A while back I met Kathrin Winkler, Chief Sustainability Officer at EMC. She was delivering a briefing about EMC’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities to a group of industry analysts. Most CSR briefings are as dull as ditchwater and devoid of anything remotely innovative or challenging. CSR is for some just going through the motions rather than an integral part of the brand, culture and values of a company. CSR needs to enhance brand equity or else it becomes an irrelevance that has no place at the boardroom table.
Kathrin broke the mould presenting a structured program of activities that crosses every part of EMC from sourcing, manufacturing, logistics through to disposal of equipment. Kathrin demonstrated to me that CSR is deeply embedded into EMC’s DNA, part of every business process, integrated into EMC’s brand and sponsored at board level.
It is no surprise to learn today that Kathrin was today (Tuesday 23rd February 2010) asked to present to Senator John Kerry’s (D-Mass.), US Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, on the relationship between energy efficiency and technological innovation.
The hearing explored how expanding broadband, strengthening smart grid technologies, and improving consumer understanding of their energy usage can lead to dramatic energy savings and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It will also addressed how firms in the information and communications sectors are driving change and how government as consumer and regulator can help drive incentives to innovate.
Here are the insights that Kathrin put to the hearing as actions that Congress can take to help reduce the impact of ICT on the environment:
1. Demand the Federal Government lead by example to drive energy-efficiency throughout its ICT enterprise by aggressively pursuing virtualization, and ICT/data center consolidation. Congress, through its various Committees, has oversight responsibility for the largest ICT infrastructure in the world; the President’s FY 2011 budget requests $79.3 Billion for information technology. OMB included in the FY 2011 budget a plan to drive ICT consolidation: “OMB will work with agencies to develop a Government-wide strategy and agency plans to reduce the number and cost of Federal data centers. This will reduce energy consumption, space usage and en-vironmental impacts, while increasing the utilization and efficiency of IT assets…” Congress should request and review these strategic plans as part of the annual appropriation process and provide the resources necessary to accelerate OMB’s ICT consolidation plans.
2. Bridge split financial incentives in federal data centers – In many government data centers, those responsible for purchasing and operating the ICT equipment report to the CIO while those responsible for the power and cooling infrastructure typically pay the utility bills. This leads to a split incentive, in which those who are most able to control the energy use of the ICT equipment (and therefore the data center) have little incentive to do so or even insight into their own usage. This could be remedied by Congress requiring that agency CIO’s report on data center energy consumption and provide a baseline to Congress for future comparison.
3. Continued investment in cloud computing and next generational ICT research at NIST – Government has become an early adopter of cloud computing. As with the deployment of other promising technologies like smart grid and electronic health records, cloud computing will not be fully realized without open interoperability, data portability, and security standards. Congress should fully fund NIST’s Cloud Computing Standards Effort.
4. Collaborate with industry to promote the development of measurement tools for government and private sector data center operators. – Industry continues to struggle to develop acceptable models to measure data center efficiency. Without reliable efficiency methodologies on which to base rebate programs, it is difficult and expensive for utilities to conduct tests themselves and many simply forego rebate programs. With an estimated 1200 regulated utility service areas in the United States, there is tremendous potential for replication of successful programs. With Energy Efficiency Resource Standards mandates in more than 19 states, Congress should assist in providing useful measurement tools for the state PUCs to incentivize energy conservation in data centers.
Kathrin is 100% right, the key is ensuring that the artificial economics of Government that hide the costs of power from the costs of IT are ended and replaced with the realistic economics of the full end-to-end total life costs including disposal and operation. Private business could learn a lot from this same approach and put an end to the crazy policy where facilities pay the utility bill and IT buy the equipment.