Some people are of the opinion Green IT is a fad. A short lived fancy. Something here today but gone tomorrow. To help clarify our understanding and opinion of green IT, let us step out of today and for the next two minutes we’ll do a little imagining, a little pretending and some future thinking.
Let’s pretend we are travelling forward in time, the years flying past us and suddenly we stop – we have arrived in the year 2050.
Look around you – computers are everywhere, involved in everything we do, maybe even embedded in us. There are a million different ways to use technology and a million more different technologies. But wait – what are those technologies made of – chemicals, heavy metals, synthetic materials? Where do they go when we are finished with them? How much power are they using? And are we using those technologies to help us solve environmental problems?
Now turn around in your mind and look at the environment surrounding you – the trees, the rivers, the animals, and the human race. Think about how many people exist on earth in 2050 and how we use the land and its natural resources. And consider this: do you think the environmental issues and concerns present today will be more or less significant in the year 2050?
Finally merge those two future visions together and ask yourself one final question: do you believe in the future we will need to manage both the environmental impact of technology and use technology to help manage human kind's impact on the planet?
What is green IT?
When people talk about Green IT they usually focus their attention on the detrimental impact of technology on the environment. One very over-used quote is that ‘...the IT industry generates around 2% of the total worldwide emissions, which is almost equivalent to the airline industry.’ This is true however it doesn’t take into account the entire lifecycle of technology. The manner in which computers are procured, where they are sourced from, what environmental policies the manufacturers have, what materials they contain, how they are used, and where they go when we are finished with them – these areas are inclusive of the Green IT concept.
And from our trip to the year 2050, we also know there is a major role for technology to play in helping us solve environmental problems both now and in the future. For example we can use software to model climate change or to source the best locations for underground carbon storage without drilling holes all over the planet.
These are the two well-known classifications of Green IT. But there is one more: sustainably using the earth’s natural resources to create technology. One example of this is the recent development of OLED – organic light emitting diodes – which is essentially using organic compounds to create parts for TV screens and monitors, rather than the more traditional synthetic and potentially harmful materials.
The how and the why: real school case studies
The following two case studies demonstrate two different approaches and outcomes – one from Australia and one from the United States – for implementing an electronics waste program within a school.
Australian Case Study: Shelley Primary School, Western Australia
In 2007 Shelley Primary school commenced a project to collect the community’s electronic waste in conjunction with Murdoch University’s “Eight Ball Programme”. In this programme old computers are stripped down and rebuilt into working computers for the community. Shelley Primary received an initial $5000 grant to collect electronics and as a result they purchased an old container, which the students painted with their handprints to represent their ownership of the initiative.
Jennifer O’Connor, sustainability co-ordinator and teacher at Shelley Primary, provides three tips to other schools implementing similar programs:
- Enlist the support of the school community – Shelley Primary involved the P&C and relies very much on parents to pickup and drop off the equipment to Murdoch University.
- Develop a system that is easy to use – “It needs to be easy for the school to manage and easy for the parents to help out, and for the community to drop off. Because we actually have the container in the school car park, they don't have to bother us at all and can do it independently of the school,” says Jennifer.
- Have a strong sense of commitment – you need to believe in the value of what you are doing and the fact that everyone doing small things can contribute towards a greater collective awareness within the community.
Although these types of projects take ongoing commitment and need to be balanced with other school activities, Jennifer notes that “...children are so enthusiastic and they really do care about their world...the more we can educate them and raise their awareness about environmental issues such as this, the greater the chance we have of them picking up the ball and taking things further when they are adults. And children are such powerful agents for change because of the pressure they put on their parents, which can be as subtle and as insidious as ‘Mum, don't put that in the bin - I'll take that to school.’
“The kids love to see their computer in the container so whenever we are down there having a bit of a clean-up they get excited saying ‘oh that's mine, we brought that printer in’ or pointing out ‘that's our old computer’ so I think it all really helps and they like to feel they are doing their bit.”
More recently Shelley Primary raised enough funds to purchase a trailer which they will use to transport the electronics to Murdoch University. They are also now in the early stages of investigating solar panels for their library area, to reduce their non-renewable energy consumption.
United States Case Study: Swampscott High School, Massachusetts
Swampscott High School in Massachusetts runs IVY - a vocational program for students who have special needs. The main goal of the IVY Program is to emphasize the individual skills of the students to help them to become productive members of the community. One of the activities they recently developed was a recycling program to help get their students involved in the community and learning new skills.
Pat Gorham, Director of the IVY Program, explains they created success by scheduling recycling activities on the same day across the area – their town-wide recycling fair received almost eight times the attendance in comparison to a previous school-wide recycling fair, even attracting members from neighbouring communities.
“Swampscott High has come a long way regarding recycling. Just two years ago there was an article accusing our high school of not recycling - unfortunately, it was true! It took a collaborative effort to get the ball rolling.”
Sharing her recommendations for creating a similar program, Pat suggests:
- Create hands-on and socialisation activities - the students in the IVY program made recycling bins out of copy paper boxes and posted large recycling signs throughout the school. The students also sent emails and posted notices in the teacher mailboxes informing them they were available to pick up recycling.
- Setup a teacher resource centre - in IVY’s case this helped provide research to supplement lesson plans, and encouraged teachers to share resources rather than re-inventing the wheel.
- Get your principal involved - the Swampscott High Principal worked with teachers to rearrange the daily school schedule so that interdisciplinary teacher planning could occur on a regular basis. This provided an opportunity for teachers to share lessons and ideas face to face (less paper!). It also promoted teamwork and appreciation for diversity.
- Get the community involved - the IVY Program set up a new integrated workshop that provided students with an opportunity to explore careers, develop skills, and gain vocational support. Local businesses in the community hired students for a number of jobs on a part time basis. Students who had disabilities worked alongside students in the mainstream and were supported by a job coach.
Finally, Pat adds “While I knew the integrated workshop would have a positive impact on our school community, I underestimated how beneficial it would be to everyone involved. It provides services to the business community and provides work experience for my students. Some of my students are receiving their first pay check ever.”
Implementing a Green IT Program
There are any number of ways to structure and setup a Green IT program in a school but most of them encompass these key steps:
- 1. Audit & analyse your existing environment
- 2. Develop a partnering strategy
- 3. Review purchasing policies
- 4. Review school operations
- 5. Implement a disposal program
- 6. Develop a monitoring, reporting and feedback program
Audit and analyse your existing environment
Energy use, electronic waste and paper waste are the usual targets for a green IT program.
There are a number of standards out there to help schools baseline IT energy use including:
- The Green Grid – this consortium developed two useful data centre metrics called Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) and Data Centre Infrastructure Efficiency (DCiE).
- SPEC Power – provides baselines for power usage of servers.
- Energy Star – assesses and measures computer (and soon server) energy use so all you need to do is look for the Energy Star label when buying.
Measuring paper waste can be as simple as looking through the last year’s paper purchases and creating a graph of the paper reams purchased plus cost. However there are also some great tools like GreenPrint – a small free software program that can be installed on each computer in the school.
GreenPrint works by detecting pages that aren’t worth printing (like those last few lines of an email signature that run over to the next page or ads from an internet site). It allows you to easily preview then deselect the appropriate pages for printing. As it prints, it calculates the paper and carbon savings achieved by not printing the deselected pages. In a large school scenario, GreenPrint also have a paid version of the software that can report statistics back to a central location.
Develop a partnering strategy
As the case studies show, community and partner engagement is a key building block for implementing any Green IT program.
Independent software vendors (ISVs) such as Microsoft offer their support to schools not only through technologies such as virtualisation and power management, but also through their extensive partner network.
Pip Marlow, Public Sector Director at Microsoft Australia, reveals her three tips to schools are “...to firstly get informed - Microsoft has some great resources on our website to help schools further educate themselves on green IT technologies (www.microsoft.com/environment). My second tip would be to reach out to your trusted advisor – Microsoft has a great partner channel that is committed to green IT. And finally I would have to say; implement procedures around procurement and the way you do business to make sure you are working with people, vendors and partners that support green IT.”
In addition to traditional vendor & services partners, educational organisations such as the Consortium for School Networking Initiative (COSN) in the US also offer knowledge transfer to schools by providing green IT strategies. Rich Kaestner from COSN works closely with Education AU, who also provides great advice through media such as videos and their blog.
Review purchasing policies
As a teacher, school’s procurement manager or IT staff member there isn’t a whole lot you can directly influence around the chemicals and compounds found in electronics. However people in these roles do have influence on purchasing policies. A few of the important purchasing decisions include:
- Choose flat panel displays instead of CRT screens – CRTs typically contains over 1kg of lead and consume about 50% more energy than LCDs.
- Buy laptops – they are about 70% more energy efficient than desktop computers.
- Where possible choose LED backlighting instead of traditional LCD fluorescents – the latter contains arsenic and mercury.
- Buy “eco” desktops and laptops – EPEAT (a US initiative by the Green Electronics Council) certifies IT hardware based on a well-rounded set of criteria such as energy conservation, corporate policies, materials selection and packaging.
Finally, apart from buying computers new, schools can also source recycled PCs. Computer Technologies for Schools (CTFS) is a federal government program setup to facilitate the donation of surplus computers, office equipment and IT communications equipment to schools across Australia.
Since 1998 CTFS have successfully redeployed over 205,000 computers, mainly to independent, rural and remote schools. Mark Edser, National Project Manager for CTFS, explains “We only accept computers of a reasonable standard that are able to run the school software. The generic minimum standard is a Pentium 4 computer with an LCD screen.
“Its keeping computers out of landfill for four or five years more and quite often at the end of the five years in the school system, the computers go on to students or teachers for their own use. So it’s keeping stuff out of landfill for quite some time.”
Review school operations
The biggest area for school cost savings and impact to environment is energy use. It is estimated that each desktop computer with an LCD monitor that is configured to sleep at night represents a saving of around $70 per desktop per year in electricity costs.
In addition to turning on sleep mode, there are numerous energy-specific considerations that will help, including:
- Selecting low or optimized power servers and desktops – Energy Star is a typical rating system used by schools for appliances so take what you have learnt with that program and apply it to computing. Energy Star for computers is already in place however Energy Star for servers should be released around the 2010/2011 timeframe in Australia.
- Implementing virtualisation, to reduce the total number of servers & increase the typically low utilisation of computing resources per server;
- Applying operating system power configuration using automated directory policies, such as those found in Microsoft Active Directory;
- Consider buying or implementing your own ‘green’ energy, which is sourced from renewable supplies (like solar on school roofs) or from Australian GreenPower certified suppliers - www.greenpower.gov.au provides a complete list.
Implement a disposal program
In November 2006, Gartner estimated that only 27% of computers were being recycled. However disposal is bigger than just getting rid of computers in an environmentally responsible way – it covers everything from paper and cardboard, to the electronics within computers, to the batteries used by electronic devices.
Remember that simply applying stricter policies to electronic waste can return great environmental and financial benefits. Stricter policies can help schools determine if a phone or computer really needs to be replaced, or whether it can simply be upgraded with new components to extend its life.
Many of the state governments already have formal policies and disposal programs for state and technology schools however for individual schools the options include using your hardware vendor or local community programs.
Once you have developed a school disposal policy, the final step is to decide on the recycler your school will use. To locate computer and electronics recycling facilities in your area, go to www.recyclingnearyou.com.au. Many of the local councils and professional recycling firms are listed on this website and can be searched by council area or by product.
However one word of caution from the Basel Action Network (BAN) is that the standard practices of some recycling companies are to simply pass on old useless hardware to countries that can least afford the social and environmental impact. The key here is to make sure the company you select is appropriately re-using the equipment you give them. To help determine this, ask questions such as:
- How do you re-use equipment?
- What happens to equipment that can’t be re-used? Where does it go?
- Can we tour your facilities? (this is a great learning experience for students too)
- Can you provide us with feedback from your other customers?
- Can we talk to the recipients of your re-used equipment?
Develop a monitoring, reporting and feedback program
Finally, after setting up these environmentally friendly practices, you’ll need a good reporting system to feedback progress to school management, the P&C and the community, to ensure continued support and funding.
Key activities for reporting include:
- Talking to your environment or facilities manager (if you have one) to have them integrate additional or more granular reporting on environmental factors in your school. Your IT team would also be able to help implement smart reporting mechanisms.
- For waste and electronics recycling, your supplier should be able to provide reports on the amount (weight) of electronic waste they pickup; or how much your school drops off.
- For energy use, you may only be able to report on overall school energy utilisation, however make sure you take a baseline from the entire past year’s reports to show any potential seasonal variability before implementing your improvements.
The last thought before departing is one for the future. Although schools themselves may not create new technologies made of sustainable materials or develop software that helps solve climate change, in 2050 the children many of you are teaching now could choose careers that do. To achieve this vision we need more entrepreneurs, scientists, software developers and hardware engineers. These careers require a blend of passion, creativity, integrity and science. They also require us to educate our children to change their perception that technology is ‘geeky’, only for boys, or that computers are only good for Facebook or surfing the net.
Sometimes a child’s choice of career path is a reflection of a time at school when they really enjoyed a particular class activity or learnt something that rocked their world. As teachers and educators you already know you can change the world by educating just one child. Nelson Mandela, Ghandi, Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein were children once and their schooling – both formal and informal – helped them choose a career that would change the world for the better. Now more than ever we need more children to choose careers that blend environmental sustainability with technological development.
This article was originally published in Education Technology Solutions Magazine, October 2009