With an ecological credit crunch looming that looks set to dwarf the current financial crisis, could Green IT help to solve both?
The WWF’s most recent Living Planet Report reveals that we’ve been building up a massive ‘ecological deficit’ since the 1980s, by using more resources than the planet can handle. The average person’s ecological footprint is now 0.6 hectares larger than the Earth can sustain.
Set against the global financial crisis, the report provides a sharp reminder of the dangers of letting concern for the environment slip down the agenda.
IT is currently responsible for 2% of carbon emissions, fast overtaking the aviation industry in terms of impact on climate change. Yet only 14% of UK IT directors are aware of their department’s carbon footprint.
In recent months many companies have drastically cut their IT budget in an attempt to ride out the financial storm. However, switching the emphasis to minimising energy consumption could quickly result in tangible cost savings, as well as reduced carbon emissions.
One of the key aspects to address is the energy used in running servers. This can be surprisingly simple to tackle. For example intelligent power management software can be installed that limits the power used by servers to the minimum actually required, without negatively affecting performance. A low-tech alternative, currently being trialled by Microsoft, is to revert to older, less energy-hungry processors.
Keeping servers cool is another power-hungry process. However simply rearranging the racks and tidying up under-floor cabling can increase air flow enough to substantially reduce the energy required for cooling.
Simple measures like these will quickly show financial rewards by cutting energy bills, while reducing the organisation’s environmental impact.
More abstract techniques can also make a real difference. For example using intelligent design and green coding standards can make databases more energy-efficient and more resilient. Similarly virtualisation can be used to enable servers to hold more than their physical capacity would allow. This makes it possible to store more information more efficiently on fewer servers.
Another issue to consider is purchasing procedures. Organisations that operate a centralised IT purchasing policy tend to use their existing resources more efficiently and buy less. This cuts expenses and carbon emissions, especially taking manufacturing and delivering new equipment into account, in addition to running it.
IT can also be used to reduce an organisation’s carbon footprint in other areas. For example replacing long-distance travel to meetings with video-conferencing. By implementing specific green IT initiatives like this, it’s possible to start turning the environmental impact of technology into a positive one.
While each of these changes might seem like a tiny contribution, if every organisation took similar steps it would add up to an enormous difference. Enough to save the planet? Well, can we afford to take the risk?
Page updated: Fri 3 Dec 2021