Technology

The Eco PC: Less Power In, Fewer Hazards Out

How green is your computer equipment? The answer could provide insight into how much electricity you aren’t buying each month to run your computers and peripherals. It can also provide a clue to how much long-term harm your computing activity is having on the world around you.

The question of green computing becomes more intense as energy issues move from the home office to the corporate office. The trend toward saving cash and saving the environment is becoming much more apparent in enterprise settings.

“The real driver behind the growing green computing movement is that energy costs, customers and shareholders are demanding it. There is less concern about helping the environment, but companies are also seeing an opportunity to grow their business by focusing on green,” Bill Cobourn, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) technology practice leader, told TechNewsWorld.

Green Report

In an industry report for which Cobourn headed the research, PWC researchers interviewed 150 corporate executives from global firms in the software, services and computer spaces. The report, titled “Going Green: Sustainable Growth Strategies,” queried business leaders on their views about eliminating the use of hazardous materials, using cleaner packaging and dealing end-of-life issues involving computer equipment.

Forty percent of technical executives claimed the green movement creates significant market opportunities for their companies, according to the research. Sixty percent of the respondents cited energy savings as one of the most important factors in their company’s environmental decision-making process.

More than 60 percent of executives feel it is very important (29 percent) or important (32 percent) that their companies take steps to reduce their environmental impact.

A surprising result of the global study is the differences in attitudes toward environmental issues on a regional basis, said Cobourn. Overall, answers from respondents within the same global regions showed a great deal of consistency. For instance, European companies face more environmental regulations than U.S. firms.

“I see a trend in the U.S. for having our own environmental auditing as a hedge against getting more government regulations. That’s the U.S. view,” Cobourn said.

Research Findings

Cobourn expects to see a push from government for greater use of green equipment. Some companies are already pursuing that goal by adopting more environmentally aware policies when purchasing products and designing more energy-efficient and environmentally safe products.

“Computing manufacturers — even operating system developers — are paying more attention to environmental issues,” he said. “I expect to see this increase over the next two years,” he noted.

For instance, product makers are starting to avoid the use of hazardous materials. More emphasis is appearing on proper disposal of toner cartridges and recyclable materials used in making computer products, said Cobourn.

Resistance Exists

Even with a trend for greener computing, changing old ways remains an uphill battle. Take, for instance, the experiences of computer products maker 1E. 1E makes green software products NightWatchman and 1EWakeUp that shut down and wake up computers, respectively.

The software allows for computers to be safely shut down centrally at a certain time every night, allowing employees to walk away from their desks without activating the shut down process. Company officials claim that up to 60 percent of workers don’t bother to properly turn off their computers when they call it a day.

The company’s sales team has encountered grow tension between corporate green policy makers, IT managers and facility managers. Executives in the C-suite often like 1E’s “NightWatchman” software because it demonstrates real and easy power reduction that supports green policies. However, IT managers balk at owning it because the facility managers — who pay power bills — benefit most. Facilities managers do not want to pay for it because it’s an IT tool. 1E sees facilities and IT managers grappling to cooperate on projects as a result of the green movement.

Internal Conflict

“We have been selling both our traditional IT products and the NightWatchman PC Power Management product for over eight years. The biggest change that we have seen with the most recent environmental revolution is that selling the power-saving NightWatchman requires close interaction between the C-suite budget holders, facilities managers and IT departments,” Simon Francis, vice president of Energy Solutions at 1E, told TechNewsWorld.

In fact, 1E recently surveyed 100 IT managers in the UK and found that one-third of respondents feel no pressure to reduce power consumption, despite being aware of the company’s wider policy on energy and the environment, Francis added. 1E also found that only 23 percent of IT managers have direct ownership of their corporate power bills, which helps explain this trend.

“1E finds that when it comes to green IT solutions, it’s no longer just an IT sale,” he said.

Corn Computing

Some green computing missionaries have evangelized about helping the environment with safer materials. Fujitsu is one example. The computer maker developed a corn computer line in Japan.

As part of its corn initiative, Fujitsu engineers took a soup-to-nuts approach to finding more environmentally safe products to make computer parts. A major focus of their research focused on corn oil and other corn-based polymers. The research included efforts with using castor beans and other alloy starches. Other materials are not biodegradable.

“Those efforts three years ago produced a computer system made from 100 percent non-petroleum content. Corn-based polymers are readily available in Japan but not in the U.S. So economically, we are not able to introduce that green line in the U.S.,” Richard McCormack, senior vice president of marketing at Fujitsu Computer Systems, told TechNewsWorld.

Industry Standards

Few industry standards currently exist for green computing. Setting the pace for computer product makers may require government regulations much like those the automotive industry received years ago on car emissions, McCormack suggested.

So far, consumers and IT product buyers have few choices. Often, those on the quest for green computing equipment have to balance their zeal for helping the economy with the realities of controlling their budgets. Using more costly alternative products to make a green line product means higher manufacturing costs. However, some standards and certifications do exist.

Greenguard Environmental Institute certification is granted to products that pass tests for up to 2,000 different chemical emissions. The institute has certified more than 150,000 products and materials for emissions of volatile organic compounds and other chemicals.

Epeat (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) is a system to help purchasers in the public and private sectors make green purchases. The organization also provides performance criteria for the design of products and provides an opportunity for manufacturers to secure market recognition for efforts to reduce the environmental impact of its products.

Energy Star is a government-backed program helping businesses and individuals protect the environment through superior energy efficiency. Products in more than 50 categories are eligible for the Energy Star. They use less energy, save money and help protect the environment.

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