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The Greater Richmond Technology Council’s Sustainability Summit on Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008 led a series of conversations about a variety of sustainability/green topics, from carbon footprint and energy resource management to implementing and best practices for ‘going green’. The discussions, led by business technology experts, touched on IT issues, but were really driven by the recognition that sustainability is a business responsibility enabled by technology.

In all of those conversations, panelists made similar points:
    -Sustainability programs are becoming a business imperative, and not just for PR reasons
    -Sustainability initiatives can deliver operational efficiencies with clear bottom-line value
    -Getting buy-in across the enterprise is the first step to meaningful sustainability efforts
    -Technology/IT has become a leading force in enterprise sustainability programs

In his opening remarks to the Summit, Gov. Tim Kaine said that 25% of all development in Virginia has happened in the last 30 years. The state is losing 60,000 acres of open space every year, putting pressure on one of the state’s leading economic sectors: agriculture. These facts make it imperative to develop a statewide environmental policy, which is under development. The Commonwealth has developed an energy plan, with buy-in increased due to rising energy costs. "Low cost doesn’t encourage conservation," said Gov. Kaine, noting that 2009 has been designated as the "eco-year" for his administration.

Gov. Kaine is pressing the Southern Governors’ Association, whose members include 16 southern states, to adopt a regional climate change accord, matching efforts by other regional governors’ associations. This would help to address the concerns of two major industries in the Commonwealth, agriculture and forestry, both of which are highly vulnerable to climate change.

The Summit’s panel discussion "How Big Is Your Carbon Footprint?" explored the importance of determining an enterprise’s carbon impact – the first step in developing a sustainability plan. "Green" calculations have become a regular feature of RFPs, making meaningful data collection and carbon output management a requirement for ongoing business development. The economic landscape dictates change in how business approaches sustainability, which technology & IT can help drive as a central part of 21st century enterprise.

The Carbon Footprint discussion was led by Guy Chapman, Managing Director of Dominion Resources, with input from:
    -Steve Cole, Program Strategy Director, IBM Energy & Environment, IBM: discovering an enterprise’s carbon footprint, and then working to reduce it, can create a competitive advantage in addition to environmental benefit.
    -David Lobato, Laserjet Business Sustainability & Environmental Programs Manager for the Imaging & Printing Group, Hewlett-Packard: as simple a step as duplex printing, rather than single sheet, can save as much as 800 tons of carbon emissions annually for a mid-sized company.
    -Dennis Tracz, Director, James Madison University Center for Entrepreneurship: sustainability has become a new study discipline at the JMU School of Engineering, whose graduates will bring new ideas and new business opportunities to the marketplace.
    -Kevin Xiao, a senior at Maggie L. Walker Governors School: Xiao created a carbon emissions calculator that allows individuals to determine the carbon impact of their homes, schools, and workplaces, which helps create awareness and spur positive action to reduce emissions.

The second Summit panel discussion, "Implementing & Best Practices for Going Green", looked at specific ways that companies are approaching sustainability initiatives. Led by Jeff Ziegler, President & CEO, TechTurn, the panel gave real-world examples of their company’s sustainability efforts and results:
    -Kevin Gerber, President & CEO, Packet360: sustainability is an enterprise-wide practice. Intelligent data centers sense load decreases, helping decrease power consumption by consolidating virtual machines and enabling them to power off large parts of the data center in off-hours.
    -Mike Magruder, Data Center Support Specialist, Federal Reserve Information Technology: consolidation and virtualization are where FRIT has seen the biggest impact, and has driven 80% of the cost savings delivered by green initiatives. What started as a power cost-savings effort helped FRIT realize how big their carbon impact was, driving ongoing efforts at reduction.
    -Jim McGlone, VP Sales, Tridium: automated systems that enable communication and power conservation across all platforms of an enterprise can deliver a daunting amount of data, making both monitoring and management a challenge. However, that level of awareness can help get a 20% reduction in resource usage, in addition to the value derived from process automation.
    -Jean Peters, Senior VP Strategic Analysis & Planning, Genworth: what started as a voluntary effort, led by an ad hoc committee, has become a complex journey to finding the business value in sustainability. The company has seen a big reduction in power consumption annually (900,000 kilowatts), and has fostered a company-wide culture shift that embraces ongoing carbon reduction efforts.

The third panel, "Energy – Conservation vs. Reliability", discussed how rising demand for IT has added to the drive for energy efficiency. Jeff Zeigler of TechTurn led this conversation, with input from experts in power distribution equipment and data management:
    -Dave Rubcich, Director of Sales, Emerson Network Power/Liebert: demand for IT has driven development of power management for running and cooling data centers. Centralization trends have increased demand for ways to control the impact of managing large amounts of data.
    -Dennis Tolliver, ISS/Blade Specialist, Hewlett-Packard: deploying Blade servers can help a company shave 30% off the power costs of their data center. Virtualization and software management allows flexible IT asset usage and reduction of physical asset inventory.
    -Mark Wensell, VP & GM, Peak 10: data centers have been accused of increasing carbon emissions, but the reality is that aggregating data operations reduces carbon emissions by creating efficiencies, while controlling the data environment, security, and liability.

George Favolaro, Managing Partner, Esty Environmental Partners, gave the Summit keynote address. Favolaro noted that sustainability has become a hot-button issue, particularly for business. Asking the question "why green business?" leads to discoveries in the impact of energy prices, energy security, regulation, and climate change on both a company and its customers. Examining that impact brings process change and efficiencies, product development, revenue savings, reputation enhancement, and brand loyalty.

Managing the entire supply chain is critical, creating a cycle of leadership from suppliers through operations to planning. In the work Esty Environmental Partners does with companies such as American Eagle outfitters, Hanes Brands, Nestle Waters, Dow, and TechTurn, Favolaro has seen how doing something as basic as standardizing the boxes that products are shipped in can have a significant impact on reducing a company’s carbon footprint.

The common themes repeated in every conversation at the Summit – that "green" is becoming a business imperative, that sustainability programs can drive operational efficiencies and revenue savings, that culture change is critical to putting a "green" initiative in place, that technology is helping business create meaningful reductions in carbon emissions – indicate that sustainability has become a core issue for 21st century business. As IT has merged into all aspects of enterprise, it has become a driver of both the power of business data, and the importance of environmentally responsible business practice.

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