It’s Not Easy Being Green

It may be trite to begin a Green IT blog post by stealing a line from Kermit the Frog. But this misappropriated malapropos repeats in my mind as we grapple with our Sustainable IT methodology. It’s not easy being green. We are fighting climate change, which means that we need to slow the warming of a planetary weather system. How could it be easy? So far, worldwide efforts to go green are a failure. Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to rise and even the rate at which they increase is increasing.

It is for good reason that environmental writers such as Thomas Friedman and Bill McKibben deride the glib green-washing group of copy writers crowing over their ten easy steps green guides. Bill McKibben’s group, 350.org, makes the case that we need to lower atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 350ppm as quickly as possible or risk global climate catastrophe.

Into this climate cacophony steps Greener Gadgets with their upcoming Green Gadget conference in New York. This event was brought to my attention by Roger Bruist, our new Green Technology Architect. My initial reaction was entirely negative.  A gadget is usually an ingeniously engineered article whose function is often less important than its design. I’m of the belief that we need to go back to basics to save the planet. Too many of the gadgets I see around our office are cheap toys hawked by sites such as ThinkGeek.com.

On closer examination, however, it appears that that the green gadgeteers have put together a program that addresses many of the same issues we confront as we build our Sustainable IT methodology. Given the real energy and resource costs of PC manufacturing, when is it responsible to replace existing equipment with more efficient models? How do we bring technology to the developing world in areas that need to develop a power infrastructure not based on our current carbon-intensive model? It looks like I’ll be taking the train to New York in a couple of months to find out.

Real Green IT Workshop

Finally!  After months of research and planning, we unveiled our program for assessing IT-related power usage and associated greenhouse gas emissions.  Code name: Project Greenhouse. The workshop was held The Connection, next to the store. Food provided by the Haley House, a non-profit whose programs include a bakery training program for disadvantaged Roxbury residents.

We had 27 RSVPs but the turnout was over 30 people. There was a very high level of interest in the material, as evidenced by the questions participants asked and the number of followup appointments generated in response to the event.

We’ll be doing many more of these workshops as we continue to develop our methodology. Stay tuned!

Dear World Leaders: We are ready to save the climate!

Last Saturday, I attended a Greenpeace action.  21 cities across the country came together to send a message to the UN climate delegation that’s currently meeting in Poznan, Poland. Well, the message was loud and clear: Americans are ready to stand up and demand strong leadership for science-based climate solutions here at home AND overseas!

Only about 50 people came to the event in Boston.

Use it up, wear it out, make it do…or do without!

An old New England saying goes: Use it up, wear it out, make it do…. or do without!

The rapid evolution in computer technology has made seem that attempting to be frugal with office computers is penny-wise but pound-foolish. Anyone who has tried to keep a computer longer than three years knows how frustrating it can be to wait for their computer to start up in the morning.

So you purchase a new computer. But what happens to the old one? No one seems to know what to do with all these outdated computers. Of the 63 million tons of U.S. computer equipment taken out of service annually, only 25% is recycled or landfilled. The rest of our electronic waste (e-waste)  is stockpiled, like nuclear waste and other toxic substances that are not conveniently disposed of.

E-waste contains many substances that are harmful to human and animal health, such as barium, beryllium, cadmium, mercury, lead, and dioxins released when the computer is burned.

How can you make sure that you are not contributing to the problem? In this article we list eight new rules for sustainable computing in the spirit of good old Yankee frugality.

(Re)-use It

  • 1. Buy EPEAT-certified equipment.

The Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) was developed by the Green Electronics Council. EPEAT-certified computers are ranked based on criteria such as power management capabilities, the amount of hazardous material it contains, the amount of recyclable materials used and how easily the unit can be disassembled when it reaches end of life.

  • 2. Give your old computer to charity.

The trick here is to make sure that the old computer still has useable word processing software and that it can browse the Internet. No one wants a computer that takes ten minutes to load a web page. If the computer is not suitable for donation, make sure that you dispose of it responsibly. Consult the Basel Action Network (www.BAN.org) for a certified recycler who will not export your computer overseas.

(Don’t) Wear It Out

•3.       Enable power management on your computer.

Power management software is used to put your computer in a sleep state if it is not used for a period of time. A computer and monitor left on can use over $300 of electricity per year.  Computer equipment will last longer if it is set to “hibernate” when not in use.

•4.       Get longer wear from your laptop battery 

Laptops use about half as much power as a PC. But the battery can be a source of additional pollution and expense. Batteries are only capable of a finite number of charges. To extend the life of your laptop battery, remove your laptop battery when your laptop is plugged in to a power outlet. To know when to recharge your battery, you should determine if it is lithium-ion or nickel cadmium. A lithium ion battery should be recharged before it is completely depleted, discharging it completely once per month. A nickel-cadmium battery, more commonly used in older laptops, should be fully depleted and recharged each time.

Make It Do

•5.       Move to thin client computing.

A thin client is a device that depends on the main server for processing.  A thin client has several advantages such as decreasing the need for technical support, being less susceptible to viruses, being smaller and less costly, and storing data more safely.   Thin clients do not “wear out” or become outdated like personal computers.  Feeling even more frugal?  You can use any old workstation as a thin client without any upgrades at all.

  • 6. Turn your computers and equipment off.

Plug your computer into a power strip that can be shut off when it is not in use.  So-called “Vampire power” (power used even when the device is turned off) can consume up to 10% of your electric  bill.

Or Do Without..

•7.       Consolidate your servers.

With server virtualization technology, one server can take the place of four or five servers.  This means that many small businesses can safely reduce their servers down to a single physical server.

  • 8. Use web-based software.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is software you run while connected to a server on the Internet. Data is stored online, which means that you will not lose your work if your hard drive dies. Web-based software is convenient because it can be accessed anywhere at anytime and it never needs upgrades. It also can reduce or eliminate the need for your organization to purchase a server.

I wrote this article to appear in the December 2008 edition of the Third Sector New England newsletter.