What do toxic waterways have to do with your business?

01 May 09

IT Brief takes a closer look at green IT and what is means to be a “greenie”.
If  you followed the life cycle of a computer where would you expect it to land up? In a landfill full of other technological waste in a remote part of New Zealand or perhaps somewhere offshore. Despite global efforts to combat factors contributing to climate change, it seems – at least in terms of recycling – that out of sight sometimes really is out of mind. According to Greenpeace, the ICT industry does not make up a huge amount of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, that is 2%, but when the manufacturing of electronic equipment, the consumption of power and the ecological cost of transporting technology products are combined, it amounts to 15%. Greenpeace estimates that between 20 to 50 tonnes of electronic waste is dumped around the world every year. But putting green strategies into action is about more than reducing the amount of power a company uses. It is about being responsible, ethical and ultimately accountable, Greenpeace told IT Brief.
Greenpeace communications manager Suzette Jackson said companies needed to publish how they recycled waste in their annual reports to make people accountable. Jackson said mountains of electronic waste were being sent to developing countries to be dumped. She added that New Zealand was “lax on recycling regulations”. Greenpeace followed the life cycle of a TV from the UK, and it ended up in Ghana in a primitive recycling plant. “People were burning off PVC to get the copper wiring. Toxic waste was leaching into waterways in remote places in Mexico, Thailand and Africa. We saw children dismantling electronic equipment without any protection.
 
These are key reasons to switch from mercury and lead-based products and replace them,” Jackson said. Greenpeace has challenged companies to stop using vinyl plastic and brominated flame retardants in the manufacturing of technology components. It said companies such as Apple and Nokia had taken up the challenge, but that other major brands had shown a “disappointing slump” in reducing the amount of toxins used during production. In December, world leaders will gather in Copenhagen to discuss the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol and steps that need to be taken in the fight against climate change. Jackson said Greenpeace was calling on the IT industry to provide real solutions for the “imminent threat of global warming” and to join its IT Climate Leadership Challenge.
Samsung, Philips, Dell, Nokia and HP have made commitments to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they produce. Greenpeace said Nokia was now sourcing 25% of its electricity from renewable energy. Jackson said the international aim this year was to get influential IT executives to lobby government for policy change on global warming before the summit in December. In order to prevent further damage to the planet, it has widely been agreed that the global average temperature needs to be kept below 20C, Jackson said.
Jackson added it was important for consumers and IT managers within small, medium and large organisations to question recycling and how much of New Zealand’s electronic waste was being shipped offshore. Jackson said companies that reached sustainable recycling requirements would further encourage other businesses to dispose of technological waste responsibly. “As a nation, New Zealand is not particularly proactive about recycling; it is not part of a mainstream consciousness.”
 
As with many electronic devices, it is often cheaper to buy new products than have older technology repaired – especially when a company is overhauling entire IT systems. Greenpeace claims that New Zealand – per capita population – has the highest cell phone usage of any country in the world.
“The problem with this is consumerism over consumption. There are limited resources today and limited places in which to dump discarded technology," Jackson said, adding that any company in a position of power or leadership had an opportunity within the political and business arenas to have a positive impact on climate change. "There are opportunities for businesses to take carbon dioxide by the horns and become real leaders and draw consumers to their products. New Zealand needs to be very careful not to brand itself ‘clean and green’ if we are not living up to the phrase.”
 
Green IT seems to be on everyone’s agenda, including the world’s most influential countries and its leaders – the issue was highlighted as a key concern at the G20 Summit in London recently.
 
The summit, which was attended by leaders from the developed and developing world, met to discuss the global financial crisis, as well as other issues such as healthcare and education. The G20 makes up 85% of the world’s economic output and its leaders have agreed to move towards more clean, innovative, resource-efficient and low-carbon technologies.
 
The summit also announced that Green IT was an area that would receive massive stimuli from countries such as China, the US and UK, who have prioritised the ecological and economic benefits of sustainable technology in its bailout packages. Cloud computing and virtualisation were discussed as areas that would receive more long-term investment, in a hope it would further reduce IT costs and carbon emissions. The US government, under the new Obama administration, is allocating 13% of its $US100bn stimulus package to combating climate change. China also announced at the summit it would use a third of its $US580bn stimulus for green measures, with sustainable energy and efficiency its main concern. But what is the best way for a company to put a green IT strategy in place? Is cloud computing the answer to both data storage and ecological woes?
Emerson Network Power Australia claims there are enormous energy savings, and therefore reductions in power consumption, to be had by incorporating an ERP system. Emerson Network Power director of marketing Peter Spiteri said: “When I think of ERP, I think of a seamless flow of information for a company. ERP is an optimised business model, taking separate systems and turning it into one centralised, virtualised system.
 
“There are enormous energy savings involved; people don’t think there will be, but when you have a single database for human resources, logistics and finance, there can only be savings and power reductions.”
Spiteri said electricity consumption could be reduced by combining all those functions into one system, as it would take less energy to power a single system than it would numerous and would also reduce cooling costs. “Computer rooms can get pretty hot, from discs spinning that push heat into systems. The reduction in heat saves money – there is no question about that.
 
“People are driven by money and savings, which is achievable through ERP. The less electricity used to power and cool a system, the greater the reductions in energy costs. It’s saving money that drives businesses to seek efficient energy sources, that and a consumer demand to be seen to be ethically enlightened with environmental issues.”
Emerson Network Power said the next big thing in ERP would be cloud computing. The benefits for such a platform would be that certain checks and balances would not need to be run in real time and therefore could be performed when energy consumption is not at its peak.
 
Spiteri said this could reduce costs, as businesses and power companies could negotiate when maintenance could be run to prevent power wastage.
“It would help power companies to know when checks are going to be run on ERP systems, in terms of how much energy it would consume. Would they reward companies that use power out of peak hours, would it create less power issues for them? This is something they would need to discuss with power providers.
 
“The bottom line is profitability. If the ERP solution is run out of a cloud, then it doesn’t matter whether a company is based in Italy, Bolivia or New Zealand, as the peaks in power usage would outweigh each other due to differences in time zones. Reconciliations don’t need to be done during peak hours.” Spiteri said businesses need to consider two options: the traditional ERP system or the virtualised system through clouds.
“For a small business, setting up an ERP system through a cloud might be more financially viable. Major New Zealand companies such as the Bank of New Zealand might have a replicate system in-house with a data recovery plan in place in case there is a power shortage. A company should never have all its eggs in one basket in terms of backed-up data. And most (New Zealand) companies don’t have the luxury or the size to have an in-house solution; most need to have their ERP system backed up by a third party.”
 
Emerson Power Network is working with companies such as IMB, Dell, Cisco and HP to measure and quantify how much money could be saved by reducing the amount of energy a company uses. Spiteri said this would give IT managers a useful tool when calculating the current draw of power and how much could be saved by investing in more efficient equipment. He said the trend to consolidate multiple legacy systems into a single platform eliminated duplication and made systems easier to manage. But a side effect of amalgamating systems was that they could become more power-hungry than before. This in turn could increase the cost of powering the platform and become a liability for an IT manager. Spiteri said it was essential that systems including ERP used efficient equipment in data centres to prevent energy wastage. 
 

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