Green Experts Pour Cold Water On Sweating IT Assets

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The Green Grid’s John Tuccillo and Zhal Limbuwala from the British Computer Society argue that consuming less IT and upgrading less frequently isn’t necessarily the most sustainable approach

IT vendors are very keen on discussing environmental and low-carbon approaches to IT in terms of energy efficiency. The idea that new technology will be more efficient and “greener” than older kit fits nicely with the perpetual upgrade mantra that has been the mainstay of the computing industry since its inception. Out with the old and inefficient and in with the new and shiny.

But alongside the focus on energy efficiency, some experts, including representatives from UK government, have begun to look to the IT industry to expand its sustainable horizons to include the entire life-cycle of technology. For example one study from the University of Tokyo estimates that of the total carbon debt of a PC through its life-cycle, 75 percent is incurred during the manufacturing phase. Most of the carbon damage is done when devices are built – not from the energy they consume during their lifetime, experts argue.

Not surprisingly the idea of embedded carbon is not one the IT industry is as eager to embrace as energy efficiency, just as the concept of selling less kit that lasts longer doesn’t fit well with the “new shiny thing” fundamentals of the technology industry.

eWeek Europe UK recently caught up with two experts in IT energy efficiency to discuss the issue. John Tuccillo is chairman of the board for international data centre energy specialist The Green Grid, and Zhal Limbuwala is chair of the British Computer Society data centre specialist group.

The Green Grid is a consortium of IT vendors – including Intel, Microsoft and AMD – and end-users of IT, which aims to develop tools and approaches to help its members improve the energy efficiency of their data centres. The BCS data centre specialist group is one of the 40 or so sub-organisations of the British Computer Society – also known as The Chartered Institute For IT – focused on similar issues to the Green Grid.

The two groups have announced a partnership which will see them collaborate on initiatives designed to improve the sustainability of data centres, including the development of simulator tools which should enable IT professionals to make more accurate judgements how sustainable their infrastructure could be.

As well as tackling the issue of sweating assets versus energy efficiency, eWeek Europe also asked Green Grid’s Tuccillo and BCS’s Limbuwala about the general “greenness” of IT and whether involving environmental groups in organisations such as the Green Grid would help them avoid accusations of being simply lobby groups for vendors concerned about punitive legislation.

Q: Given statistics such as 75 percent of the total carbon debt of a product is incurred during its manufacture – is efficiency really the answer when it comes to green IT? Shouldn’t we concentrate on simply consuming less technology and building products that last longer?

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BCS: It is difficult to answer that at this stage. I have seen some very competent organisations trying to tackle the embodied carbon discussion and there has been a huge amount of conflicting data to the point where there were a couple of studies done on behalf of the UK government in terms of desktop PCs and whether they should be kept for as long as possible or whether there were benefits of moving to lower in-use energy devices, and the two studies came up with answers at literally opposite ends of the scale. There is a lot more work to do there and a hugely complex issue to deal with. The Carbon Trust.

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