Three Degrees Of IT's Environmental Impact

Businesses need to focus less on how IT contributes to their environmental impact and more on how IT can help lessen the environmental impact of business operations and the supply chain or that of enterprise products and services, according to Gartner Inc.

Analysts warned that although making IT more green must remain a concern, there are areas where deploying more IT can significantly contribute to making an organization more environmentally sustainable.

Chief information officers need to be aware of what constitutes the environmental impact of the whole organization and to what extent IT can be a liability or an asset in this respect. In order to do so they should consider the three degrees of IT's environmental impact.

First Degree Impact - Gartner defines this as the impact of IT itself which includes electronic waste and asset disposition; consumption of non-renewable resources such as energy in the data centre for desktop computers, printers and networking gear; the energy embodied in the full life cycle of each asset; and user behavior.

Second Degree Impact - This is the impact of IT on business operations and the supply chain, regardless of whether the end result is a product, service or combination of the two. This includes the environmental effects of material and energy consumption; emissions or waste from manufacturing and all operational processes; paper consumption for
administrative purposes; lighting, heating, and cooling for buildings; workforce commuting and mobility; vehicle fleets; supply chain impact; waste disposal and so forth. The energy component of this becomes part of the 'embodied energy' in a product or service - that is the total energy used in its manufacture and distribution.

Third Degree Impact - This is the environmental impact in the 'in use' phase or delivery phase of the enterprise's products and services - that is, the direct impacts of procurement and use of products and services.

Different industries will experience the degrees of impact in different ways and this will impact how an organization defines the environmental value of IT. For a car manufacturer, the energy that goes into assembling cars, manufacturing components by its supply chain and having them shipped, performing R&D and testing is all part of the second degree of impact. The fuel used for the cars and their carbon dioxide emissions are part of the third degree of impact and the IT that runs the factory, as well as all other processes constitutes the first degree of impact.