• July 1, 2008
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Enterprise IT Goes Green

Forrester Research recently released the third edition of its study assessing the degree of "green" awareness and environmental activity among enterprise technology professionals. This time around, 738 unique companies participated -- a dramatic increase from the 120 and 130 companies, respectively, that responded in the previous two studies, which were conducted in April 2007 and October 2007, according to Christopher Mines, lead author of the report and senior vice president at Forrester. This observation alone signals the heightened motivation to make the shift to a more eco-friendly enterprise.

An overwhelming 91 percent of respondents ranked environmental concerns as "somewhat important" (50 percent) or "very important" (41 percent) to their technology planning -- but these scores have varied little across the three surveys. The report authors suggest that any company's first step in achieving The Green Dream is to create a detailed plan of action, one that details its "goals, priorities, and activities" to address this issue. Forty-five companies report that they are either in the process of creating or are already implementing such plans, up 5 percent since the last survey.  

As technology professionals embark on the green path, their vendor and purchasing expectations are also affected: Thirty-seven percent report that they are "very aware" of how technology vendors are positioning their products as eco-friendly, up from 29 percent last year. Even more telling is the fact that 50 percent report using environmental criteria in their purchasing decisions -- with such factors often serving as the tiebreaker. Internally, companies are giving up extraneous traveling in favor of audio- or videoconferencing and allowing more employees to operate remotely.  

Vertical industries leading the green movement, according to the report, are high-tech, the public sector, and utilities and telecommunications, while business services and manufacturing rank farthest below the all-industry average.  

While high-tech may take the lead in enterprise technology departments, green awareness overall is a topic that pervades much of the general population, and has become a rising concern, especially among consumers. "Every time [the phone company] leaves another phonebook on my yard, I look up and down the street, and think, there go four trees," relates Sue Aldrich, senior vice president at consultancy Patricia Seybold Group. Environmental awareness, she says, has made periodic surges in the market:

  • in the late '60s/early '70s (the period marked by the creation of Earth Day and the passage of such landmark federal legislation as the Clean Water Act);
  • in the early '90s (when the attribution of global warming to human activities first began to take hold in the mainstream); and
  • most recently, with cultural attention driven by media such as the Al Gore book (and Oscar-winning documentary) An Inconvenient Truth.

The goal, however, is to ignite lasting change, not stimulate an ephemeral fad.  

Not surprisingly, many U.S. enterprises say a very different kind of "green" is behind their motivation for environmental savviness: The desire to cut "energy-related operating expenses" was cited by 65 percent of respondents to the Forrester survey, compared to 41 percent that cited "acting in favor of the environment." In terms of winning the consumer, only 31 percent of American respondents marked "brand image" as a top-three motivation, compared to 47 percent of European companies.

The impact of questionable environmental behavior is something companies may want to take more seriously, Aldrich says. "It’s not just that they wasted the money," she says. "They also have to factor in that it may leave a negative impression because people are going to look at that and say, ‘Oh, here's someone out killing trees.’ " -- an image that can weigh heavily as a consumer’s tiebreaker. 

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