The need to modernise business operations and improve accounting processes calls for the integration of new technologies. But the advancement in technology has brought in its wake implications on the environment. In light of this, Green Information Technology – also called Green IT for short – looks at efforts to ensure a positive impact on the environment with regard to the production, use and disposal of technology.
Green IT includes the use of energy-efficient hardware and data centres, software applications, server virtualisation and monitoring systems in respect of computer-related resources. From a user perspective, green technology focuses on mitigating the energy burdens associated with new and emerging technology by adopting sustainability practices.
Goals of Green IT
Generally, green technology aims at ensuring sustainability which can be achieved by focusing on:
- Improving the design of computing devices to make them more energy-efficient and easier to disassemble and recycle.
- Reducing the use of rare metals or dangerous chemicals in both the devices and production processes.
- Promoting correct disposal and recycling practices of electronic waste.
- Promoting the use of renewable energy to power the IT infrastructure.
- Encouraging reuse of old computing systems if not yet obsolete.
- Using the IT systems to improve business sustainability.
Green IT Practices in Software Design
Typically, for an organisation that mainly uses modern technology for its business, it is incumbent upon it to uphold green IT practices in such a manner as to reduce carbon emissions. Thus, according to the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector has the potential to slash global emissions by as much as 20% by 2030. One of the ways to achieve this target is to ensure software applications for business and accounting processes are embedded with efficient-energy management elements. To conserve energy, it is important to ensure that software and systems are designed to work in two modes – active and idle. In an active mode, software and systems must run efficiently by consuming optimal energy while using least amount of power in an idle mode.
Energy efficiency can also be achieved by using multiple processors which can take an active task and process it in parallel over all a central processing (CPU) unit. In such cases, software and systems must provide multi-threading capabilities – whereby each thread is a processing activity that can run independently of the others and in parallel on a different central processing (CPU) unit. Multi-threading reduces the total energy requirement of the task, as the activity is shared by more than one central processing (CPU).
Apart from the foregoing, organisations can use management software solutions to support their green IT plan. Those products can automate the process of collecting data from connected systems, sensors and enable them to track their energy consumption and carbon emissions from computer-related resources. Data can then be made available on dashboards, and reports to help with decision-making to improve green IT practices.
Hardware systems must also be designed to be context-aware and adjust their power use accordingly. Context-aware devices must use embedded software and operating systems which enable sensing and responses to local surroundings. Devices must, for instance, have screens that reduce brightness; as higher screen brightness consumes higher energy when the ambient light is high.
Benefits of Green IT
Green IT is important for several reasons, including the following social, environmental and business benefits:
Climate change: Enterprise IT can emit greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change. Businesses must track and reduce their emissions as well as various types of toxic electronic wastes that pollute the environment. Green IT approaches can be a useful part of broader climate change strategies in a company. To limit global warming, worldwide carbon emissions must be reduced by 7.6% every year to 2030; this, according to the United Nations, will improve and sustain a healthy environment. Increasing sustainability through the use of green technology also presents opportunities for more efficient ways of working and improving corporate culture.
Cost Savings: Green IT can lead to significant savings for businesses that implement it well. Thus, sustainable use of energy-efficient technology directly reduces energy consumption – and by extension helps a business to reduce its energy bills and carbon footprint.
Compliance: Businesses are increasingly under pressure from authorities and the public to reduce their environmental impacts. Green IT makes more efficient use of computers and their related resources by reducing waste and carbon emissions, and improving recycling rates. This helps businesses to comply with environmental protection regulations.
Competitive Advantage: Green IT can be a component of environmental, social and governance initiatives in a company to attract customers, prospective employees and investors. Green technology can improve reputations by creating a good public image. It is therefore important for organisations to include green technology practices as procurement criteria when choosing accounting software and other related devices to streamline their operations.
Waste Reduction: Green IT products allow for longer maintenance cycles and less frequent device replacement. Furthermore, reusing and refurbishing IT equipment is a more environmentally friendly and possibly cheaper option than outright new product acquisition. It is also part of the circular economy, which eliminates waste and improves supply chain resiliency. Circular economy models involve ‘servitisation’, whereby a company sells green technology products and services and manages their maintenance and end-of-life processes for other businesses and customers.
Challenges Implementing Green IT
There are many potential barriers to implementing green IT successfully, including the following:
Cost: The initial cost of implementing new green technologies and programmes can be expensive, especially when replacing old legacy IT systems. That aside, the investment cost of implementing green IT-embedded software and hardware can equally be significant for businesses with limited resources. The process involves designing and building or buying a new IT infrastructure, which incurs an increased investment outlay. The challenge for business owners is to conduct cost-benefit analyses which prove the subsequent benefits exceed the costs – wherein the impacts of green IT will have to be measured carefully and accounted for as a benefit. Managers also have to ensure that the long-term plans for IT include green practices to help reduce costs.
Cultural Pushback: Some areas of green technology are relatively new, with the development of green software being one of these emerging fields. Indeed, implementing green IT requires new ways of working which might meet internal resistance from employees and the technical team of software architectures involved in the integration process. Change management strategies therefore require that the reasons for adopting green technology are explained to all stakeholders in order to bring them onboard.
Conflicting Initiatives: In some cases, technology that is supposedly designed to reduce carbon emissions can also have a negative environmental impact. Virtualisation and artificial intelligence (AI) are examples of technology that can both help and hurt sustainability goals. For instance, AI can provide detailed insight into energy use and other sustainability factors – but AI technology also consumes a lot of energy. It can also be difficult to decide where to start with the implementation of green IT projects. This is because, at every level, IT uses energy; so it can be hard to pick which systems to address first.
Organisations need to develop sustainable green IT practices and create effective governance procedures to support them. They also need to operationalise their plans by embedding sustainability in software architecture and developing a sustainability culture among employees. By implementing best practices, organisations can enhance their green IT sustainability efforts to the benefit of their businesses and stakeholders while minimising their environmental impacts.
Bernard is a Chartered Accountant with over 14 years of professional and industry experience in Financial Services Sector and Management Consultancy. He is the Managing Partner of J.S Morlu (Ghana), an international consulting firm providing Accounting, Tax, Auditing, IT Solutions and Business Advisory Services to both private businesses and government.
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