“Green” is a feel-good term. It has positive, earth-friendly connotations, often without much specificity—perfect for marketing purposes. Sustainability, on the other hand, is something we can measure and manage. We are sustainable when our use of resources does not permanently deplete or damage our supply, including natural resources, energy, and capital. Corporations that adopt sustainability as their goal will improve not only their environmental impact—achieving truly green results—but their financial outcomes as well.
Of course, electronics can never be absolutely sustainable. Steel, aluminum, copper, petroleum, and a laundry list of other materials that go into manufacturing IT hardware are not renewable resources. Organizations can become significantly more sustainable, though, according to the choices they make around planning, buying, managing, and retiring their IT assets. Greater sustainability almost always correlates with lower total cost of ownership (TCO). It is the high-tech version of the old-fashioned notion of frugality, which is how many organizations rationalize their sustainability efforts.
Senior management support over the long run is critical for sustainability initiatives, as the ROI horizon is usually at least as long, or longer, than the typical asset lifecycle. Though usually an IT responsibility, sustainable computing also requires ongoing participation from a variety of stake holders, usually including Security, Procurement, Asset Management, Legal/Compliance, and Environmental/Health & Safety. With everyone around the table, the first step is to define explicit policies and set quantitative goals.