Tips to Shrink Your Digital Footprint

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When Google revealed the energy intensity of its data centers last year, it brought attention to the environmental implications of our information technology (IT) infrastructure. On the one hand, these technologies have allowed us to forgo travelling to distant meetings for virtual interaction, store files electronically rather than cutting down trees for paper, and work remotely instead of spending long hours commuting. But the energy required for computing and storing data is growing rapidly. Here are some ways we can shrink our digital footprint:

  • Switch to the cloud. Encourage your workplace to consider storing digital assets offsite in a shared data center (otherwise known as the “cloud”). Most large data centers are more efficient than storage available on-site. Many data centers have sophisticated cooling technology, are better able to match server capacity with demand and increasingly make use of renewable sources of energy. Organizations under 100 users, especially, could cut their IT carbon emissions 90% by switching to the cloud. 
  • Ask IT companies to buy renewables. IT companies, like other businesses, are still getting most of their energy supply from coal-fired power plants and other polluting sources. Read a recent Greenpeace report How Dirty is Your Data to see where internet giants like Amazon, Facebook and Twitter rank on renewable energy usage and tell them to shift away from fossil fuels and nuclear.
  • Choose efficient devices. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), much of the energy used in computing comes not from distant data centers, but from the devices we use every day. Efficient computers can use up to 80% less energy than their thirsty counterparts. Check out Energy Star and Top Ten USA for lists of the most efficient devices.
  • Utilize green apps for energy monitoring. Research shows that when people know how much energy they’re consuming, they use less. New software can deliver real-time information on the emissions generated by buildings, transportation, construction and more. For example, Oberlin College has a user-friendly web-based electricity and water monitoring system for their campus buildings. At the individual level, smart phones apps like Carbon Calc and Meter Reading can monitor energy use. Perhaps the greatest potential for IT is in its deployment for the smart grid.Ciscospaget
  • Check your power settings. Ensuring your computer automatically shuts down when not in use is the single biggest energy saving opportunity on most computers, according to NRDC. This can be achieved at the organization level too by managing power from a central server as Oakland University has done. Also keep peripherals like scanners and printers unplugged if you’re not using them.
  • Get certified. Some schools are now offering courses and or degree programs in green IT. Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK offers a master in green computing. Schools like Boston University and Omaha College offer courses that address sustainability issues in their IT programs and organizations like CompTIA provide green IT certification for professionals. If sustainability isn’t a part of your IT training program, let the school’s administration know that they should offer such courses – green computing is the future of computing, after all.
  • Donate or recycle electronics. Much energy is expended producing and shipping electronic devices, so it’s vital to get as much “mileage” out of them as possible. Reusing electronics also keeps harmful metals and plastics from reaching landfills. The EPA maintains a list of places to donate used electronics.

 

Resources:

Saving Energy and Reducing Carbon in the Cloud (Microsoft)

Cool IT Challenge (Greenpeace)

Systems Thinking for Radically Efficient and Profitable Data Centers (Rocky Mountain Institute)

IT's Low-Hanging Fruit: PC power management software saves money, energy (Environmental Defense Fund)

Are you a technology professional? Have any other ideas for greening IT? Share them with us in our comment section below or on our Facebook page! 

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(Photos: Dropbox by Johan Larsson; Cisco Spaghetti by Christopher Macsurak)

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