Patrick Penfield recalls the days in manufacturing when servers were so large that one server occupied an entire room. Now Penfield, who spent more than 15 years working in supply chain management for companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Philips Electronics before becoming an assistant professor of supply chain management in Syracuse University's Whitman School of Management, marvels at the "miniaturization of equipment" that has taken place.
"Nowadays you can get a server that looks like a personal computer," Penfield says. "It's amazing how much less energy they use while providing so much more functionality than the equipment of the past."
Penfield, whose research focus is the green supply chain, asserts that the availability of smaller, more energy-efficient IT hardware presents "a big opportunity for a lot of companies" to upgrade to newer equipment that can deliver an ROI in short order based on the energy savings.
"A lot of the servers and computers are using 50% less energy than previous generations of servers and computers," Penfield says.
As an example, Penfield points to his own campus. Earlier this year, Syracuse University, New York state and IBM entered into a pact to build a $12.4 million, 6,000-square-foot data center that the entities claim will be one of the greenest data centers in operation.
Among its green attributes, the data center will be able to run completely off the grid, thanks to an on-site electrical tri-generation system that will use natural gas-fueled microturbine engines to generate the electricity and cool the servers. All told, the data center is expected to use half as much energy as a typical data center, according to IBM and Syracuse.
A manufacturer doesn't need to build its own multimillion-dollar green data center to reduce the carbon footprint of its IT infrastructure. Green co-location data centers can accomplish that goal for manufacturers at a fraction of the cost, says Bill Stuckert, vice president of the IT Services Division of Peoria, Ill.-based Advanced Technology Services (ATS) Inc.
"There really is no comparison" in terms of cost, Stuckert asserts.
Manufacturers can turn to vendors such as ATS to run their servers in a green co-location facility for a monthly or annual fee. According to Stuckert, green co-location data centers offer a number of environmental benefits, including minimal building footprints; the use of low-emission building materials, carpets and paints; waste recycling; and the use of photovoltaics, heat pumps, evaporative cooling and other alternative-energy technologies.
IT can play an important role in greening manufacturers' overall operations as well. For example, Carlsbad, Calif.-based Enviance Inc. offers Internet-based software that helps manufacturers measure, monitor and manage their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Meanwhile, the Walldorf, Germany-based business software giant SAP AG earlier this year acquired Clear Standards Inc., which also makes Web-based software designed to track GHG emissions and other environmental impacts.
In September, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a rule that will require manufacturers emitting 25,000 metric tons or more of carbon dioxide equivalent per year to annually report their GHG emissions to the agency, among other stipulations. The rule could be a boon for software providers such as Enviance, whose CEO Larry Goldenhersh calls it "a sea change in regulatory enforcement."
"For those of you who are thankful the Senate hasn't passed climate change legislation (Sens. Barbara Boxer and John Kerry introduced a bill on Sept. 30, but at press time the legislation had not been passed), you need to keep your eye on EPA, because EPA has just passed a rule that's going to change your life," Goldenhersh says.
Beyond compliance, Goldenhersh sees several other drivers for the use of IT systems to help manufacturers green their operations, including what he calls "supply chain environmentalism." With consumer demand for green products growing, Goldenhersh asserts that companies -- especially those in the retail sector -- will be able to achieve a competitive advantage by using software to measure and manage their products' carbon footprints down through the supply chains.
"If all screwdrivers cost $1.39, but my screwdriver has 10 pounds of carbon and my competitors' have 50 pounds of carbon, I'm going to slap a carbon label on that screwdriver and say, 'Buy my screwdriver. Not only will it turn your screws, but it will save the planet for your kids and your grandkids,'" Goldenhersh explains.