The "green IT" movement brings an interesting layer of complexity to the IT function.

Depending upon your political and/or social interests you will either embrace the extra work required to implement a successful green IT program or you will grudgingly check it off your "to-do" list like any other part of your job. 

For small businesses like the one I work for, a PR agency based in Silicon Valley, the process of greening your IT can have its challenges, but it also has valuable rewards.

If you are just getting started, it will be important to secure buy-in for the transition from the top.  This means you must have a strategy and ROI figures to rationalize the plan.

The following tips should help smooth the process.

Energy savings and power management

One of the easiest and most all-encompassing areas to achieve cost savings is through energy and power management programs by replacing inefficient equipment with products carrying the now popular Energy Star seal.  Most people think of refrigerators and washing machines, but everything from light bulbs to electronics to building materials comes with the Energy Star seal. 

Another tip I've been trying to evangelize throughout our offices worldwide is for employees to forget the screensavers and instead set their laptops to go into sleep mode after 20 minutes of non-use.  This will both protect your data and save a considerable amount of power. 

The average cost of electricity was 12 cents per watt in the U.S. in 2009.  The average laptop uses 15-45 watts of power per hour.  Using a screensaver uses the same amount of energy as general operation, but sleep mode only consumes 1-6 watts of energy.

What does this mean to a 20-person business?

Here's the math.

Figure everyone in the organization spends a minimum of two hours per day away from their desks in meetings, on the floor assisting clients or out of the office on sales calls which breaks down as follows: 20 employees x 2 hours per day x 5 days per week = 40 hours of energy savings per week. (This accounts for the 20 minutes required for a laptop to go into sleep mode.)

This translates into an average savings of $72 to $216 a week or $3,744 to $11,232 annually based upon the example shared.

Trading in and greening up

The transition to a green IT environment does not happen overnight and the cost savings are realized over time.

In most cases we're talking about swapping out desktop computers for laptops, trading in outdated servers for low-power blade servers, even implementing software that automatically turns off copiers and printers at a certain time and/or makes sure that standby modes are set correctly. 

Every little update makes a difference, even if the changes occur over a series of months or even years. 

The key is patience. 

My company is simply following the lifecycle of products when it comes to going green with big-ticket items and we are still realizing the benefits.  One step at a time.

Recycling office electronics

Computers and printers create hazardous waste, so this is an absolute must, but it is a task that can take on a life of its own. 

Being based in the Silicon Valley, we have turned to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) for guidance in the disposal of electronics.

First step is to make sure the equipment is cleared of sensitive business information before doing anything with it.  Some green recyclers will do it for you, but you need to do your homework to verify that they follow through on their promises.  For smaller items like laptops, printers and cell phones, I have found Best Buy to have the most comprehensive recycling program.

Donating office equipment

A simpler path for many organizations -- once equipment is "clean" -- is donating it to local nonprofit groups.

Nonprofits such as The Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries or even local schools and churches accept and often resell used equipment without any charge to the company making the donation.  I have also found the website to be quite helpful.  It allows you to sort by geography and need.

Inspire a green workforce

One of the biggest lessons I learned in implementing a green IT strategy is that unless you find a way to involve everyone in the company, you cannot be successful. 

If you and/or your senior management aren't ready to swap out the electronics yet, then begin with baby steps.  There are a lot of things a company can do at little to no cost that will have a positive impact on both the Earth and the staff.

  • Institute a company-wide recycling program for cans and plastics.  Place recycling bins throughout the office.  Establish a place in the vending or kitchen area for sorting recyclables before they leave the building.
  • Use recycled paper for internal and/or rough drafts.  If possible, set office copier defaults to print on both sides of paper to reduce paper waste.
  • Consider programs that allow employees to work from home part of the time --the goal being to reduce carbon emissions as well as the need for space which reduces energy requirements.  Our office has created a "hoteling" program to facilitate reduced work space while promoting a telecommuting program.  Hoteling refers to several fully functional work areas for telecommuters to use when in the office.

There are so many things we can do to help our planet.

It's all about taking that first step.

Your IT department can actually lead the charge in engaging all employees to strive for greater sustainability.

Linda Wilson is the IT director of The Hoffman Agency, a global public relations firm with 120 employees.