News Corporation today announced its strategy to address its use of energy and impact on the climate. The company's goals are to reduce its operations' carbon emissions significantly and to engage its 47,000 employees and its millions of readers, viewers and web users around the world on this issue.After the opening of a green office building in Canberra, I got to thinking about how the computer profession could help the environment. We might have a Green IT Special Interest Group, or work with the Australian Information Industry Association's Environment Special Interest Group. Technologies such as Thin Client computers could be used to reduce energy and materials use (as well as reduce Australia's balance of payments deficit).
All News Corporation business units will become carbon neutral by 2010 – through energy efficiency, buying renewable power and offsetting otherwise unavoidable emissions. Becoming carbon neutral is only the beginning of the company's permanent commitment to change the way it uses energy and to reach its audiences on this issue.
From: News Corporation Launches Global Energy Initiative, Press Release, News Corporation, 9 May 2007
But the reaction from colleagues has has mostly been: so what? Some energy could be saved with more efficient computers and some materials saved by recycling, but computers don't use much energy and materials, so the savings would be minimal, compared to consumption from transport, homes, offices and factories. They argued this was not a mainstream interest for ICT professionals and should be left to engineers and environmental specialists.
However, I suspect that the environmental impact of computers is far higher than realized, particularly in service industries and economies. In places where there is little farming, mining or manufacturing, such as Canberra, and in the CBD's of Australian cities, computers and telecommunications will have a significant impact. As more home owners install broadband routers, wireless networks and digital home entertainment networks, the energy consumption from computers will increase.
As an example, News Corporation estimates its operations produced 641,150 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2006. But News Corp is in the business of film, television, magazines, newspapers and other publishing. So they don't manufacture much physical product, apart from printed material. They can provide employee incentives to use hybrid cars, increase energy efficiency and buy renewable power. But most of their business is in producing information. Therefore ICT should be able to help make that business more efficient.
News Corporation has released a 34 page document dealing its aims and outlining techniques for greenhouse reduction. The Global Energy Initiative has eight sections:
- Commitments, Targets and Goals
- Carbon Footprint
- Strategy: Reductions, Renewables, Offsets
- Working with Partners
- Engaging Our People
- Offsetting Unavoidable Emissions
- Reaching Our Audiences
- Supporting Materials
We're not an industrial company, or an airline, but we do use energy in our activities: publishing newspapers, producing films and television programs, operating 24-hour newsrooms and so forth.The plan includes IT as one area for energy reduction:
We want to make energy efficiency part of our everyday operations and switch to renewable sources of energy wherever economically feasible.
We intend to reduce our use of energy and find energy from renewable sources – enough to decrease our carbon footprint in 2012 by 10 percent compared with 2006.
We plan to become carbon neutral by 2010 – by offsetting emissions we can't avoid.
We want this to impact every single part of this corporation.
From: Global Energy Initiative, News Corporation, May 2007
Information TechnologyNews Corp could reduce computer energy use further by careful configuration of the energy saving features already built into their PCs. Another way would be by providing efficiently formatted electronic documents. The Global Energy Initiative document itself is distributed as a 2 Mbyte PDF file. Millions of copies of this document will be transmitted and stored on computer systems around the world, each one consuming energy and resources. Only 2% (37 kbytes) of this document is text, the other 98% is high resolution images and formatting. If the document was provided as a series of web pages, with appropriately sized images, the environmental cost of storing and transmitting the document could be reduced by about 90%. Australia leads the world in technology for producing efficient electronic documents.
Electricity consumption associated with computer use in our offices data centers is growing. As our operations and employees rely more on technology, this component of our carbon footprint will continue grow. We are actively pursuing initiatives that will lower the electricity of our computers and servers while continuing to increase productivity performance. We are also encouraging our people to turn off PCs, lights when they're not in use.
In one office we discovered that just by turning off an automatic screensaver we could reduce power consumption of computers by a third.
From: Global Energy Initiative, News Corporation, May 2007
This is an example of how ICT professionals could help with environmental sustainability. Some others might be:
Energy and materials reduction of ICT systems: This is direct savings from more efficient computer and telecommunications systems. Examples are using energy efficient equipment, such as thin clients and enabling energy savings options such as screen savers. New technologies need to be evaluated to see if they can be used in practice.
As an example of a new technology which needs evaluation, Motorola's MOTOFONE F3 mobile phone uses an Electronic Paper Display (EPD). EPDs use much less power than other display technologies. However, they have limitations, such as limited (or no) color, and a slow refresh rate. This may limit their use or require applications to be modified for use. But just as Motorola have used the EPD to build a low power, low cost cell phone, the technology could be used to build low power, low cost tablet computers.
Smart control systems: The use of energy and materials can be reduced by using computer control. An example is the Melbourne City Council's CH2 green office building, with computer controlled water and energy systems. These systems can be made smarter to take into account the individual needs of each person in the building, to make them more comfortable, while reducing environmental impact further.
At the domestic level, as example would be a smart controller for a hot water recirculating system. A householder can save money using a solar hot water system. But the hot water tank may then be a long way from the taps. As a result water is wasted waiting for the hot water to arrive at the tap. A hot water recirculating system has a pump to circulate the hot water past all the taps. This reduces water use, but may increase energy consumption from the pump and heat lost from circulated water. An intelligent controller could observe the water use by the household and optimize the use of the pump, to balance water and energy use.
Smart E-Commerce Systems: Energy and materials consuming processes can be redesigned using new electronic commerce systems. People can be encouraged to use less, by more efficient computer based market mechanisms. As an example, renewable energy and water recycling systems are expensive, capital intensive and require expert installation and maintenance. It is difficult for each householder, or business, to afford such systems. If the equipment can be shared in a remote plant, on cluster housing or a multi-tenant office building, that reduces cost. However, the cost of the system has to be shared out amongst the users and the cost of using a conventional billing system may more than the cost of the equipment. Also a conventional billing system may not be able to give the customer enough feedback on their use to give them an inventive to act environmentally responsibly.
Electronic Training for Energy Efficiency: Sustainable development will require retraining of ICT professionals and many other people in industry. If this was done in the conventional way with people traveling to purpose built classrooms, it would have an adverse environmental impact in itself. Computers and the Internet can be used to help undertake this training, with a lower environmental impact.
There have been a large number of amendments to the Australian Building Codes for energy efficiency:
Annual energy Amended by deleting subclauses (a), (b) and (c) because the ABCB Protocol for consumption Building Energy Analysis Software details the requirements applicable to the methods used to determine the annual energy consumption of a building. ...The construction industry will need considerable assistance to train personnel in the codes, keep up with the changes. Computers and telecommunications can be used in the training and to provide computer support to implement the codes.
ABCB 2006 Protocol for House Energy Rating Software, Version 2006.1: New Protocol referenced to facilitate acceptance of new generation of house energy rating software. The 2005 version is retained to allow current software to continue to be used. ...
JV3(b)(i)(C) A new condition has been added for lighting when calculating the annual energy consumption of a referenced building. ...
Specification JV Clarification added that there is a credit equal to 50% of the renewable energy generated on Clause 2(e) site rather than 50% of the annual energy consumption. ...
J5.4(a)(i) Exemption added for equipment with insulation levels already controlled under the Minimum Energy Performance Standard program. ...
Table J5.4c Unit of energy efficiency ratio added. ...
From: List of Amendments to the Building Code of Australia 2007 - Volume 1, 22 February, 2007
The Housing Industry Association's GreenSmart principles for builders provides information for builders on how to construct environmental homes. They provide easy to read online guides to introduce builders to the concepts.