Saving the environment or just saving bucks?

Green programs and their real value

This week's article in Network World about green data centers is interesting because it reflects the IT industry's growing awareness that we have a serious social responsibility to take care of the environment. While this sounds positive there's a real risk that things that appear to be "green" will turn out over the long run to be quite the opposite.

In our story you can see that a major focus of the organizations is to reduce electrical power wasted by staff. That's an easy cause for most companies to get behind because not only is it green, it has a really powerful additional benefit: It increases profits. This is a win-win situation; less electricity equals less greenhouse gases and bragging rights and greater profits, which makes shareholders happy.

But what about what is going on in the actual data centers? I recently read "10 Simple Steps to a Green Data Center" published in CIO Magazine just more than a year ago. The steps came from Dave Douglas, vice president of eco-responsibility at Sun, and the first actionable tip was, "If you have a server that's six years old, Moore's Law tells us that the underlying silicon technology will have improved 16 times since you deployed that system. Not all of that 16x may translate into savings in energy or space, but a lot of it will."

Here's the plan: Take a load of old servers and replace them with a few new machines that use virtualization to consolidate the operating systems that ran on the old boxes. Great, so we gain some floor space (not a green issue) and we reduce power consumption, but by how much? Perhaps we replace four 500W power supplies with one 1700W power supply for a 15% saving. On the other hand, it might be only a three for one replacement which could increase power consumption by 13%!

But whether or not we save power, there's still a question of whether the idea of retiring old servers is really a green idea. The issue is that the eco-value of replacing the server isn't just the money saved by using less electricity, it is also about the total environmental cost of building the new machine (the impact of the pollution involved and the cost of its abatement) and the environmental costs of disposing of the old machines.

From the perspective of a business the accounting may make sense, but from an ecological accounting perspective the bottom line could easily be pretty ugly. For example, the cost of dealing with heavy metal pollution from chip fabs is enormous. Fabs in the United States are governed by laws and regulations, but outside of the country, well, not so much, and even if those fabs are 6,000 miles away they can still have an impact in Los Angeles and New York. It is this bigger picture that has to be accounted for before you can say that any given eco-program has a positive benefit.

Let me give you another example: A while ago I talked to the CEO of a hosting company who was pushing the idea that it was green because it purchased Renewable Energy Certificates and had a load of solar panels in the parking lot. When I asked whether the company had analyzed its total "greenness", which would include the environmental costs of the rest of the operations and the construction and disposal of the solar panels, he got annoyed. He seemed to think that wasn't the point, but in reality that is exactly the point.

Until you have done a real accounting job that includes the big picture, you haven't saved the planet. At best, you've just built a green image and saved a few bucks.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Mark Gibbs

Network World
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?