The real problem with 'Green IT' — and how to solve it

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The real problem with 'Green IT' — and how to solve it

FlickrOberlin College
Oberlin College is one of more than 30 signatories of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment that conserves power and saves money with Green IT.

You’ve probably heard you can save energy by automatically putting idle computers into a low-power sleep mode. It’s true, and the savings can be substantial: According to Energy Star, the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh has saved nearly $80,000 annually (PDF) by power-managing just 2,900 faculty, staff and student lab computers.

With savings ranging from $30 to more than $300 per computer over three years, computer power management is a business no-brainer. But even if you’ve already approached your IT colleagues about the opportunity, there’s a good chance that the initiative has gone nowhere. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency thinks that 70 to 80 percent of U.S.-based organizations still haven’t acted, even though the opportunity has existed for over 10 years. How can this be?

When it comes to green IT, at least three issues get in the way of doing the right thing.

1. Misaligned incentives

The IT department calls the shots when it comes to managing computer networks, but it doesn't pay the electricity bills. When we work with companies to reduce their IT energy costs, the IT manager often meets the person who pays the utility bill for the very first time.

2. Competing priorities

An IT manager’s job, first and foremost, is to keep computer networks up and running. Security threats, viruses, malware, hardware failures and software upgrades ensure that this job remains deeply challenging, and that all other initiatives take a distant back seat.

3. Lack of expertise

Energy efficiency is almost never a part of an IT professional’s training. The time it takes to research energy-saving strategies, tools and techniques is often significant enough to serve as a barrier to action.

Hence the problem with “Green IT”: The people we most need to act have the least to gain from doing so.

So what can you do? As a sustainability, Environmental Health & Safety or facility manager, you’re probably accustomed to championing such initiatives, but in the case of green IT, you’ll likely need more than charm and grit on your side.

This brings me to the good news. We’ve figured out a way to move organizations past these barriers to action. And it works, consistently. In fact, more than 30 signatories of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) are already saving with computer power management alone. Here’s how to join them.

1. Estimate your savings potential.

Show your colleagues in facilities, finance, operations and IT what computer power management could mean to the bottom line. Energy Star will show you how.

2. Put an IT energy efficiency expert on your team.

Any organization can take advantage of free one-on-one expert phone consultations from Energy Star. Setting up a call between your IT manager and a Green IT expert can transform your initiative from an abstract idea into a concrete implementation plan in as little as an hour. And it will cost you nothing.

3. Call your electric utility representative.

Many utilities sweeten the pot by offering cash incentives to organizations that power-manage networked computers. Just be sure to talk to your utility company before starting work — these incentives are not available if you’re already saving energy.

With technical help from Energy Star, the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh took advantage of Windows 7’s built-in power-saving profiles, activating them across networks with features available in Windows Server 2008 — something they were already using anyway. As a result, their out-of-pocket project costs were zero.

Technically speaking, there are dozens of ways to power-manage networked Macs and PCs, and many are free. An Energy Star expert can help you identify the best method for your unique IT environment, whether you’re a university, a government agency or a corporation. Best of all, the services are free.

To schedule time to speak with an expert from Energy Star, visit the Low Carbon IT Campaign website or send an email to [email protected].

To learn more, please register for our free June 16 webinar, "IT Energy Savings for Non-techies: Identifying and Understanding Opportunities to Reduce Costs." This event is sponsored by Energy Star and hosted by Second Nature and AlterAction.