Green IT?

Going GreenMarlyn Tadros, PhD

"It takes 1,752 kWh per year to maintain a Second Life avatar." Nikolas Karr [quoted in 7 things to know about Green IT]

Green IT simply means using IT in an energy efficient way that is environmentally friendly and sustainable and that is also socially responsible. It has been noted that "when you add up all of information and communication technology's energy footprint -- the increasing need for computational power, data storage and communications -- it amounts to about 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, growing to 3 percent by 2020 [The State of Green Business report 2010].

In a Computer World magazine interview several experts identified many ways in which the computer industry is going Green:

  • Making computers that can boot up very rapidly after being turned on
  • Making smart computers that use cognition detection. "recognizing and reacting to demand, cutting energy consumption by automatically powering up to meet demand and scaling back once the demand has abated".
  • Making systems that accept power at higher voltage, which cuts down on energy consumption
  • Making new solar-powered computers
  • Using cloud computing which would save on server time

Should we then sit tight until those changes take place in computer manufacturing? This eliminates our social responsibility and accountability. What then should we as individuals and as NGOs to 'go Green IT'?

  • Powering down and powering off: As trivial as this sounds, one of the simplest ways of "going Green" is by saving on electricity and powering down computers when not needed. In fact some experts claim that by 'powering down' computers and putting them in 'sleep' mode could have a great effect on energy per computer per year. Powering off devices that do not need to be in is also a huge energy saver.
  • IT waste: Green IT refers also to IT waste where unneeded computers are either exported to under-developed countries for recycling or are  thrown in dumpsters. This emphasizes our responsibility for recycling computer parts and getting rid of computer waste in a better way. Campaigns against companies that dump IT waste and putting pressure on them to be socially responsible will be extremely important going forward. UN's Environment Programme (Unep) said consumerism was driving a "growing mountain of e-waste": " Unep estimates that up to 50 million tonnes of waste from discarded electronic goods is generated annually". [BBC]
  • Carbon footprints: "Replacing carbon-intensive activities with much more efficient and less-energy-intensive technologies. Well-established examples include the use of telepresence and virtual meetings to replace conventional business travel (something that will become increasingly common as Cisco expands its TelePresence program and HP launches a desktop telepresence program) and using secure networks and virtual meeting technologies to allow employees to work remotely." [The State of Green Business report 2010]

As the State of Green Business 2010 Report indicates, this also provides a great business opportunity for tech companies if they come up with solutions and achieve environmentally friendly IT. IBM started a campaign called Smarter Planet, while Microsoft and Google are jumping in on the idea as well not necessarily from a selfless act of generosity. While this nevertheless achieves the same goal, we need to be careful to implement the technology needed and not the technology that we are coaxed into needing.

To learn more read

IT Aims to Save the World : The State of Green Business 2010 Report

7 things you need to know about Green IT [pdf]