By  on October 30, 2007

As companies look to make their businesses more eco-friendly, information technology departments are coming under increased scrutiny.

Retail and apparel IT departments have traditionally not had to account for energy consumption. According to a poll conducted by the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit for IBM this summer, 42 percent of businesses don't even monitor their IT power bill.

So long as computers kicked out the business knowledge needed to gain a competitive edge, few worried about the kilowatt hours burned up to run and, as importantly, chill these systems that will shut down if they overheat.

Many retailers contacted by WWD to discuss the intersection of green thinking and technology were stopped cold by the question. "You hear and see almost nothing about information technology's contributions to environmental initiatives," said Jeremy Hollows, former chief information officer at France's Carrefour and now managing director at InSync Consulting in Oxford, England.

That may be because today's green initiatives in IT started as cost-saving steps. Still, their positive impact on the environment cannot be dismissed. Companies like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Canada's Hudson's Bay Co. are using innovative technology like virtualization, and plain old common sense, to reduce wasteful power consumption in their data centers.

Tesco, the 46.6 billion pound ($95 billion at current exchange rates) U.K.-based retail giant, also took steps in recent months to reduce energy use in its data centers. Marks & Spencer's five-year, 100-point green initiative called "Plan A (because there is no Plan B)" reportedly includes several IT components, but the U.K. retailer declined to comment.

At Wal-Mart, virtualization software from VMware of Palo Alto, Calif., is behind a key initiative that permits the retailer to consolidate processing on fewer pieces of computer hardware, said Nancy Stewart, Wal-Mart's senior vice president and chief technology officer. Software that once required dedicated hardware, but might not use all its processing capacity, can now run off the same hardware as other software. That means fewer computer servers drawing less energy and occupying less space that needs to be cooled.

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