around how to make green decisions is still not readily available in most companies and IT can play a role in providing the information and data required.” [more]

The article is well done, though I have a quibble with the assertion that “IT takes lead.” While it may be true in some companies, we just don’t have enough data to assert that this is the case on average. Also, there will likely be many eco-IT failures (if the past is any indicator), suggesting caution and the need to be aware of common failure modes such as “managerial IT unconsciousness.”


Author: nigelpm

Associate Professor of Information Systems, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan - Helping organizations to navigate digital transformation.

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