Maric Boudreau and Rick Watson are in the early stages of research that involves monitoring "Green IT," a new environmental movement to combat the startling fact that the global-wide use of PCs, servers, and telecom networks produces as much greenhouse gas as all of the world's airplanes. And for these two MIS professors and a collaborator from Georgia State, there's much more to Green IT than just the computer-generated pollution that's making news today.
"There are actually three strategies," says Boudreau. "The first one is lowering emissions — that's what most companies are focusing on. The second one is cradle-to-cradle design. The third one is actually the use of cleaner technology altogether."
Boudreau cites numerous examples of companies focusing on the first strategy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions with more sustainable products.
Citigroup unveiled plans for a state-of-the-art data center that will reduce energy use by 75 percent, Hewlett-Packard and Dell are committing to recycle electronic products, and Google and Intel have partnered to create energy-efficient computers and components with the Climate Savers Computer Initiative.
"The major producers of hardware are creating better designs that are more energy efficient, but we think that is only the first stage," says Watson. "Really, you have to understand how you can use information systems to make all sorts of other workplace processes efficient as well. Extending the lifecycle is one thing, but what you really want to do is track all the workplace components so that you can recycle them later — and know how to recycle them."
"Herman Miller is a good example of a company that is working on this goal," says Boudreau of the global provider of office furniture. "When they dismantle a chair, their ambition is to use 100 percent of that chair in other products."
But how do information systems support this environmentally conscious approach?
"This initiative led to the creation of an information system and database allowing Herman Miller to assess the extent to which a final product meets the goal of their cradle-to-cradle ideal," says Boudreau. "Herman Miller can evaluate the components it acquires from its suppliers, their exact chemistry and sustainable properties. All of that sequencing is very intensive information and the need to support this design philosophy is how information systems can help."
Boudreau cites Sun Microsystems' Open Work initiative as a major way to curtail pollution and waste and save energy at the same time.
"Sun Microsystems has about 43 percent of its workforce participating in this program, which utilizes 115 flexible office locations worldwide. The Open Work initiative eliminates a lot of physical infrastructure because employees are encouraged to work from wherever they happen to be located. Again, that's impossible without IS."
Zipcar, the Cambridge, Mass.-based car sharing business, is reducing emissions by taking an estimated 15 cars off the road for every Zipcar introduced to a community.
"Our point is that the hardware and energy saving of computers is just the beginning," says Watson. "If we're really going to make his society greener and create sustainable business practices, we have to use computers to create more sustainable systems. Very few people are looking at that. We think there's a much bigger picture."
10 Easy Ways to be Green With Your IT
According to Professor Boudreau, here are 10 easy ways to be more energy efficient and environmentally conscious with technology.
- Turn it off. One of the easiest things Boudreau recommends is turning off the PC at the end of the day. According to Monte Enbysk at the Microsoft Small Business Center, the average user can save up to $90 per year in energy costs while reducing unnecessary carbon dioxide emissions.
- Nix screen savers. Treat your monitor like a TV and shut it off when stepping away from your desk. Or simply adjust your monitor to power off by itself when not in use for more than 5-10 minutes. Doing so saves energy and reduces emissions.
- Give your PC nap-time. Set your PC to hibernate on its own after 10-15 minutes of non-use and get nearly the same benefits of shutting it down, but without going through a reboot when you return. Typical Windows PCs only use 2.3 watts of energy when in hibernation mode — as close to turning it off as you can get, according to Enbysk.
- Be label conscious when you shop. Next time you're in the market to purchase, Boudreau recommends buying electronics certified by Energy Star or EPEAT. "EPEAT is a tool created by the Green Electronics Council which assists in the purchase of 'green' computing systems," she says.
- 'Take-backs' are encouraged. Product take-back programs promote an environmentally friendly disposal of electronic equipment, so buy products from companies with these in place. Apple projects it will recycle nearly 27 million pounds of e-waste, the equivalent of 20 percent of the weight of all its products sold just 9 years earlier.
- Don't be a pack rat. Avoid printing all received documents and e-mails. If you want back up copies, invest in a travel drive. Most are the size of a finger, have lots of storage space and cost as little as $30 to save invaluable information without printing a small library of papers.
- Paper has two sides. Print on both sides of a page to save paper. It is now socially acceptable and also saves you in postage costs when mailing larger documents.
- Use energy efficient display colors. Specific colors require more watts of electricity for your monitor to display-as much as 20 percent more power.
- Use an e-fax product. There are several inexpensive or free services where you can send and receive faxes by e-mail without hardware or software.
- Buy recycled paper and recycle office waste.