Climate Corps 2010: Four Ways to Plug in PC Power Management

My summer as an EDF Climate Corps Fellow making the business case for energy efficiency and carbon reduction at eBay Inc. has officially come to an end. 

Despite my uncertainty of finding low-hanging fruit in energy efficiency at an environmental leader like eBay, I found my stride and was able to calculate the energy savings of a number of computer power management solutions.

Thanks to this project, and a few smaller projects on facility upgrades, I was able to dig in and provide recommendations that will be implemented across eBay Inc. Through my success working on computer power management at eBay, I found four key takeaways for working on sustainability and energy efficiency:

1. Touch Base with Departments Across the Company 

During my first week at eBay Inc., my supervisor set up introductory meetings for me far and wide across workplace resources, information technology, data center strategy, finance, procurement and corporate communications departments.   As I started my internship, I focused on projects related to eBay’s facilities and data centers, and did not initially work with the other groups I had met. 

Thanks to these introductions, however, the IT department remembered my skill set, and approached me in mid-July to analyze the energy savings of a variety of options already under consideration. Our initial meeting was necessary in connecting organizational needs to the resources and skill set I provided.
  
2. Use the Ratings Systems Available. 

I found a number of green and energy-saving ratings for computers, including RoHS, Energy Star, and EPEAT. The most comprehensive is the EPEAT certification, which includes RoHS and benchmarks against Energy Star so that any computer with an active EPEAT certification must have the latest Energy Star rating. 

A business or individual trying to purchase the most green and energy-saving computer can therefore reference this certification. However, the certification itself highlights the great distance still to go by computer manufacturers in order to achieve truly sustainable computers. Of the 51 criteria for certification, only half are currently used in providing a rating.  Additionally, many of the required criteria are still in a stage of disclosure (e.g. the manufacturer has to disclose whether there is recycled content, but is not yet required to have a certain percentage).
  
3. Remember, Performance Correlates to Energy Use 

When it comes to computers, a higher-performing machine uses more energy. For example, while it is true that a laptop consumes less energy than a desktop during the use stage of its lifecycle, the performance capability of a laptop may be insufficient for certain IT environments, particularly those that run 24/7 and are heavily used for multimedia and programming. 

I found it necessary to stratify the computing performance needs by different types of employees, so that each type of employee had the lowest-energy consuming computer possible without sacrificing performance. Interestingly, lifecycle analyses suggest that laptops also consume less energy than desktops in the manufacturing stage, and therefore have overall lower energy consumption total when compared to desktops. Given that desktops are typically priced lower than laptops, this indicates that the price of desktops is not indicative of the energy use in manufacture.
  
4. Include Both Purchasing and Behavioral Solutions

When addressing computer power management, a policy is incomplete if only focused on purchasing low-power computers, such as those that are Energy Star rated. IT organizations need a systematic method for ensuring the Energy Star power-saving settings are being used by employees. Since behavior change can be difficult, power management software provides an excellent solution that allows IT to override excessive energy consumption by individual computers.

Megan Rast is a 2010 EDF Climate Corps fellow at eBay Inc. and a member of Net Impact. She is an MBA candidate at Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley. Further coverage of the Climate Corps program is available at GreenBiz.com/edfclimatecorps. This content is cross-posted at Vault and the Environmental Defense Fund Innovation Exchange Blog.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user AMagill.