Heat Wave Inspires Thoughts of Cool, Green Opportunities

This morning on the East Coast of the U.S. I walked past one of those thermometer signs that signaled 100 degrees; even the sign was sweating. Think of how the servers inside a big data center must feel... or rather, think about the bill for keeping all those servers cool during a heat wave like the one currently hitting parts of the world.

And so it was a good week for HP to announce one of its POD modular data centers designed specifically to burn less energy. The POD 240a — aka the EcoPOD — uses up to 95% less energy than a typical data center, HP says, or as Dana Gardner called it, "extreme energy efficiency."

Whether this will excite CIOs and buyers or sellers of IT services, I don't know. A couple years ago when "green IT" was the phrase du jour, I talked to a data center manager who said green IT wasn't a big deal for him or his colleagues. He thought it was more of a marketing gimmick for hardware makers than anything else. That was disheartening.

But at about the same time HP was introducing its energy-saving hardware, a study arrived showing that consumers (ordinary, everyday people) are increasingly more interested in green products and "intend to purchase more [of them] in the auto, energy and technology sectors compared to last year." The survey found that people in "developing countries" are the most inclined to green and are willing to pay the difference for earth-friendly products. In China, 95% of respondents said they'd pay 11-30% more for green brands; in Brazil, where deforestation is a top concern, it was 48%.

This all coincided with another new data point this week: The U.S. is falling behind in terms of developing green technology. The Pew Charitable Trusts reported that while the clean technology sector is booming in Europe, Asia, and Latin America, it is “at risk” in the United States because of “uncertainties surrounding key policies and incentives.”

This is a golden opportunity for technology companies in the Nearshore region. If the U.S. wants to cede its position as one of the leading inventors of transformative products and services, then neighboring countries should go for it — and take the lead in developing transformative green products and services. Local consumers are interested, as are people who live way beyond the borders of, say, Brazil or Mexico. Just as people outside Latin America are embracing Latin American IT capabilities, they would likewise buy green products and services.

But there's a little more to it than people being interested in green products. They are also interested in green companies — and that encompasses much more than energy efficiency. It involves a whole way of doing business. It means operating in a way that considers the earth and the people on it. It means being socially responsible. It means sustainability.

Social responsibility and sustainability are important not just to ordinary consumers but to clients of outsourcing companies as well. As David Kinnear of the Global Sourcing Council told Tarun George of Nearshore Americas, social responsibility is an excellent way to choose one provider from another — a risk management tool. “If you’re looking for ways to differentiate between providers, here’s a great place to start," Kinnear said. “There’s an awareness that your sourcing counterpart, wherever he is, is more trustworthy if he’s engaging genuinely in CSR or sustainability initiatives."

Service providers don't have to get into the green product industry per se to benefit. For many, that kind of move would make no business sense. But by adopting or developing policies that are green, that are sustainable, that treat planet and inhabitant with respect, they will be more attractive to potential customers. They might also be able to lower their cooling bills when the heat wave comes to town.