Schools can save money while reducing their impact on the environment.
Most schools have never been flush with money, but the current economic crisis has put additional stress on school budgets. Taking on new projects generally means spending money that districts just don't have right now. But implementing a green computing initiative can save money while helping to save the planet. Now is the time for school IT, facilities and business departments to review their power utility statements.
It's likely that 20 to 25 percent of those power bills can be attributed to the data center (or server closet), end-user computers and related equipment, according to the Department of Energy. Data centers alone use 10 to 100 times the power per square foot than other office or classroom space.
Green computing involves the purchase, energy use, disposal and use of computers to reduce waste of natural resources. With appropriate policies, practices and sometimes a small investment, great strides can be made toward becoming responsible stewards of our natural resources while setting a positive example for students and the community.
Green purchasing entails selecting environmentally friendly products that contain minimal toxins and primary metals, while using recycled materials when possible. It is also important to select products that use less energy over time, through low power processors and sleep or hibernate features. Help is available for making green purchasing decisions for desktops, notebooks and monitors (and soon, servers): Many manufacturers are certifying their products with Energy Star 4 and EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool), which take into account materials, energy use and end-of-life criteria.
The best opportunity for saving money is in reducing the power consumption of the networked environment. It's important to set policies concerning end-user computing and evaluate data-center options. The keys to reducing power consumption by computers and related equipment are measuring energy usage over time and providing incentives for reductions to the IT budget. Few chief technology officers are responsible for monitoring IT power consumption, and most already have too much to do to take it on.
You will need a baseline of current energy consumption to measure progress toward reducing it. There are software tools for end-user computing and hardware monitors for data centers. If you are looking for a decent, quick estimate of energy usage oriented to K–12 organizations and covering both end users and the data center, there is a free energy usage calculator on the Consortium for School Networking's Green Computing website (www.cosn.org/greencomputing).
For end-user computing, consider a “turn it off” policy using sleep or hibernate features or network-based measurement and management software, such as Power Save from Faronics.
Data centers (or server closets at smaller schools) can require as much power to run air-conditioning and power supplies as they do servers. Any reduction in wattage used by servers is more than doubled when taking into account chillers, humidifiers, computer room air-conditioners, universal power supplies and power distribution units. When considering that servers frequently run at 10 percent utilization or less, there is a lot of energy consumed by idle cycles.
E-waste is a major world problem: Reusable materials are not recycled, and toxins such as lead and cadmium leach into groundwater and streams. With few U.S. restrictions in place, it is estimated that more than 80 percent of old computers, cell phones and other electronic equipment ends up in landfills, mostly in Third World countries. It is interesting to note that there is salvage value in most of these disposed computers.
The U.S. government and individual states are rushing to catch up with much of Europe, where strict e-waste regulations are in place. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the international Basel Action Network have developed regulations for recycling and disposal of e-waste. Both EPA and BAN post lists of recycling / disposal organizations that meet their regulations.
Computer technology can be used to save money and our natural resources in several ways, including reducing printing, limiting travel and managing energy use for buildings.
There are several ways to get more energy efficiency from printers, including consolidation of printers and copiers into multifunction devices. While consolidating printers is a good strategy, another effective tactic is to reduce what is actually printed. The question to ask is, “What are we printing today, and how much of that can be managed electronically through online forms and web-based applications?” There is certainly an opportunity to reduce paper for school or district internal communications, and there also might be e-mail and web-based opportunities for student and parent communications.
Travel also has costs and related adverse effects to the environment. It makes sense to investigate current travel by students, teachers, IT support and other staff, and to search for alternatives to minimize the need for travel. If student field trips are being curtailed because of budget restrictions, this might be the time to introduce virtual field trips through video conferencing or video streaming. It's not just like being there, but with this technology students can visit almost anywhere in the world.
Likewise, staff from around the district can meet via video conferencing, conference calls or a growing number of web-based online meeting services. Also, travel time for IT end-user support personnel can be reduced by implementing centralized support functions through help desks and remote management tools.
For managing energy use in your buildings, there are utility management and reporting tools that audit, track and analyze utility consumption and costs to identify opportunities for significant savings.
Now is the time for schools to save money while reducing the impact on our environment, setting a positive example for students and the community.
Here's a breakdown of end-user electricity consumption in office buildings by activity.
28% - Cooling
26% - Office equipment
22% - Lighting
8% - Other
7% - Ventilation
6% - Space heating
1% - Refrigeration
1% - Water heating
1% - Cooking
EDTECH Quick Poll
Which of the following best characterizes your organization's philosophy when it comes to green computing initiatives?
31% - We are looking into green technology options.
44% - We are not deploying significant green initiatives.
12% - Don't know
13% - It's a management-driven initiative.
Source: CDW•G poll of 536 IT administrators
10 Ways to Green Your School IT
- Include a preference for EPEAT Gold or Silver certification in requests for purchase.
- Consider blade servers, and compare total wattage as a part of the purchasing decision.
- Measure (or estimate) current energy usage, implement energy saving plans and measure again.
- Provide energy use reduction incentives to users and the IT department.
- Use end-user computing sleep and hibernate features.
- Improve data center cooling by focusing cold air on hot spots, using outside air and removing obstructions.
- When replacing printers and copiers, go with multifunction units to reduce idle run time.
- When purchasing new computers and other technology, negotiate for trade-in at end of life.
- Contract with a responsible local e-waste disposer.
- Find a way to donate usable computers to a charity, depending on your state regulations.