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Power up your green IT strategy

Power up your green IT strategy

Environmental consultant Clare Taylor explains why you need to look closely at your IT resources.
I.T. is often very low profile in printers’ green strategies. But IT is important. It has great potential for carbon reduction – remote conferencing and webinars instead of travelling; e-commerce and Web-to-print; email, ftp and all the other ways of getting documents and files from A to B without using materials or transport. However, the equipment is energy-hungry, uses potential harmful substances (such as mercury in backlights for screens) and some very scarce resources, and there are waste issues at end of life. So IT needs managing to get the best environment result – and to be part of the solution, rather than the problem.
Although electronic communications tend to be seen as the greener way, all is not quite as at first appears. For example, PrintCity’s recent report ‘Carbon Footprint and Energy Reduction’ (www.printcity.de), states that whereas pulp, paper and printing account for an estimated 1 – 1.5% of global energy, internet data centres were forecast to use around 4% of global energy consumption in 2010.

Choosing your equipment
When buying IT equipment, obviously the first thing to look at is performance. But take a little time to review environmental performance too – and not just for computers and screens, but also telephones, printers, copiers, scanners, routers, hubs and any other communications or IT equipment.
First look at energy efficiency. According to Energy Star, a small office network (two PCs) can use as much as 1300 kWh or as little as 130 kWh per year – a difference worth making. You can save money indirectly too: much of the energy used is wasted as heat, which in turn increases air conditioning bills.
Many of the harmful substances can now be avoided; choosing from manufacturers who do so, and who use recycled materials, again makes a difference.
Internet search facilities can help make it easier: the Green Electronics Council has its EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) website www.epeat.net. Focusing on energy, www.eu-energystar.org even has an energy calculator to compare whole life costs, and tips for managing energy.

Saving energy day-to-day
To help keep bills down, make sure that all the energy saving features are activated: they often are not. Computers and monitors should be set to power down to sleep if left unattended for more than a few minutes – screen savers do not save energy - and all the various printers, scanners, copiers also set to go on stand-by when not in use, and turned off at night. Some items can be set to turn off automatically.
Ensure staff are aware of their role; according to Global Action Plan’s ‘Green ICT Handbook’, a third of employees in the UK don’t switch off their computers at the end of the day. Many still believe that it’s better for them to be left on, but hard drives today are designed to cope with being turned on at least 40,000 times in their lifetime (see www.greenict.org.uk). Other ways to shave energy bills are unplugging mobile phone chargers when not being used, and staying with fixed phones where practical instead of cordless.
Marking equipment with red, amber and green stickers can help – use them to show what must always be left on (servers, for example), what can be always be switched off and ‘ask before switching off’.

Safe disposal
The final part of the story is disposing of your equipment. Working items can be refurbished for re-use; but check the credentials of who you choose to do this. Recycling what can’t be re-used is very important – those rare and precious minerals can be used again, as can many of the other materials. As mentioned earlier, many of the substances used in the equipment are potentially harmful – although not hazardous while you’re using it, they do make it hazardous to dispose of unless it is done properly, so you do have legal obligations: check the ‘Environment and efficiency’ pages at www.businesslink.gov.uk. BBC’s Panorama recently reported on what happens to old equipment in the hands of unscrupulous dealers: on the Panorama website ‘Track my trash’ is available until May 2012, and really brings home the need for controls.
Overall, IT is as important a resource for its environmental benefits as it is for printing and running a business – but only when managed well. Buying well, managing energy in use, and taking care it ends up in the right place when you’ve finished with it makes all the difference in the world.

Further information on energy and carbon can be found at www.greenprinter.co.uk. Clare Taylor can be contacted at clare@clare-taylor-consulting.co.uk

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