Green IT and more (Part II) – Cleaning Up IT


In the second of a series of articles, David Tebbutt explains how you can reduce the environmental impact of IT before you buy IT devices, during their lifetime, and after you’ve finished with them.

Other articles in the series:
Green IT And More (Part I) – Gearing Up To Go Green
Green IT And More (Part III) – Greening Your Organisation
Green IT And More (Part IV) – Changing Staff Attitudes and Taking Action

Balancing the Benefits and Costs of Going Green

The reach of IT is wide, from a hand-held device such as a BlackBerry to a data centre; from office printers to building management. And every element provides an opportunity to reduce environmental harm. Sometimes the benefits accrue immediately and sometimes they take longer. Sometimes you need to change behaviour and at other times you need a change in procurement or operational systems.

The trick is to balance any negative consequences of making changes against the practical benefits to the organisation. Think about installing a wind turbine on an urban bungalow roof. Would the energy savings ever compensate for the environmental consequences of its manufacture?

Before: Purchasing Strategies

A good way to start cleaning up your IT is to include environmental questions in your purchasing requests. Questions such as ‘Are you ISO 14001 certified?’ or ‘Do the devices meet energy or environmental certifications?’ encourage your IT suppliers to demonstrate the environmental credentials of their company and the products you’re buying.

You can find many public databases where suppliers offer information about themselves and their products (check out EPEAT and the Carbon Disclosure Project described in Part V). Many goods come with labels certifying their environmental standards, such as their recyclability, their avoidance of harmful chemicals, their energy efficiency, and so on.

Your aim in purchasing should be to look at the whole life implications of your acquisitions, including the opportunities for reusing or recycling products when you’ve finished with them.

During: A Day in the Life of IT Products

Once you’ve chosen the products that meet your specifications and environmental expectations, you need to think about how they’re used.

In the office

Look around any office and you’ll probably see computers and printers lying idle. Unless the devices have a recognised environmental certification or label, or they have a sleep mode, they’re burning up at least half as much power when idle as when they’re working flat out.

When you’re not using them, drop devices into sleep mode, ready for you when you come back. Ideally, if you’re going to be away for a while, you can just turn things off. Don’t forget that machines with external power supplies draw current, even when the device itself is switched off. If the charger feels warm, it’s drawing current.

Consider your printers. Use draft and duplex modes to optimise your use of consumables and paper. You can review and share documents on screen and print on demand only, reducing the number of unnecessary prints.

Many companies have found that consolidating a large number of personal printers into fewer central models can improve print cost management, while saving on energy and paper use. A managed print service can further help cut waste by printing only when the employee is present and when it’s really needed.