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 newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Mark Gibbs

Network World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?