Green IT: keeping it simple

Laptop on green grass So what is green IT? Is it replacing equipment with the latest and greatest in low energy devices? Is it high-tech gadgetry to display how many trees you've saved each time power management kicks in on your PC?

Is it recycling redundant equipment responsibly? Is it switching equipment off at the plug to make huge energy savings? Well yes, it's all of that, but also much more. Michelle Hazelton explains on why don't need to be an expert to start making a difference.

Recently I've been researching green IT for The Ethical Property Company. The research process was often challenging, occasionally frustrating but always extremely interesting. I discovered that amidst all the hype, a lot of organisations have yet to implement any really positive changes.

Quite possibly the subject has simply overwhelmed the majority into doing nothing. However, I have adopted an approach whereby positive changes can be implemented with little cost and modest effort.

I conducted an audit of the company's IT equipment and energy consumption, the general practices adopted for purchasing and recycling, and peoples' general understanding of green IT. From this I was able to establish my starting point.

The monitoring process was conducted over a number of weeks in order to gain an understanding of both the time periods when energy consumption was highest, and how much was actually consumed in those periods.

My research revealed that 60 per cent of the building's energy is consumed when the building is mostly unoccupied, namely overnight and at weekends. PC power consumption can be split into three categories: off, idle and load. Typically, however, a PC and monitor that have been switched off still draw on average 20 watts of power.

That's like leaving a lamp on every night and every weekend all the time. Multiply this by the number of workstations in an average building and it is apparent that a significant amount of energy is being wasted when the building in mostly unoccupied. The simple solution to this problem is to encourage people to switch off equipment at the plug before they leave the office.

Tackling the issues surrounding product life-cycle analysis has been rather more complicated. I have contacted numerous organisations and bodies including the Carbon Trust to gain knowledge and understanding of how to calculate the embedded carbon foot print of IT devices but unfortunately my searches and correspondence have returned nothing.

Information is available in the form of an eco declaration for products but translating this into something useful is both timely and complex. To be truly green, through IT, we will need to take into account all aspects of the processes involved with manufacturing and shipping. Component manufacturers are going to have to be better prepared in future to provide us with this information, or else risk losing business.

My advice to people who are just starting to implement green IT changes is to not get bogged down by the hype surrounding the issues. You can easily get started by spending a little time investigating current energy consumption, recycling and purchasing practices.

Take meter readings at the start and end of the working day, this is an effective way of identifying how much energy is being used when the office is unoccupied. This will enable you to identify equipment which can be switched off.

Review your current recycling policies against the WEEE directive. Rather than throw equipment out, pass it down the company ranks. Purchasing can be improved by spending a little time looking into energy efficiency, and evaluate the product's environmental criteria according to the IEEE standards.

Positive change in the form of lower power consumption and reduced carbon emission will quickly result from even minor changes in working practice, and will be more than evident in much reduced energy bills.

In the next six to twelve months we will begin to see the emergence of green IT guidelines and best practices from bodies including BCS. This will enable companies and individuals to refine their strategies and bring them in line with the latest research. In the meantime there is still plenty that can be done to improve our IT practices.

October 2008

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