Be ‘green' to stay out of the red

D. Murali | Updated on April 02, 2011


There are many ways in which an organisation can reduce the carbon footprint of its computing operation, assures Mark G. O'Neill in ‘ Green IT For Sustainable Business Practice' ( Examples that he mentions include environmentally-friendly printing, energy-efficient computing, sustainable data storage, and virtualisation. While printing is one of the most routine operations in any office, it may be shocking to read about the amount of wastage lying hidden in inkjet printing.

The book cites a 2007 study commissioned by Epson which revealed that as much as 60 per cent of the ink contained in an inkjet cartridge was wasted when printers instruct consumers to replace half-full cartridges. “On average, inkjet printers provide an ink usage efficiency of just 58 per cent when used for photo printing and only 47 per cent when used for business printing, such as presentations.” The author advises that an initial step in any printer rationalisation project should be the gathering of information on printers currently in use throughout the organisation. Where possible, as he suggests, it is far easier and quicker to use modern asset discovery tools to provide automated reporting, many of which are available via open source software.


An instructive section in the book is devoted to purchasing and sourcing of environmentally-friendly equipment, with an elaborate discussion of EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool), launched in 2006. This evaluates electronic products according to three tiers of environmental performance, viz. bronze, silver and gold, based on a total of 51 environmental criteria. “Key benchmarks include elimination of toxic materials, design for recycling, extended product longevity, increased energy efficiency, and availability of take-back and recycling services, among others.”

What O'Neill's finds as an intriguing aspect of EPEAT is its demonstration that voluntary compliance and variable declarations can effectively move the market towards more sustainable products.

Green wash

Since the general perception is that green initiatives (IT or otherwise) can be costly and a return on investment in green will not be realised for many years, the author urges that the organisation's green IT policy needs to contain convincing initiatives resulting in reduced costs, and emission cuts.

A trap to avoid, however, is ‘green wash,' a phrase that describes the practice of misrepresenting products or services as eco-friendly. A common example given in the book is of companies that have at the forefront of their environmental campaigns ‘highly visible and relatively inexpensive working practices such as giving a penny back to the customer for each plastic bag they reuse,' while not curtailing wasteful practices in the company's supply chain.

Another example is of manufacturers claiming that their electrical or electronic product is green because it consumes less power than that of a rival product, but not disclosing that the product uses hazardous materials and that it may actually contain an enormous embodied carbon footprint.

Bulb in mail

On the subject of power, a hilarious anecdote in the book is about the energy companies in the UK which were mandated in 2008 to invest in measures for improving energy efficiency. A company that was facing a fine of more than £40 million or 10 per cent of its annual turnover, if it failed to meet its target for improving efficiency in homes under the carbon emissions reduction target scheme, posted 12 million low-energy light bulbs to households across the UK; this, the company reasoned, was cheaper than insulating homes, which was considered to be much more effective but nearly seven times more expensive. “Companies were allowed to register immediate carbon savings from every bulb issued on the assumption that all recipients instantly installed them in some of their most intensively used light sockets. In reality, many people either stored the bulbs or threw them away, often because they were the wrong fitting or wattage.”

Hungry screensaver

At times, corporate policies can spawn waste. O'Neill narrates the tale of an organisation that was adamant that a corporate screensaver be uploaded to every single PC in the organisation. The screensaver contained high-definition graphics and photos and was in excess of 10 MB in size and took on average 30 minutes to download over the network, he describes.

“Predictably, within minutes of the screensaver being downloaded, the service desk was inundated with calls from users reporting degradation in working altogether. Unfortunately, what this led to was an organisation-wide upgrade project where PCs were fitted with additional processor and memory capability, and in certain cases the PCs were replaced altogether.”

Software bloat

Looking back at the early days of computing, the author observes that computer programmers then, severely limited by hard-disk and memory capabilities, had to write software with a high degree of discipline to optimise every single byte of capacity. The bane, though, of today's situation – with huge amounts of capacity available – is one of ‘software bloat,' he rues. The phrase, for starters, refers to computer programs that have meaningless and unnecessary features which are surplus to the requirements of most users.

“As a result of this, many modern-day computer programs are written without any checks or any degree of discipline applied. Unfortunately, this can lead to a vicious circle of poorly-written programs that (when released) contains bugs and features that nobody wants, being replaced by upgrades that remove the bugs and features but ultimately raise the footprint of the program by adding more bugs and features.”

Data centre management

An educative section is about data centre management and improvement, which opens with striking data such as that the world's data centres collectively produce more carbon emissions than whole nations, including Italy, the Netherlands and Argentina; and that the average data centre uses the equivalent electricity consumption of 4,000 homes; and that poor data centre cooling and power usage globally leads to more than 60 million MW hours of wasted energy.

Suggested measures include improving system resource utilisation by employing technologies such as virtualisation as well as optimising the design, configuration and management of energy-hungry cooling systems.” Recommended addition to the green professionals' shelf.


Published on March 31, 2011

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