'Green' Information Technology (IT) Strategies & Practices

Shepherdstown 05 May 2009In the last thirty-five years the message has been clear, but ignored. The world is being held over a barrel - an oil barrel - when it comes to energy. We all know it's past time to diversify our sources of energy. The public and private sectors need to take the initiative to lead the way into our diversified energy future where the centerpiece of our world's long-range strategy ought to be conservation and increased usage of solar, wind, water power coupled with other sources of energy currently used by all sectors of the economy.


Imagine a future where millions of businesses and homes are constructed and equipped with 'hybrid' solar, wind and traditional energy systems. One where people are able to sell excess energy they generate back to the national power grid. The role of energy utility companies in the 21st century ought to change from a centralized approach toward energy production to a more decentralized approach where citizens begin to 'partner' with their utility companies.

Many of today's business and government leaders now recognize that a corporate program in sustainability or 'green' technology often yields profits, and managers around the world are beginning to capitalize on this. Some more far seeing companies are proactively adopting and promoting practices that will benefit our environment in every aspect of their business.

In the U.S. alone 4.5 billion dollars and 61 kilowatt hours are spent on Information Technology (IT), consuming 1.5 percent of the electricity used in the country. Technology impacts every aspect of life including where and how work is done, efforts to clean up waste in our environment, handling hazardous materials, energy use and conservation, and much more. From 1997 to 2007, 6.32 billion pounds of plastic and 1.58 billion pounds of lead waste were created from the 500 million computers that became obsolete and needed to be disposed of during that 10 year period.

Allbritton, Christopher. "Desktop Recycling." Popular Mechanics 180.3 (Mar. 2003); 30. Expanded Academic ASAP. Gale. Shepherd University. 26 Oct. 2008.

A 2007 Human Resources survey by Adecco showed that companies are now highlighting their green activities to market themselves and attract new employees. A more recent survey by National Geographic magazine in 2008 found that more than 80 percent of U.S. workers believe it is important to work for a company or organization that makes the environment a top priority. See http://www.greenbiz.com/feature/2008/06/08/corporate-green-teams-sustainable-business-bottom-up?mode=one

All major organizations today should incorporate a commitment to using 'green' technology in their corporate vision statement. Their plans and policies should include a commitment to:

  • green computing, recycling, and waste management;
  • green computer systems constructed of biodegradable materials;
  • green computer systems that are energy efficient;
  • computer systems powered by 'hybrid' green energy sources;
  • green computers and energy conservation;
  • telecommuting and associated policies and practices;
  • computer systems housed in green buildings;
  • green operating policies, practices and procedures; and
  • green 'open source' software solutions.

'Green' Programs and Practices

'Green' Computing, Recycling, and Waste Management

A large amount of waste from consumers, businesses, and government agencies comes from old electronic equipment and activities associated with using them. In June 1997, an interesting study was done at Carnegie Mellon University on "The Disposition and End-of-Life Options for Personal Computers" that is worth reading. See http://gdi.ce.cmu.edu/comprec/

Outdated computers being recycled

Computerworld recently surveyed 102 IT managers and only 40 said that their companies had had consistent, company-wide policies that deals with out-dated hardware. The problem of computer waste will only continue to worsen if something is not done. In 1999 alone 114 million PCs were sold and 133 million were sold in 2000. Those outdated systems must now start to be discarded.

Key eWaste Figures

Imagine buying a new computer monitor and when you get home you take your old one and just bury it in the garden. Three years later the monitor has biodegraded and your prized petunias are flourishing. In 2006, the world's first 100 percent biodegradable computer components began to be produced by MicroPro, a company based in Dublin, Ireland, that produces eco-friendly computers, keyboards, mice and flat-panel monitors. See www.aboutmyplanet.com/science-technology/green-computer-with-biodegradable-peripherals/

In February 2003, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directives went into force in the U.S. Basically, these two directives required computer makers to implement product life cycle management programs, including free take-back programs and the elimination of certain hazardous substances like lead from production lines by 2008. See http://itmanagement.earthweb.com/netsys/article.php/2169771 and www.fcw.com/online/news/94516-1.html

In 2007, legislation was passed by the European Union (EU) adopting the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEE) Directive aimed at forcing businesses and consumers to dispose of electronic gadgets in a more responsible fashion. See http://www.weeeman.org/html/directive/index.html

Finally, in addition to computers, consider the environmental impact and recycling issues related to printers, toner cartridges, and other computer peripheral components and supplies. Hewlett-Packard, Canon, Dataproducts, Kyocera, and Qume are just a few companies that have taken the lead in recycling these products.

With Kyocera Ecosys, the owner does not even have to purchase printer cartridges. The pieces of standard printer cartridges such as the drum and developer are permanent fixtures; toner to be added comes in non-toxic plastic packs that will disintegrate in landfills. The up side to this is that a toner refill will cost around $49 and make 7,000 copies.

'Green' Computers & Electronic Equipment

The Green Electronics Council now offers the Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) to assist in the purchase of "green" computing systems. EPEAT is a system to help purchasers in the public and private sectors evaluate, compare and select desktop computers, notebooks and monitors based on their environmental attributes. There are 28 criteria that measure a product's efficiency and sustainability attributes. The IEEE and EPA have approved and endorsed EPEAT. See www.epeat.net

The first annual report issued by the Green Electronics Council in 2006 entitled "The Environmental Benefits of the Purchase or Sale of EPEAT Registered Products" states that just the first six months' sales of EPEAT registered green computers produced the following environmental benefits:

  • Saved 13.7 billion kWh of electricity, enough to power 1.2 million U.S. homes for a year;
  • Saved 24.4 million metric tons of primary materials, equivalent to the weight of 189 million refrigerators;
  • Prevented 56.5 million metric tons of air emissions (including greenhouse gas emissions);
  • Prevented 1.07 million metric tons of carbon equivalent greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to removing 852,000 cars from the road for a year;
  • Prevented 118,000 metric tons of water pollutant emissions;
  • Reduced the amount of toxic materials used by 1,070 metric tons, equivalent to the weight of 534,000 bricks, including enough mercury to fill 157,000 household fever thermometers; and
  • Avoided the disposal of 41,100 metric tons of hazardous waste, equivalent to the weight of 20.5 million bricks.
See http://www.epeat.net/FastBenefits.aspx

Presidential Executive Order 13423

On January 1, 2007, President George W. Bush issued Executive Order 13423, which now requires all United States federal government agencies to use EPEAT when purchasing computer systems. See http://www.ofee.gov/eo/eo13423_main.asp

Energy Efficiency & 'Green' Computer Systems

In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched Energy Star, a voluntary labeling program designed to promote and recognize energy-efficiency in computer systems and other electronic appliances. This resulted in, among other things, the widespread use of 'sleep mode' in consumer electronic devices.

The term "green computing" was coined shortly after the Energy Star program began and generally referred to power consumption-related issues. The modern use of the term encompasses not just energy use, but also includes energy conservation. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_computing

In 2006, the EPA estimated that by 2010, purchases of green-registered computers would reduce hazardous waste by 4 million pounds and save enough energy to power two million homes. Read www.boston.com/business/blog/filter/2006/05/standard_will_i.html

Many companies are now considering server-consolidation projects that allow servers to be shared. Using this approach, one such company that had a request for 220 servers only added 22 servers. That company saves 1.5 gigawatts per year in energy.

Verizon Wireless is taking action on computer energy consumption and saving money by doing so. The program they use is called NightWatchman power management software by 1E. By using this software Verizon puts their machines into sleep mode after a predefined period of inactivity. 1E manufactures another product called SMSWakeUp, that can "wake up" the machines that are sleeping so that software patches and updates can be applied after stores are closed, and then it shuts down the systems.

Computer Systems Powered by 'Green' Energy

There are now numerous examples of organizations using servers, desktop computers, printers and other appliances powered by a 'hybrid' energy system that taps into solar, wind, and other traditional energy sources. Some compelling reasons to acquire and implement computer systems powered by hybrid energy systems include lower energy bills, being able to provide continuity of care in the face of major natural and man-made disasters, and being better able to operate in remote locations around the world where reliable electrical service is not available.

Definitely take some time to learn about Micro-Hydro Turbines, another new source of alternative energy that is being pursued aggressively in Europe. See http://microhydropower.net/index.php

'Green' Computing and Energy Conservation

The Climate Savers Computing Initiative, started by Google and Intel in 2007, is a nonprofit group of eco-conscious consumers, businesses and conservation organizations. The Initiative was started in the spirit of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Climate Savers program which has mobilized over a dozen companies since 1999 to cut carbon dioxide emissions, demonstrating that reducing emissions is good business. The goal is to promote development, deployment and adoption of smart technologies that can both improve the efficiency of a computer's power delivery and reduce the energy consumed when the computer is in an inactive state. See http://www.climatesaverscomputing.org/

States Vow To Buy Green Computers - The governors of Kansas and Minnesota have signed on to a Google green-computing initiative, committing to spending an extra $30 per PC to make the states' PCs more environmentally friendly. The green-computing effort is a partnership between the National Governors Association and the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, a coalition started by Google, Intel, and about 25 other technology companies and environmental organizations such as HP, Lenovo, Microsoft, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). See www.newsfactor.com/story.xhtml?story_id=102003A6ESQ0

'Green' Buildings Housing Computer Systems

Buildings and communities are responsible for over 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere. Steps must be taken to change this situation. The following are links to organizations and documents that provide guidelines for what it really means to "build green".

'Green' Operating Practices and Procedures

Many public and private sector organizations are now integrating sustainable principles and 'green' policies and procedures into their business and office operations. An excellent source to learn more about this is GreenBiz.Com - see http://www.greenbiz.com/browse/business-operations

An example of an organization's high level 'green' policy statement aimed at guiding the management of an organization and programs in a manner that protects the environment, improves operational efficiencies, and contributes to the safety of employees and public health. See http://www.epa.gov/region3/ems/facility/policy.htm. Detailed operational procedures and controls are further documented in their operational manual. See http://www.epa.gov/region3/ems/facility/r3manual3.htm#EMP

Also check out the following -

Telecommuting & Telework

Providing the opportunity for employees to work from home has resulted in a variety of benefits for organizations, including a reduction in the corporate carbon footprint. Sun Microsystems was recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its Open Work Program which reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 23 percent. In addition to an increase in productivity and quality of life for his IT developers, John Halamka, CareGroup CIO, saw green benefits as well. These included savings in commuting costs for gas and parking, and a reduced need for office space. The number of articles written about telecommuting over the past decade is overwhelming. They address the value of moving towards telecommuting, how to go about it, best practices, corporate policies and procedures, and provide numerous examples. See http://www.internetevolution.com/document.asp?doc_id=167866

'Green' Software & Open Source Solutions

The underlying values of the 'open source' and 'green technology' communities are very similar. They appeal to a range of values such as:

  • Independence
  • Freedom
  • Thriftiness
  • Community
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Innovation
  • Being Good Stewards of Resources

As an aside, if you aren't aware, the following are examples of some of the more notable free and open source software (FOSS) products that are widely used around the world, check out:

Also, the following are some examples of 'green' software applications and tools to look into:

Intel has developed software methodologies, designs, and software development tools that can be used to improve the energy efficiency of application software and extend mobile platform battery time. See http://softwarecommunity.intel.com/articles/eng/1458.htm

Finally, if you are interested in other 'green' software and development tools, consider visiting http://sd-online.ewindows.eu.org/Tools/index_html?main=1

Benefits From Going 'Green'

Financial Benefits
Going 'green' should no longer be viewed strictly as an environmental issue but rather as a straight forward business decision leading to more efficient and cost effective business operations. It leads to lower utility bills, lower waste disposal costs, reduced usage of paper and other costly supplies and many more tangible cost savings.

Environmental Benefits
Numerous environmental benefits of buying high-performance, environmentally friendly computer equipment are highlighted in the first annual report issued by the Green Electronics Council in 2006 entitled "The Environmental Benefits of the Purchase or Sale of EPEAT Registered Products".

System Security & Disaster Recovery
Wind and solar powered systems are excellent alternatives that can be used in place of an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) as temporary power backup systems. They might have proven to be invaluable to the United States when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and power was cut and flooding prevented delivery of diesel fuel to backup generators.

National Security & Energy Independence
Development and use of alternative energy solutions are key to any national policy to lessen our current dependence on oil producing nations. This is a national security issue that will increase in importance and urgency over time. Many other countries have already started moving forward more aggressively on this issue that here in the U.S.


The following are some key points to keep in mind about 'green' solutions and the future:
  • Cost of traditional non-renewable, fossil fuel energy sources continue to escalate.
  • Affordable commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) wind, solar, and micro-hydro alternative energy solutions are becoming more readily available.
  • Our future depends on a range of 'green' solutions - from hybrid 'green' energy solutions, new 'green' technologies, 'green' construction, 'green' policies, conservation, and more.
  • Development and investment in hybrid energy solutions and other 'green' technologies and sustainable solutions should be a priority for all nations and corporations.
  • Until leaders in the public and private sector see being green as a priority, programs will be slow to evolve.

Again, as 'green' goes mainstream, companies should no longer view 'green' as an environmental issue but rather as a straight forward business factor in becoming more efficient, cost effective, and competitive in the 21st century.

Recommended Next Steps

There are a number of recommendations and next steps for senior executives of organizations to take relating to 'green' technology and sustainability:
  • Commission a detailed systems requirements analysis and cost/benefit study into the potential uses of 'green' technologies and hybrid energy solutions.
  • Consider forming a "Green Team", a group of people in the organization who are passionate about environmental issues, to brainstorm solutions and promote ways in which corporate practices resources can become more environmentally sustainable.
  • Encourage facility and technology designers and architects to consider 'green' building codes and the use of hybrid renewable energy systems into their next generation designs.
  • Conduct small pilot tests of 'green' technologies such as hybrid energy systems, 'green' buildings, energy conservation, use of biodegradable materials, and other 'green' solutions.
  • Support political action that encourages much higher levels of government funding and tax credits for 'green' technologies and hybrid energy systems.
  • Implement a hybrid energy system to power a production environment for your web organization's site and other electrical appliances in your facilities.
  • Expand the use of 'green' technologies, hybrid energy systems, and other 'green' solutions over time, documenting the cost/benefits and building the business case.
  • Seek funding sources that will support this next generation of corporate and community economic development based on 'green' technologies.
  • Conduct research to measure the true environmental impact of telecommuting and develop management strategies to increase the "green" benefits.
  • Get started now!

Selected References


Peter J. Groen is on the faculty of the Computer & Information Science Department at Shepherd University in West Virginia and is one of the founders of the Shepherd University Research Corporation - see www.shepherd.edu/surc

Tom Roselius is a senior IT manager with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, who has served as an adjunct faculty member in the Computer & Information Science Department at Shepherd University, currently focused on the need for "leadership training".

Lauren Berry is currently obtaining her Bachelor's degree in Computer & Information Science at Shepherd University in West Virginia.

Peter Groen, Tom Roselius and Lauren Berry

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