Tech Insights: The Green Article

Ryan Barton

These days, it’s hip to be environmentally friendly. Not since the ’60s has the desire to save the planet been so happenin’. However, good stewardship isn’t just en vogue—it’s also financially prudent. Careful usage of technology is good stewardship by making your organization more “green” and by creating a compelling return on investment.

Simple Practices
As the ’60s generation recognized, revolution only requires many individuals to make small changes. Nowhere is this truer than with energy consumption. Here are a few small steps anyone can take to make an impact:

Utilize Windows power optimization features. Windows provides a number of options for limiting power consumption when not in use, including “sleep” and “hibernation” modes. The “sleep” mode is a power-saving state that pauses most of its power consumption, while still enabling you to conveniently resume full power within seconds. The “hibernation” mode, however, further decreases energy use by saving your open documents and programs onto your hard disk, and then turning off your computer completely (it also is much faster for booting up than turning your computer fully off). In the Windows Control Panel, you can access your computer’s Power Options and customize the settings.

Turn off your screensaver. Contrary to popular belief, screensavers don’t save your monitor (at one time, it was important for CRT monitors). Instead, screensavers simply keep your monitor running and add to your utility costs. According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, some screensavers could cause your monitor to use between 40 and 100 watts to keep it running.

Use green search engines. Although searching the Internet is free of charge, search engines generate millions of dollars each year on ads. There are two search engines, however, that allow users to complete Google searches while also being energy efficient and eco-friendly. Blackle.com functions just as Google does, but without the energy draining backlight. EcoSearch.org, also powered by Google, gives 100 percent of their profits to green charities.

Energy Saving Hardware
Energy efficient equipment not only saves on electricity costs, but also communicates to visitors and staff that your organization is forward thinking, efficient and effective.

Replace CRT monitors with LCD flat panels. Instead of relying on energy intensive fluorescent tubes, LCD monitors use an efficient liquid crystal display. Furthermore, staff members will receive the significant morale boost of not having equipment that looks like it was purchased during the Reagan administration!

Purchase Energy Star qualified equipment. Although many are aware of Energy Star home appliances, some overlook that the same qualification exists for PCs, servers, monitors, scanners, etc. Because Energy Star standards demand 30 percent to 60 percent less energy usage than standard models, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that a full changeover would save the U.S. $2 billion in electricity costs annually.

Replace desktop computers with “thin clients.” A thin client is essentially a mini-computer that allows each user to access programs and files from a central server (known as a “terminal” server) rather than having to host them all on their individual PCs. Thin clients generally cost 60 percent less than a typical PC, and only use 20 percent of the power. Speak to your IT firm or IT manager about whether thin clients and terminal services might be right for your municipality or school.

Virtualize. “Virtualization” allows multiple servers to run on one physical server (or “host”). For organizations with multiple servers, the benefits are significant, including reduced power costs and reduced replacement costs. When engineered properly, virtualization also offers significant reliability increases. If you are involved in technology planning at your organization, make sure virtualization is discussed.

Taking “Paperless” to the Next Level
Although many schools and municipalities have ditched the large paper filing cabinets, stopped printing emails, and taken other steps toward a paperless environment, here are a few often overlooked eco-friendly ways to ensure that paradise doesn’t get paved to put up a parking lot:

Switch to digital faxing. Tired of purchasing new toner simply to receive time share ads? For as little as $10 per month, digital faxing services, such as Metrofax and Efax, allow you to receive all faxes in digital form via email. Not only can you access faxed documents on your smart phone, you’ll be prevented from continually paying for updated equipment, toner, paper and a separate fax line.

Facilitate paperless communications. First, make it easy for staff to store files and communications electronically by making scanners available. Additionally, equip key staff members with smart phones, allowing them to replace paper day planners and calendars, and to receive communications off-site. Encourage staff to stop printing any document that can be stored or transmitted electronically.

Set printing defaults to double-sided. Regardless of how paperless you attempt to be, you’ll inevitably have to print some documents. However, you can cut the environmental impact almost in half by ensuring that your printers and copiers default to double-sided printing. And, if you don’t currently have double-sided printers, remember their potential return on investment next time your machines are set to be replaced. The times “they are a-changin’,” and technology is moving faster than ever, but these simple steps can be implemented by everyone. And the best news is that by doing so, you can save costs, begin a green initiative, and maybe have an excuse to celebrate the ’60s by bringing bellbottoms back… Okay, all but the last, at least!

Ryan Barton is a contributor to the Tech Insights column. He is the president of Mainstay Technologies, an IT firm that specializes in providing technology services for municipalities and other organizations throughout New Hampshire. More information can be found at www.mstech.com.