28 Mar 2011

How green is IT really?

Saturday 26 March 2011 marked the fifth anniversary of Earth Hour, the brainchild of environmental organisation WWF, which started in Sydney and has come to raise awareness about climate change globally.

Turning off the lights is a great symbolic gesture, and many businesses have since implemented energy-saving policies that involve turning off all lights and equipment before closing for the night. But businesses can no longer call themselves ‘green’ just by switching off and recycling, especially when the Federal Government’s new carbon tax comes in.

So what are the next three steps for a business willing to reduce their emissions? Beyond the ‘off’ switch, technology can play a major part in any reduction strategy.

1. Conduct a technology audit. This means taking a look at all the devices you use and finding out which things consume the most energy and which equipment you use the most. For each device, roughly estimate how much power it uses by multiplying energy consumption by how often you use it.

2. Understand your energy needs. Starting with the piece of equipment that consumes the most overall energy, ask yourself ‘how can I use this in a way that will reduce emissions?’ This may include replacing it with new equipment that’s more energy efficient, although you should keep in mind that manufacturing also causes emissions and can be costly for you.

There may be a device or two that doesn’t consume much energy because you don’t use it very often. You may not need it at all; if this is the case, either give it away to someone who will use it, or send it to an e-waste recycling facility.

3. Consider technology alternatives. There may be a way of doing things differently that will reduce emissions. One energy hungry beast is your server, which a lot of people don’t notice. New solutions such as cloud computing, with on-demand network access to services, may be a better option because instead of the server consuming energy whether or not you’re using it, you only consume that energy when you use it. This reduces both emissions and costs.

Another big emitter is travel, whether that’s by plane or car. You can cut emissions and costs by using video conferencing where possible. Of course, there are going to be some times when you need to travel, but it would be good to get businesses thinking about whether all travel is necessary.

So IT doesn’t need to consume a lot of energy if you take a smart approach. What have you done to reduce the energy needs of your business?