Are IT Buyers Tired Of Vendors’ Claims Of Being Green?

The Challenge Of Going Green

Lucy Fisher examines the concept of green IT and how much value it holds for buyers and sellers of IT products and services.

According to a recent report by Forrester Research, entitled ‘Green Marketing Will Grow in 2009’, 70 percent of marketing executives report that their companies are engaged in at least one green activity. This same report, however, stresses the need for companies to proceed carefully with such strategies.

Although an effective green strategy can save organizations money and drive additional revenues, says Steven Noble, analyst, and author of the report, if a company’s green efforts are rushed or half-hearted, its marketers can damage the brand.

There is undoubtedly a need to tread carefully. Customers and prospects might very well be sick of so-called ‘greenwashing’ – the term given to claims to be environmentally-friendly which are either disingenuous or wildly exaggerated. This is a real fear, judging by the report, and given that only 15 percent of the US adults surveyed stated that they actually believe company advertisements about green products.

A Definition Of Green IT

What is green IT, anyway? According to experts, the concept encompasses a new generation of ecologically-sound hardware, including that which offers the chance to employ virtualization techniques which can radically improve the utilization of servers, by running multiple applications on one server, using storage capacity more efficiently and thereby reducing energy costs.

So it does make sense. “Green IT has been a popular topic for quite a while now,” says Tony Donnellan, head of planning at Tidal Wave.

“There are two ways of looking at it; as an environmental issue and also as a cost issue.”

The Impact Of The Recession

In these economically straitened times, green IT has dropped down the agenda in the past six-to-12 months, say experts, but B2B brands are waking up to the fact that green can be synonymous with efficient. And companies, of course, are looking to save money wherever possible. Add to this the fact that there’s a lot of legislation out there – and the red tape is only likely to increase as concerns about the environment become more urgent.

In 2010, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) Carbon Reduction Scheme, for example, will come into effect. This scheme is designed to be revenue-neutral and will affect around 5000 major businesses in the UK.

Each large private sector business and public sector organization will be required to tally up its carbon emissions, with a price tag of £12 per tonne of emissions.

Organizations will then be placed into league tables, and depending on where they fit, they will or will not get this money back. Businesses should, therefore, be thinking about green IT. After all, ICT produces a significant percentage of global carbon emissions, equivalent, in fact, to aviation.

Green As A Support Message

Some have put two and two together – and they are marrying these truths with an unambiguous marketing strategy. For example, many of Tidal Wave’s B2B clients are pushing the concept of green IT – including Hewlett-Packard, which is offering solutions for flexible working, but as a support message, talking to customers and prospects about opportunities to reduce carbon emissions.

“We’ve found you’ve got to partner the green issues with other issues related to the organization and to the target audience,” explains Donnellan. “There’s a real possibility that people will be tired of the green message, so you need to be clear and specific.”

Demonstrate The Benefits

He suggests telling the green story, but not just the green story: 

“IBM has a global ‘Smarter planet’ drive, around the idea of being more efficient. It’s not just about claims to be green; it’s about tying all this into real efficiencies.”

Global Action Plan is a charity set up to help businesses achieve this nirvana. Cameron Green, its green IT manager, says that, for marketers, the key to success is to show how such products and services can make a real difference to your bottom line: “They must show the tangible benefits.”

The need to diminish confusion and mistrust is even more of an issue with B2B purchases than with B2C, says Steven Elliott, managing director at agency Banner Corp. “Even within pitches, vendors are asking us what our CSR policies are and what we’re doing in terms of environmentally-friendly policies. Organizations are being given targets, and these get passed onto suppliers.”

On the consumer side, when it comes to buying a laptop or a phone, people may always opt to spend that £50 less.

But, in business, he says, there’s pressure from the top, particularly within bigger corporates, which filters down to IT and purchasing departments.

Why Green Can Mean Lean

“The fact is that 92 percent of server capacity on the planet is sitting idle, but drawing power,” adds web hosting specialist Peer 1 managing director, Dominic Monkhouse. “There are lots of inefficiencies.”

“Power is one of our highest monthly costs. We’d be mad not to want to be more energy-efficient. And purchase decisions are emotional – you can play an emotion card with green IT and make people feel good about their purchase.”

You may not pick a brand because of its green credentials, but if being green actually means saving money too – then surely everyone’s a winner.

Posted by on March 9, 2009