Green Tech and Greenbacks: The Money Case for Eco-Friendly Computing

One interpretation of the term “green computing” focuses on the machine’s energy consumption. The less power a computer needs, the less harm to the environment it does — and the less the owner has to spend on energy costs.

Are those energy savings enough of a reason to make major enterprise buying decisions based in part on how green a computer is? A recent report by Ohio University’s Ecology and Energy Conservation Committee says they are.

The need for companies to reduce their energy consumption and carbon footprints extends beyond the data center itself, according to the study. In fact, statistics from Ohio University’s computer usage guidelines indicate that a continuously running computer emits 2,161 pounds of carbon dioxide per year and costs approximately US$45 per year to power (based on $0.0372 per kilowatt hour). Simply turning off a computer at night so that it only runs eight hours a day reduces its consumption input to 810 kWh, or about $30 per year. For an organization running 200 machines, this equates to an annual savings of $3,000 — which can mean the difference between writing financial statements using red or black ink, according to the university’s “Green Computing Guide.”

Another recent study, this one conducted by Pew Internet, makes another case for green computing. That research reports 68 percent of Americans own a desktop PC and another 30 percent own a laptop computer. With so many computers used daily at home and at work, environmentally conscious computing can go a long way to curbing pollution and saving resources. As environmental ratings become more prominent, green computing gains in urgency, according to Tom Tobul, executive director of marketing for Lenovo’s emerging products business unit.

“We are seeing a continuing evolution of environmental ratings. Different standards exist in different countries. A trend is starting with more customers specifying green their purchasing requests,” Tobul told the E-Commerce Times.

Business Drivers

The move to green computing in business is being pushed somewhat by the equipment recycle process. For instance, Lenovo’s customers often mention that they no longer need large desktops. Tower computers are becoming a thing of the past, Tobul said.

“Nobody is doing upgrades, so who needs large systems with room to spare?” he added.

Instead, corporate buyers are purchasing small form factors with expansion provided through the Universal Serial Bus port. USB is the new way to upgrade or reconfigure business computers, he suggested.

Air Quality

Simply reducing energy costs is not necessarily the main factor driving corporations to turn to greener technology. Environmental factors are taking hold.

“One other driver in going green is the CO2 emission problem. Still, this is directly related to energy draw,” Mike Pierce, director of environmental affairs for Lenovo, told the E-Commerce Times.

Companies are concerned about this type of CO2 emissions and are taking responsibility for lowering the CO2 impact out of a product, he explained.

“We are starting to see more companies that are concerned about this type of pollution from CO2 emissions. This reaction is directly related to their energy draw,” he said.

Piggyback Factor

Even when businesses want to be more responsible about environmental pollution, higher equipment costs can put a damper on corporate leaders’ enthusiasm. For instance, manufacturing greener computers can cost considerably more.

Computer makers have higher costs in developing greener computing products. Materials are often non-standardized. Hardware makers sometimes do not see an adequate return on investing in greener products.

“There [are] some cost hikes associated with a shift to green components. We’re hoping that as we drive these eco-implementations, we’ll see the costs come back into line,” said Pierce.

Government Urgings

Proponents of government involvement say a faster movement toward green computing will not occur until state and national lawmakers force the issue with new legislation.

So far, about 20 percent of technology companies are receptive to going green, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers analyst Bill Cobourn.

“I see a strong push from government for going to green,” Cobourn told the E-Commerce Times.

He expects to see a rise in support for green computing from businesses over the next two years. Computer makers are starting to pay more attention to it, he said.

Back Door Adoption

“Going green is not just about saving cash and cooling energy use,” said Bill Peldzus, vice president of data centers for IT infrastructure consulting and services firm Glasshouse Technologies. “It involves standardization and more efficiency. Virtualization is a huge trend that is reducing hundreds of thousands of servers along with saving on licensing fees, hardware costs and power costs.”

Another factor pushing companies into the green zone is the need to avoid excessive kilowatt taxes and carbon footprint taxes, he told the E-Commerce Times. This is typically done when existing hardware approaches the end of its life cycle.

“The trend is to look at assets on-hand as technology is refreshed. Corporations are buying fewer servers but using larger units and then running virtualization applications. This reduces heat generation so cooling costs are lower,” he said.

For example, 150 servers may be running their own applications. Each server often uses less than half of its capacity. By taking a larger server and running it virtually, utilization can reach 100 percent, he explained.

Basic Tips

Going green is a mindset that starts with personal as well as business computer users. Corporate policies often overlook the accumulative energy savings that can be realized by altering basic settings in each computer. Lenovo offered a few green computing tips for energy-efficient PC use:

  • It might seem obvious, but turn computers off at night. A typical 17-inch monitor is rated at 100 to 150 watts and uses energy when it is displays a text or picture (including a simple screensaver). Businesses and homes can lower energy costs just by turning off their PCs at night.
  • Adjust the power management options in each computer’s control panel to reduce power consumption.
  • Time the PC to enter sleep or hibernation mode when it has been idle for 10 minutes.
  • Use an liquid crystal display monitor or a computer with light-emitting diode (LED) backlights to minimize the energy used to light the screen. Notebooks with LED backlighting use one or two fewer watts of power than regular notebooks.
  • Consider buying a PC with low-watt processors since they consume less power. Some low-wattage PCs are so energy efficient they can be powered by a solar panel.
  • When purchasing a PC, look for models that are EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) Gold or Energy Star 4.0 rated. These industry standards identify PCs that have incorporated green design such as recycled/recyclable materials.
  • Recycle old PCs and peripherals. Various vendors, business partners and communities provide recycling services. By recycling, hazardous metals are extracted and plastic pieces are removed and then reused to make new products.

1 Comment

  • Great article! On the subject of recycling of PCs and peripherals (and other electronics products): it’s important to ensure that these are handled by authorized recyclers or sent back to manufacturers who adopt extended producer responsibility practices in designing their products and for recycling of materials and parts at the end of their useful life. Many discarded electronics products are ending up creating enormous environmental and health concerns in third world countries. The workers have no knowledge of the dangers of handling the heavy metals recovered from these products.

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