Green IT is a Necessity, Not an Option

By Allen Bernard

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With rising energy prices now affecting every sector of industry, any reduction in energy use clearly makes good business sense, said Richard Edwards, a senior research analyst with U.K.-based IT analysts Butler Group in position paper penned to reflect the beliefs of the entire Butler Group organization.

This is particularly true for makers and users of information technology, such as PCs and monitors. Data from diverse sources from the U.K. government to Greenpeace underscores why senior executives in the IT industry need to treat "green IT" as a necessity, not an option.

"Certainly in the U.K., there are a number of (energy) issues which are sort of escalating the cost of the fuel bills," said Edwards. "The electricity bill for an organization is going up year-on-year … then the IT manager has to find ways to close that gap between budget and rising costs."

According to figures released by the U.K. Government's Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), PCs use nearly seven terawatt hours of electricity today, and by 2020 this figure could rise to over 10 terawatt hours worldwide.

To put the above figures into perspective, Luxembourg's electricity consumption in 2005 was around six terawatt hours. According to GEM, an independent source of information relating to green tariffs, a large office block housing 1,250 employees is likely to consume around 2.5 gigawatt hours annually.

The Carbon Trust (a non-profit organization funded by the UK government) estimates that office equipment now accounts for around 15% of total energy use in the U.K., and that this figure is likely to rise to 30% by 2020, unless businesses act now.

"A quick call to one or two subscribers left no doubt that, while it's an issue that's been thought about in a broad sense in many organizations particularly in the manufacturing sector, it's something that really isn't biting home yet with IT managers," said Edwards.

PC monitors and system units account for around two-thirds of office energy consumption, while photocopiers and printers consume around 25% of the total, so switching to flat-screen monitors, for example, not only saves electricity but also cuts the amount of power needed to cool the building—a big savings as PCs themselves continue to generate more heat thought faster and denser chipsets.

These figures are based on an office with 10 PCs, a photocopier, a fax machine and a laser printer, and so with larger organizations typically having much higher ratios of PC equipment to printers and photocopiers, then clearly this is where management needs to focus.

Leaving computers, lights, and other office equipment switched on wastes an estimated £150 million worth of electricity in English offices every year. A typical desktop PC, with a CRT monitor, will consume around £240 worth of electricity over a four-year life span. A laptop, however, will consume only around a quarter of this amount depending on its specification, and so organizations should consider their equipment purchases carefully.

A good place to start when considering IT purchases is to buy Energy Star rated equipment that automatically switches off when not in use and can be turned back on by network admins remotely.

"So something has to be done to bring down the cost that every organization has to incur," said Edwards. "And, obviously, if you can do it through simply means; whether that's changing the configuration of desktop PCs so they don't use screen savers but instead use the power management function, then that's relatively low hanging fruit," said Edwards.

The Energy Star logo has been around for many years, and so one would have thought that the IT industry has its "green house" well in order. However, the environmental group, Greenpeace, doesn't think so, and so has published a report naming and shaming leading suppliers of mobile and PC equipment, based on their global policies and practice on eliminating harmful chemicals, and on taking responsibility for their products once they have been discarded by consumers.

Top of the PC manufacturer's list came Dell, with Lenovo being the worst of all companies ranked. So look at the whole picture when making purchases, said Edwards. Going green can save a lot of money in the long-run verses just buying the cheapest equipment up front. It also has the added benefit of making your employees happier.

"The necessity, from an organizational point-of-view, to be completely honest, is that of cost," said Edwards. "Clearly, that's the primary motive here but also companies employ people and, increasingly, there's more of a desire of 'doing our bit'."