Green IT: Train staff to think about sustainability

Green IT: Train staff to think about sustainability

How to train staff to think green

Frederic Chanfrau, senior vice president of IT for governance, quality and vendor management with Schneider Electric, wants everyone in the company's IT organization to understand three points about going green. First, that energy demands are increasing at the same time as the company must decrease its greenhouse gas emissions; next, that each employee is responsible for helping address this challenge; and finally, that running a sustainable technology shop doesn't necessarily cost more. "They can put their own stone in the building of a greener IT organization," Chanfrau says. But they have to know how.

So early next year, Chanfrau is launching a course through Schneider Electric's ( SCHN) internal Energy and Solutions University to introduce IT professionals to the basics of running a sustainable organization. The course will cover "what we're expecting them to do and how to behave," he says, and he's encouraging everyone in IT to sign up. "We need to do that step by step to increase the awareness of the organization."

As an energy-management company (its APC business unit makes uninterruptable power supply equipment), Schneider Electric has a natural interest in educating employees about green IT and business. That motivation puts the company on the leading edge when it comes to learning what technologists need to know. Chanfrau wants Schneider IT staff to have technical expertise, such as measuring data center energy use, as well as be strategic thinkers who understand how global energy and climate trends affect their business.

At some point, you'll be looking for staff with similar skills. But computer science and electrical engineering programs don't include much formal training in these subjects. Even in business schools, when IT-management students study environmental issues, they focus mainly on server rooms, says Richard Bunch, managing director with the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan. "They're getting a non-strategic view," he says. "We have to fix that."

Yet dozens of universities in the United States, including Michigan, offer courses in sustainability, environmental management and related fields. CompTIA, a trade association, offers a certification for IT managers in charge of green-technology initiatives. Technologists-and the CIOs who hire them-can benefit from such training, says Daniel Esty, director of the Center for Business and the Environment at Yale University. "They have a set of frameworks and analytical tools to bring to bear that others don't know automatically."

A New Way of Thinking

Ryan Whisnant, director of sustainability at SunGard, graduated from Michigan recently with an MBA and a master of science degree in natural resources. His undergraduate degree is in environmental engineering. He spent his early career at a company that designed software for utilities, then worked as a consultant for enterprise IT vendors. His job today encompasses SunGard's efforts to make its operations greener and help customers do the same.

Whisnant's graduate work included classes in systems thinking and life-cycle analysis, which taught him how to analyze the impact of business decisions within and beyond company walls. As he puts it, "to not only tease out where the trade-offs are, but to see situations where they're going to be win-win" for the company and the environment.

CIOs need that kind of thinking throughout the IT organization, from strategists to managers to business analysts. At Schneider Electric, Chanfrau is targeting high-potential employees for special training and green assignments. Shouldn't you?

Follow Executive Editor Elana Varon on Twitter: @elanavaron.

Read more about green data center in CIO's Green Data Center Drilldown.

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