Meridian Energy: Smart energy, smarter IT
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Meridian Energy: Smart energy, smarter IT

Clare Simmons — October 2014

Glen McLatchie, CIO of New Zealand’s largest renewable power generator, outlines the path to a greener IT organization.

“Sustainability is in our blood as an organization.” As CIO of New Zealand’s Meridian Energy, Glen McLatchie is tasked with ensuring the hydro and wind power company’s values are reflected in its use of technology and IT services. “Whether you’re a believer or a naysayer around climate change, IT is a very heavy user of energy and we have a responsibility as CIOs to do something to protect the environment,” argues McLatchie.

It’s a responsibility Meridian takes seriously. In 2011, the company’s IT organization benchmarked its environmental credentials by participating in Fujitsu’s annual global survey of Green ICT Maturity. It scored a credible 60% but immediately set itself a best practice target of 80%. By June 2013, when Meridian re-tested against the Japanese vendor’s Maturity Model, it was given an 81% score, putting it within the top 6% of sustainability achievers worldwide.

Impressively, Meridian’s achievement has come at negligible financial cost. IT spent just NZ$10,000 ($8,400) on monitoring software, which allowed it to see where cuts could be made, and it upped its investment in the use of video conferencing — something that quickly paid for itself in terms of travel savings. While that clearly demonstrates that sustainability initiatives need not be expensive to be effective, McLatchie still argues that affordability shouldn’t be the core impetus for action. “Do it because it’s the right thing to do,” he says — and that needs to be a widely held principle.
Shared responsibility

The ethos is evident at all levels within Meridian — from its recruitment of people who share its values to the appointment of a sustainability officer in its corporate office and a dedicated executive on the ICT leadership team. It also extends beyond its walls to key partners like Fujitsu which share and can support those values.

E West Wind Meridian Energy
Meridian Energy’s West Wind Farm, Makara, New Zealand

The IT organization couldn’t have met those best-practice targets without the buy-in of teams right across the business, he highlights. “Sustainable values now run throughout the entire organization,” he says — and beyond.

Before it began working with Fujitsu, Meridian had several “common sense” sustainable IT measures in place. However, these lacked both coordination and strict objectives focused on company-wide targets, observes McLatchie.

As the provider of its IT infrastructure and desktop services, Fujitsu was well-placed to see how innovation could bring greater efficiency to its operations and fulfill its sustainability objectives. Not that Meridian was blind to the possibilities, says Fujitsu New Zealand managing director Jo Healey. “Meridian already has renewable energy at its heart,” so achieving a best practice score was simply about “teasing those values out from an IT perspective.”
Route to best practice

After conducting a Green IT Quick Start assessment, Fujitsu Consulting’s sustainability team provided Meridian with a detailed roadmap designed to take the company towards best practice. “The path to a successful implementation is to find someone who cares and writes it into their objectives. Having an enthusiastic member of my team who cared about sustainability as a personal value was key,” says McLatchie. This enabled Meridian to pursue a ‘methodical path’ towards coordinating and implementing an IT sustainability framework that included:

• Reviewing the role of sustainability in procurement procedures, including ensuring an environmental officer sits on all request-for-proposal (RFP) boards

• Installing a communications plan for ICT sustainability messages

• Setting standard requirements for energy efficiency and equipment disposal

• Trialling power usage tracking software at user and device levels

• Expanding the use of video conferencing

• Adopting laptops instead of desktops, where appropriate, and giving users remote access via VPN

• Monitoring and reporting on employee air travel

• Measuring data center energy efficiency

Upcycling laptops and mobile devices to local communities and schools, and recycling print cartridges.
Next steps

Meridian is now using the advances it has made in energy efficiency to positively influence customer retention and acquisition.

Although there aren’t specific statutes governing sustainability in New Zealand, 70% of the electricity generated nationally is renewable. As Healey explains, this makes sustainability a responsibility that organizations and their suppliers accept, and it puts Meridian in a unique position as the company generates electricity from 100% renewable sources and accounts for a third of the country’s power.

It’s also in the process of expanding its presence in Australia via its online power subsidiary Powershop, with a focus on helping consumers monitor their daily energy usage.

As CIO, McLatchie’s next challenge is looking at how sustainability fits with items high on the agenda for all IT leaders – such as big data. “Capturing the data is easy, but how do you employ it to help your customer use less energy,” he says — and crucially how, as an energy company, do you do that and continue to make a healthy return?

First published October 2014
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