what green IT can learn from Walmart

Walmart's move to include green labels on all of its products that detail such things as the amount of energy used to make them is an excellent model for what should be done for Green IT. To date, although there are several green standards for computers and IT, none really hit the mark.

Walmart will develop an index that will gauge the environmental and social impact of all of the products that it sells, and will then use that index to create green labels for those products. In that way, consumers can konw the environmental and social costs of everything they buy at the retailer. Because of Walmart's immense purchasing power, this index may well become an industry standard.

IT and computer products need a similar index and labeling. True, there are some standards in existence, such as the Energy Star and EPEAT. But as helpful as these standards are, they fall far short of the kind of comprehensive index proposed by Walmart. To begin with, they only cover a very limited number of products, and typically don't cover networking, storage, or other big IT gear.

In addition, they don't always do a very good job of measuring the true environmental impacts of the products they do cover. Energy Star, for example, recently issued green guidelines for servers, but those guidelines are so limited, they're of very little practical use. The guidelines measure servers at rest rather than when they're doing work at heavy loads --- but servers are designed to be at heavy loads as much of the time as possible. In addition, they don't cover blade servers, which are the wave the green future.

Green IT needs a champion like Walmart to devise a Green IT index, much like the one Walmart is doing for consumer products. One way it could be done is via a consortium of the biggest players in IT, such as Cisco, Dell, IBM, HP, and others.

Falling short of that, the federal government should do it. The government has immense power to move the IT and computer market because of its massive amount of purchasing power. If it devised an index, and then made purchases based on that index, the entire industry would follow suit.

I don't expect this to happen any time soon, of course. But maybe when IT vendors see the Walmart effect in action, they'll wake up and develop a useful Green IT index.

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