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Despite the growing awareness of sustainable IT solutions and the availability of appropriate tools, practical implementation in companies often falls short of expectations. The reason? Not a lack of expertise or technology, but a lack of strategic perspective. In this blog post, I examine why green IT initiatives often come to nothing and what changes are needed to develop an effective and sustainable IT strategy.

Green IT initiatives lack a strategic perspective

Green IT initiatives all too often suffer from actionism. Companies follow trends such as "green coding" and aimlessly introduce tools to measure their IT footprint without having a strategic perspective. For example, what happens to the findings from the measurement and does "green coding" actually solve a relevant problem at the company's current level of maturity? This leads to endless cycles of measures without measurable results. In addition, there are solution providers who address problems that are not relevant to achieving sustainability goals with supposedly quick solutions based on the motto "We have a hammer, where is the nail". However, effective green IT requires strategic planning that does not try to reinvent the wheel and takes equal account of ecological and economic goals. A flexible plan that can be adapted to new findings and seamlessly integrated into existing environmental management systems such as ISO 14001 or EMAS.

The path to successful implementation of Green IT

In order to successfully implement Green IT, all objectives and measures must be seamlessly integrated into the overarching corporate, IT and sustainability strategies. Isolated Green IT initiatives that do not contribute to the organisation's core objectives can do more harm than good. It is therefore important to carefully scrutinise each Green IT activity and ensure that it supports the overarching goals. Uncoordinated measures that arise from idealism can waste resources and hinder the achievement of other important goals. A strategically coherent approach is therefore essential to maximise the effectiveness of Green IT initiatives and avoid unproductive proliferation.

Strategic dimensions of sustainable IT

The vision of the target maturity level in Green IT must be clearly defined. Not every company has to be a top performer in Green IT, as long as it works on the relevant fields of action according to the materiality analysis. However, the decision on the target performance level influences the depth of the efforts and investments. The strategy hexagon shown in Figure 1 provides a good orientation for the operationalisation of the vision. Some exemplary questions that arise from this for a green IT strategy are discussed below.

Figure 1 - The Dark Horse strategy hexagon (based on "Playing to win" by Roger Martin), source:

What purpose does the Green IT strategy fulfil?

A green IT strategy must follow a clear objective, be it the preservation of an environment worth living in, the fulfilment of regulatory requirements, the achievement of positive cost effects or the promotion of sustainability as an innovation factor. The strategic orientation is based on the defined vision and is specified by measurable results, for example by means of a KPI tree or OKRs. Measurable targets range from the reduction of all residual emissions - as envisaged in the Science based targets initative - to the avoidance of all electronic waste.

What are the framework conditions for the Green IT strategy?

The framework conditions for green IT activities are complex and must take into account existing IT and sustainability initiatives as well as planned corporate projects. An upcoming resizing of the IT infrastructure or qualification measures for employees are examples of factors that must be included in the planning. The strategy and planned measures must take these interactions into account in order to ensure holistic and effective implementation.

What added value should the green IT strategy deliver?

The targeted added value must be clearly defined. These can range from making a concrete contribution to environmental protection, to aligning the entire organisation with sustainability in its external image, to meeting the new requirements of procurement procedures and the needs of end customers. However, it can also be about compliance with regulations, reducing operating costs by saving electricity or minimising the acquisition costs of new IT hardware.

What strengths and weaknesses of the organisation influence the green IT strategy?

For an effective green IT strategy, it is important to clearly identify the internal strengths and weaknesses that have an impact on green IT. This includes assessing existing competences, possible external restrictions and dependence on suppliers. The identification of internal pioneers and the categorisation of management support are also key. A focussed analysis helps to make targeted use of strengths and address weaknesses.

What is the right approach for implementing a green IT strategy?

Implementing a green IT strategy requires a balance between quick wins and long-term projects. Quick wins make sense in order to secure support quickly and validate the strategy. However, if there is strong internal conviction in favour of green IT, long-term measures can be initiated at an early stage while quick wins are implemented in parallel.

What cultural characteristics have an impact on the green IT strategy?

It needs to be clarified whether incentives are necessary for those responsible to integrate measures or whether there is already a strong commitment to sustainability that simply needs to be coordinated. It is also necessary to examine whether initiatives can be imposed from the top down or whether they can be organised from the bottom up through the active participation of employees. The decision-making process - whether it is data-based or based on anecdotal experience

experience - and the fundamental values of the organisation, whether it regards sustainability as a core concern or a secondary issue, also play a role. A strategy that fits the culture promotes acceptance, initiative and supports sustainable success.

From strategy to implementation

Of course, a strategy alone does not bring any added value for the environment. Once the strategic direction has been agreed, the next step is to implement the strategy to identify, evaluate and plan specific improvement measures.

Green IT maturity level determination and impact assessment

Once the objectives and methodology of a Green IT strategy have been determined, it is important to define specific areas for action - as shown in Figure 1 - by assessing the maturity level and potential impact on achieving the sustainability goals. This analysis identifies the areas with the greatest potential for improvement and avoids inefficient measures. The analysis includes compliance with best practices and the quantification of resource consumption in order to define targeted KPIs for optimisation. This evaluation enables measures to be prioritised, taking into account other weighting factors such as financial outlay and planning horizon. You can find out more about the relevant aspects of sustainable corporate IT in this blog post.

Figure 2 - Sections of a green IT strategy

Planning measures for the implementation of Green IT

In the final phase of green IT strategy development, the focus is on action planning. Urgent measures require detailed planning for immediate implementation, while medium to long-term initiatives can initially be roughly outlined in order to leave room for framework conditions. Overly detailed advance planning is often inefficient; flexible adaptation and regular review of plans is recommended. In this way, the strategy remains up-to-date and effective.

Tips from Green IT projects

A number of important principles have crystallised in the implementation of Green IT strategies:

  • Pragmatism: It is better to start modestly than to wait for the perfect plan. Even simple measures can have a significant impact, such as switching off services outside of business hours.
  • Fault tolerance: Accuracy is important, but the focus should be on improvements, not perfect measurements.
  • Management buy-in: Convincing business cases can be developed for most green IT measures.
  • Organisational challenges: Green IT often has more to do with organisation than technology. A strategic focus is crucial for the sustainability of the measures.

Now is the right time

Targeted skills development is crucial for a successful green IT strategy. A well thought-out qualification programme ensures that sustainability officers and IT managers speak the same language. The integration of a green IT strategy into the company's sustainability endeavours is essential, as all areas of the company will have to make a contribution to achieving sustainability goals in the future. In all strategic considerations, however, it is important to start today. A preliminary strategy that is implemented today with a low level of detail is better than a perfect strategy that will only be available in two years' time when data and competences are available.

You can find more exciting topics from the world of adesso in our previous blog posts.

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Picture Yelle Lieder

Author Yelle Lieder

Yelle Lieder is Green IT Lead at adesso. As part of the CIO Advisory Competence Centre, he focuses on strategies for measuring and reducing the environmental impact of IT systems and on the use of technology to achieve sustainability goals.

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