Mar 06 2008

Going Green

Saving money — not the environment — prompts most IT departments to consider green initiatives. BizTech offers 10 biz-savvy and eco-friendly tips to help run your IT infrastructure efficiently.


RecycleBank CTO Frank Yang
Photo: Chris Crisman
RecycleBank CTO Frank Yang says that his company, a business that promotes recyling, obviously must minimize its carbon footprint.

For RecycleBank’s chief technology officer Frank Yang, green IT is not just a marketing buzzword: It is a way of life and a smart way to do business.


RecycleBank, a Philadelphia-based company with 50 employees, works with 27 communities to increase recycling and decrease the amount of trash going into landfills. It offers an incentive program through which residents can earn money to shop at local and national retailers. When cities save money from lower landfill fees, RecycleBank makes a profit based on what it keeps from going to the dump.

The IT department isn’t immune from the green bug. Their efforts include recycling printer toner cartridges, cell phones and other old tech equipment; purchasing Energy Star–labeled computers and LCD monitors to lower power consumption; and deploying videoconferencing technology, which lets employees hold virtual meetings and reduce travel, which in turn cuts down on the company’s carbon footprint.

“We’re doing these things because it’s the right thing to do,” says Yang, who also serves as CIO. “It’s our corporate culture. We have to walk the talk.”

Fighting global warming represents one significant benefit of green IT initiatives. Yet for most companies, saving money is the impetus for evaluating green IT options. At RecycleBank, energy-efficient equipment lowers energy consumption and helps keep the electricity bill down. Videoconferencing cuts travel costs and allows employees to work from customer sites across the nation.

As climate change seeps into the nation’s consciousness, an increasing number of eco-savvy businesses are discovering that pursuing green IT initiatives serves multiple purposes: It lets them not only fight global warming and embrace social responsibility, but also save money by running IT more efficiently and by using IT to run their business more efficiently.

At RecycleBank, Yang says the environment comes first and any money saved is a bonus. But a recent survey by Forrester Research found that most companies look at green IT initiatives the opposite way: Saving money is the main motivation to go green, while saving the environment is secondary. But both factors — the economic and the environmental — are closely aligned, which is why more companies are exploring green initiatives, explains Forrester analyst and senior vice president Christopher Mines.

“Reducing the carbon footprint and improving energy efficiency is fine and good, but it’s secondary to cutting costs,” says Mines.

Here are 10 practical steps IT departments can take to become more environmentally friendly:

1. Purchase more energy-efficient products. Notebook computers consume less power than desktop computers, and thin-client computing requires even less energy, says Richard Hodges, founder and CEO of GreenIT, a consulting firm in Sonoma, Calif. Additionally, notebooks make it easier to support remote workers.

The latest computers and servers, for example, feature new power-management features and more energy-efficient processors, power supplies and other components.

To purchase the greenest products possible, shop for technology that features the Energy Star label, Yang advises.

Energy Star products meet stringent government guidelines for energy efficiency. For example, the latest Energy Star 4.0 rating requires PC makers to use power supplies that convert 80 percent of the incoming power from the outlet into usable computer power, meaning only 20 percent of the power is wasted.

Older desktop PC power supplies had 65 percent to 75 percent efficiency, according to Hewlett-Packard. Energy Star also requires PC vendors to ship computers that automatically put monitors to sleep after 15 minutes of inactivity and puts the entire system to sleep after 30 minutes of inactivity. According to HP, the new requirements could reduce PC power consumption by 52 percent, which would save companies as much as $58 annually on electricity costs for each PC.

2. Shift to LCD monitors, which are more energy-efficient than CRT monitors. Grange Insurance in
Columbus, Ohio, is converting all of its CRT monitors to LCD, says Dr. Jeffrey Sheen, lead enterprise analyst.

On average, a 17-inch CRT consumes 150 watts in awake mode and 30 watts in sleep mode, says Sheen. According to IBM, its T series flat-panel monitor consumes 30 to 65 watts in awake mode, and just 3 to 4 watts while asleep.

1 CRT = (8 hrs. x 150W) + (16 hrs. x 30W) =
1.68kW/24 hrs. = .07 kWh
1 LCD = (8 hrs. x 47.5W) + (16 hrs. x 3.5W) =
0.44kW/24 hrs. = .018kWh

An LCD consumes 26 percent of the power, which would cut monitor power costs by 74 percent.

3. To reduce waste, purchase multifunction printers. Also, use double-sided printing and remanufactured ink.

A multifunction printer can fax, scan and copy documents, which means you don’t have to buy a separate printer, fax machine, scanner and copier. All-in-one machines not only consume less energy, they require fewer raw materials to build, says Alex Szabo, CEO of TheGreenOffice.com, a San Francisco startup that sells green office supplies.

To conserve paper, companies should print on both sides. And if the printer is an ink jet, use “draft” mode to conserve ink, Szabo says. Also, consider using remanufactured ink — ink cartridges that have been recycled, cleaned and refilled.

4. Turn off IT equipment that is not in use. Most offices have some IT equipment, such as servers, printers or disk storage, which are on but are abandoned and no longer in use. Find them and unplug them, says Forrester’s Mines.

Businesses should also turn off their computers, monitors and printers at night, says Hodges of GreenIT. If businesses want to save more energy, unplug the equipment from the outlets, too. Equipment that is turned off but is still plugged in continues to draw power. But because unplugging everything isn’t always practical, companies should use “smart” power strips, which stop devices from drawing power when they are off, he says.

Use the power-management settings that send computers, printers and other equipment into sleep mode. Screen savers don’t save energy and may prevent a computer from shutting down, according to the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, a nonprofit organization that promotes energy-efficient computing.

If nighttime software and security updates are important, IT departments no longer need employees to keep their computers on. Employees can put computers in sleep mode. Wake-on-LAN software allows IT departments to remotely power up and update computers at night, says Pat Samples, vice president of information systems at Cooper Communities, a real estate development firm in Rogers, Ark.

5. Embrace the paperless office. Deploy a document-management system that digitizes paper documents and houses them in a central location where employees can access information electronically. The software allows organizations to set policies on document work flow, such as the approval process for a report.

Before turning to document management in 2004, the loan-underwriting process for PMI Mortgage Insurance in Walnut Creek, Calif., was manual and paper-intensive. Mortgage paperwork was faxed to headquarters or sent by courier. Today, the entire work flow is electronic. Materials are scanned in, delivered and accessed over the computer, says Stan Pachura, senior vice president of corporate systems for The PMI Group.

The technology not only has sped the loan-approval process, which has boosted productivity and increased customer satisfaction, but it’s also helping save the environment, Pachura says.

Businesses that are too small to purchase a full document-management system can still manage their documents in an environmentally friendly way. At RecycleBank, employees do not print out documents to read and edit. Instead, they review documents on their computers and use edit-tracking features, such as Microsoft Word’s Track Changes, to mark up documents. Yang installed a file server that provides a central place for employees to post documents for review and approval. “We try to review everything electronically and only print out final copies,” Yang says.

6. Consider videoconferencing and Web-conferencing technologies instead of travel. RecycleBank installed videoconferencing technology in its conference room to hold meetings with its business partners in other cities. It also uses WebEx Communications to allow employees in different cities to hold meetings, share presentations and use an interactive whiteboard over the Web. “People don’t have to fly, so that reduces our carbon footprint,” Yang says.

7. Recycle old equipment. Computers, monitors and other electronics contain toxic materials that can harm the environment if they end up in landfills. Find a reputable recycler that dismantles equipment and recycles the parts, says Samples of Cooper Communities.

Samples sends old computers to a nearby recycling company that breaks down the equipment and recovers the materials that are reusable. The recycling company performs the recycling for free and even clears the hard drives to make sure corporate data is erased, he says.

8. Turn to top-of-rack switching. Grange Insurance is also running fiber along its data center, so there is a switch on top of every rack of servers, Sheen reports. This eliminates the need for “patch panels,” which house cable connections, and means the company buys less copper, which is now scarce, Sheen says.

Which of the following characterizes the adoption of green computing initiatives at your company?

79% We replace CRT monitors with LCD monitors.
70% We recycle old technology equipment.
34% We use server and storage virtualization.
2% We monitor and manage power consumption closely.
10% We use energy-efficient switch technology.

Source: CDW poll of 536 BizTech readers

9. Rethink your server deployment. Companies historically have run one application per server, which is not efficient. Virtualization software can partition a server into multiple “virtual machines,” which act like separate servers.

Each virtual machine, which houses its own operating system and application, shares the actual server’s resources — processing power and memory — but operates independent of the other virtual servers. The improved server utilization and lower maintenance overhead help to cut costs.

A two-processor server running VMware virtualization software can run between eight and 12 applications, says Bogomil Balkansky, senior director of product marketing at VMware. Moving one application from its own separate server into a virtualized environment can save a company 7,000 kilowatts of electricity — about $560 — a year, he says.

Virtualization works as advertised, PMI’s Pachura says. With VMware, PMI collapsed 248 Windows servers into 13. He measures the project’s success by business efficiency, but adds that because the data center’s smaller footprint requires less energy and cooling, he expects to reap savings on electricity costs.

Standardizing on blade servers offers another energy-efficient alterative. Blades consume less power because of their compact design, ability to share the same resources (such as power supplies and cabling), and power management and cooling features, says Ron Kline, director of marketing for IBM’s global SMB business. Grange Insurance, for example, has switched to blade servers and is now 25 percent to 40 percent more energy-efficient, says Sheen.

10. Redesign or outsource your data center. Small businesses can save energy by taking advantage of managed hosting services. RecycleBank, for example, uses five servers, including a managed Exchange e-mail server that it shares with others. By using existing data-center services, his company is not wasting power by creating its own data center with an HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) system, Yang says.

“We’re leveraging an existing data center, and optimizing the use of their facilities versus duplicating it on our own,” he says.

Also, consider redesigning your data center to improve air flow and reduce the power needed to cool the servers, Mines says. For example, companies can reposition or unblock air vents, or reposition servers to prevent cold air and hot air from mixing, he says.

Natural cooling is another option to consider if you have the option of redesigning. Grange Insurance has installed a “plate-and-frame heat exchanger” to cool its chilled water supplies in the winter by channeling the water through the cold air outside. “This saves energy because we can turn off the chillers for at least six months of the year,” Sheen says.