Are you ready for the future of sustainable computing?

Gareth Halfacree

Sunday 11 October 2015

Sustainable computing is an area undergoing rapid change following a huge increase in awareness. Purchasing decisions driven by green awareness are swiftly moving from a corporate nicety to a business – and indeed sometimes legal – requirement.

The practice of implementing sustainable equipment is invariable called ‘Sustainable Computing’ or ‘Green Computing’, but it’s the same thing. It revolves around creating environmentally sound ICT infrastructure. Green technology should work efficiently and effectively, with minimal or ideally no impact on the environment.

Ostensibly, everybody is for green computing, of course. As San Murugesan was already pointing out some years ago: “We are legally, ethically, and socially required to green our IT products, applications, services, and practices,”  (‘Harnessing Green IT’, 2008).

Equally, in their paper ‘Green Computing: From Current to Future Trends’, Tariq Soomro and Muhammad Sarwar observe: “Organizations are realizing that the source and amount of their energy consumption significantly contributes to Greenhouse Gas (GhG) emissions.”

“In the past, the focus was on computing efficiency and cost associated to IT equipment and infrastructure services were considered low cost and available” Soomro and Sarwar pursue. “Now infrastructure is becoming the bottleneck in IT environments, and the reason for this shift is due to growing computing needs, energy cost and global warming. This shift is a great challenge for IT industry.”

Green technology: a rapidly changing future in Europe

For IT departments working in Europe, the challenge for ICT professionals to provide credible green computing solutions will become greater over the coming years.

Perhaps the biggest concern for enterprise is the enormous increase in demand for global energy. European companies face rising energy costs for a least another 15 years according to the European Commission’s Energy Road Map 2050.

On top of this, European companies may incur additional government levies if they don’t address the environmental implications of their infrastructure. Public expectation of governmental action is high in Europe. (This EC Climate Change report from 2011 found that over half of Europeans consider climate change one of the world’s most serious problems, and a more serious problem than the economic situation. Indeed, 20 per cent of Europeans feel climate change is the single most serious problem).

Green technology: how to invest in sustainable technology

When it comes to investing in green technology, one factor to immediately consider is how to identify sustainable ICT products in the first instance.

ENERGY STAR remains the name most IT professionals are familiar with. ENERGY STAR is a voluntary labelling program introduced in 1992 by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy. In order for a company to join the ENERGY STAR program, an organization’s top-ranking official must make a public commitment to improve energy efficiency.

There’s something of a technical arms race with companies developing ever larger, more powerful and more efficient equipment. So, if green purchasing is a factor, it’s worth keeping an eye on the ENERGY STAR Most Efficient awards. According to the EPA, this award is “a new distinction that recognizes products that deliver cutting edge energy efficiency along with the latest in technological innovation”.

For example, in 2014 the EPA awarded two Lenovo monitors, the ThinkVision LT2223d Wide and ThinkVision LT2452p Wide, its ‘ENERGY STAR Most Efficient’ products designation. Both monitors exceed current ENERGY STAR 6.0 power consumption requirements and can deliver long-term savings (see Product Carbon Footprint for a Typical Lenovo Monitor.)

Green IT: calculating the cost and ROI of sustainable computing

Investing in green technology is only going to be effective if organisations can calculate their Product Carbon Footprint (PCF). This is still surprisingly tricky. According to this Product Carbon Footprint Strategy, published by Lenovo: “There are numerous and, in some cases, nearly insurmountable challenges to calculating an accurate carbon footprint for ICT products, especially if the intent is to use the data for product to product comparison.” Collecting and compiling dependable data from multiple geographies with a continuously evolving ICT product portfolio represents a significant challenge.

Even when an organisation has data on its carbon footprint, it’s hard for ICT managers to use it effectively. The range of different standards and measurements can make comparison between competing products difficult. Presently, the ICT industry is working towards a common carbon footprint framework that will simplify PCF measurement.

For instance, MIT’s Product Attribute to Impact Algorithm (PAIA) is supported by major ICT providers. It is hoped that PAIA will enable the industry as a whole to move towards a standard method for evaluating the carbon footprint of products. In the near term, PAIA is enabling participating companies to build tools like the Lenovo Energy Calculator, which provides annual energy cost estimates for various IT configurations. It is expected that this sort of tool will increasingly become part of the ICT decision-making process.

With energy costs rising, and European governments legislating more and more about carbon footprint management, it is good business sense to analyse the energy usage of ICT purchases.

Image Credit: Calculating MachineGreen