Greening your Information and Communications Technology (ICT)

Green ICT office computers

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems are at the heart of most businesses.  Technology changes so rapidly that keeping up with the latest thinking, systems and hardware can be a daunting prospect. But it’s worth considering as it can have a real impact on energy consumption and costs.

Computers and ancillary office equipment can account for up to 65% of office energy use. Industry estimates indicate ICT is responsible for about 2 to 3% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, similar to the aviation industry’s contribution.

Options for reducing your ICT energy use include:

  • Know your ICT energy consumption: did you know that over 75% of CIOs in Australia have no idea about how much energy their ICT equipment uses?
  • Procure energy-efficient equipment: use standards such as Energy Star and EPEAT in your criteria to evaluate new purchases. 
  • Audit ICT server rooms and data centres: do you need to have this facility located in your office building? Can you use cloud services or outsource it to a dedicated hosting environment provider that is much more efficient?
  • Switch off: switch off devices when not in use and use sleep or hibernation modes for equipment that must be left on. Most desktop operating systems have energy saving setting that you can implement.
  • Consolidate and optimise: reduce the number of items that are used and share devices where possible.

An introduction to greening your office ICT including practical actions are provided below.  Why not start the conversation with your ICT department to find out how the organisation can work together to achieve greater energy and cost savings?

1. Evaluate your office equipment

The first step is to understand existing ICT energy use and associated greenhouse gas emissions by completing an office equipment audit.  The CitySwitch Program has a simple audit toolkit that can be used to take an inventory of office equipment.  Contact your CitySwitch program manager to get support in conducting this audit.  

Some of the recommendations from the audit might include:Using ICT for meetings

  • Removing old or under-utilised equipment
  • Upgrading to flat screen monitors (if you haven’t done so already)
  • Consider switching to laptops with docking stations. Laptops use between 50 – 90% less energy than traditional desktops and have the added benefit of creating a more mobile workforce who can work from home, cafes or client sites, thereby increasing productivity.

Before purchasing new equipment, an ICT sourcing

 policy should be developed. This should not only consider energy efficiency alongside the total cost of ownership (capital and operating expenses), but may also consider the broader environmental and social impacts of ICT equipment. These include:

  • The vendors own track record in sustainability and social responsibility
  • The potential social impacts associated with manufacturing, such as labour and human rights
  • The recyclability of the product at end-of-life
  • The energy and raw materials associated with equipment manufacture.

2. Switch off

The easiest way to reduce energy consumption is to turn equipment off when it is not in use, especially after hours and on weekends. CitySwitch has a guide to running a behaviour change campaign  to engage staff and encourage them to “switch off”.  If physically switching off equipment is not possible, most desktop computers, laptops and printers have power management capabilities to reduce energy consumption (such as sleep mode).  For some organisations these settings can be managed centrally – your IT department should be able to advise on your system capabilities.  In some offices it may be beneficial to install a low-cost energy management system to switch off equipment automatically after-hours.

3. Consolidate and optimise

Consolidating optimises the way your ICT equipment operates. This means using a small number of devices to their capacity, rather than using a large number that are run sub-optimally.  An example of consolidation is retiring numerous small, slow printers or scanners and replacing them with a high capacity multifunction device.  For this approach to be successful, it’s essential to clearly determine the type and amount of ICT equipment needed to meet the organisation’s requirements

 

4. Operate your ICT server room efficiently

The ICT server room in your office can represent a significant portion of the overall energy use linked to ICT.  In general, these facilities typically consume 35–50 times the amount of energy that a comparably sized office space will use, and contribute large amounts of CO2 into our environment. 

Targeting minor improvements in the facility's equipment and processes will cascade into greater improvements in its overall operation. Take a whole systems approach to reviewing and analysing your existing facility looking at the three areas of:

  •  ventilation and cooling
  •  power supply and backup systems
  •  the actual ICT function, data storage and application.

Compared to a typical 'base case', the following improvements could offer energy savings in the range of 20–50%.

 

Ventilation and cooling

  • Allow the server room to operate at higher temperatures and humidity – ICT facilities may operate with acceptable uptime at temperatures in the mid-20s and preferred relative humidity of between 20-80%. Revised guidelines from ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) indicate that traditional operating ranges of 15-20°C are giving way to warmer temperatures, some as high as 27°C.
  • Minimise hot spots in the server room and prevent mixing of hot and cold air in server racks by organising server racks into hot and cold aisles.
  • Replace inefficient cooling systems and/or install variable speed fan drives in the air conditioning system to better accommodate changing cooling loads.
  • Reduce unnecessary airflow and cooling.
 

Power use and supply
 

  • Minimise lighting levels and install sensors.
  • Reduce unnecessary power consumption by removing idle resources and improving the management practices and implementing systematic checking.
  • Replace and update old equipment.

IT function, data storage and application

  • Remove duplicate data (de-duplication) to consolidate storage requirements and decommission old servers that are no longer required. 
  • Apply virtualistion software for control of server activity and to maximise utilisation

 

Seek advice from IT staff to ensure ICT equipment runs under optimal conditions and to prevent equipment failure.  For more in-depth information, see Sustainability Victoria: Energy Efficiency Best Practice Guide. Data Centre and IT Facilities.

 


 

5. Consider outsourcing to an offsite data centre or procure IT as a service 

Outsourcing your IT to a service provider or using cloud computing for some or all systems is increasingly popular.  Specialist providers and facilities have economies of scale and are generally leaders in best practice. They will most likely be running shared servers at optimal conditions, which should be more economical and energy efficient.

In one analysis of a typical in-house facility, an average of just 15–30% of server capacity was used, and even high-performing systems were only at 35–45% of capacity. Outsourcing of data storage – including cloud services – means a significant reduction in the power Green ICT server roomconsumption, cooling, network connectivity and administration demand of multiple systems and servers. Each of these may have low loads yet consume as much power as a fully utilised server.

Most multi-national operators of cloud data management systems have a range of energy efficiency and other sustainability initiatives listed on their websites. These can also be used to evaluate outsourcing options. 

In choosing a provider, make sure they:

  • Are carbon neutral (to what scope or standard)
  • Use NABERS for data centres to track and model their consumption if based in Australia –  see point 6 below)
  • Are certified to ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems
  • Have energy efficiency targets and can support you in ensuring the set up of your rack is as efficient as possible.

Outsourcing your IT converts your IT spend from CAPEX to OPEX as you do not purchase the asset but the right to use the asset or service.  Similarly the associated carbon emissions move from Scope 2 to

Scope 3, but arguably should still be considered when establishing your carbon emissions.

 

6.  If using offsite data centre services, benchmark its performance

If you operate a data centre, or are considering outsourcing these requirements to an Australian provider, a NABERS Energy for data centre rating will help you to understand the efficiency of your facility.  NABERS have developed three tools for data centres.

IT Equipment rating: for organisations that own or manage their IT equipment (including servers, storage devices, network equipment), but have no control over their data centre’s support services such as air conditioning, lighting and security. In most cases this means organisations that lease their data centre space – so they are the occupants but not the owners or managers of the space.

Infrastructure rating: benchmarks the greenhouse gas emissions associated energy consumed in supplying infrastructure services to provide suitable conditions for the IT equipment within the data centre.

Whole Facility rating: benchmarks the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the energy used by the IT equipment and infrastructure services.

 

7. Bring your own device

Many staff have their own personal smartphones and laptops.  Rather than providing an additional device for staff that will use additional energy, consider developing a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy.  A recent survey by Tech Pro Research found that 60% of organisations already allow BYOD, with another 14% of respondents planning to implement it in the next 12 months. This is on the rise across all industries. The previous 2013 survey showed only 44% of organisations had a BYOD policy. Smaller organisations, IT, technology and education industries are taking up this approach to devices at the fastest rates.

 

Aside from energy efficiency gains, a BYOD policy can also improve employees’ perception of your organisation’s flexibility. It also negates the need for unnecessary purchase, charging and maintenance of work machines.

 

There are security issues to be considered and you should make sure any corporate systems have strong protection and regularly updated user authentication.  Talk to your IT service provider about techniques for managing this.  A well worded policy will be needed to articulate the rights and obligations of each party with regard to use and ownership of data, contacts and intellectual property.

 

More

Get your game on and play the CitySwitch green ICT challenge. Have some fun while testing your knowledge and take away practical tips to green your own office ICT. 

A free green office ICT e-book is also now available from The Fifth Estate with ideas and simple solutions to make sure your ICT is running as efficiently as possible.

 
 
  Play the green ICT challenge
 


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