Breaking the Ice

Two years ago this February, I went for a routine exam at a major hospital center here in Boston.  I was sitting on the exam table, dressed in my disposable gown. As I dangled my feet over the exam table, I looked at the PC in the corner. It was on. So was the monitor, which was showing the Windows screen saver. I remembered seeing computers in other rooms, all on, with the Windows screen saver running. I asked my doctor:  “Does anyone shut these off at night?” The answer was no.

I thought I would try some back-of-the-envelope calculations to gauge potential power management savings. The average computer at that time consumed 100 watts per hour. The monitor, an old-fashioned CRT, added another 83 watts. If there were 100 such computer setups in the exam rooms and administrative areas, the hospital would require 18.3 kilowatts per hour to power them. At a rate of 15 cents per kilowatt, that’s a $160,300 annual cost just to power the a subset of the IT equipment.

When I got back to my office, I emailed the hospital’s CFO. Three weeks later, I received an email from one of his employees. He said that I had some energy saving ideas that might be worth exploring. He invited me to come to his office for a meeting.

And that’s where the story ends. Why? Because I had a crisis of confidence. I couldn’t believe that this prestigious teaching hospital with an annual operating budget of $500 million needed me to tell them how much electricity they could save through power management. Besides, what if I was wrong? Although Tech Networks had just been written up on the front page of the Boston Globe for our energy-saving Earth-PCs, I was by no means an expert on Green IT at that point.

Instead of going to meet with them, I referred them to a company that specializes in power management software. I checked in with the company’s sales rep a few months later. He said that there had not been a sale.

If that hospital had implemented power-management software, they could have reduced the electricity required to power those PCs by 60%. In terms of COemissions, that’s the same as taking 83 passenger vehicles off the road. What if I had managed to win them over?

I drive a Prius. But even if I drove my Prius for 100 years, I couldn’t match the CO2 savings achievable by turning on power management on this hospital’s PCs for just a single year.

I subsequently realized that my company has an important role to play in helping other businesses transition to a more sustainable form of computing. Information Technology is a resource requiring massive amounts of labor and materials to design, build, deploy, use, decommission and destroy.  Our mission has always been to help people use this technology. But our mission now is to help people use the right technology in the right ways.  And that technology must be respectful of our planet.

In order to be viable in the context of today’s economic challenges, it is important that each sustainability initiative be both cost- and time-effective. Specific Green IT solutions make economic sense for some businesses but not for others. Without a full understanding of business needs, it is impossible to determine what computing solutions will best meet them.

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About TNB

Founded in 1994, Tech Networks of Boston (TNB) delivers people-oriented IT support and care through service desk, remote monitoring and maintenance, staff augmentation, onsite support, strategic planning, training and project IT services to non-profits and businesses in greater Boston with a focus on non-profit health care and human service providers.

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