Thoughts on the Green Computing Summit

thompson80By John Thompson
Editor, Green Computing

The conference, held in Washington, DC, on December 2-3, 2008, presented “incremental approaches to the greening of agency operations, within the bounds of government procurement, budget and regulatory requirements.” There were two tracks for participants – Track 1: Greening Federal Operations and Track 2: Virtualization – For the Data Center and Beyond. (Click here for the presentations.)

green_computing_summitMy panel presentation – “How Green Are Your Operations?” – was the first offering in track one. The other panelists included Juan Lopez from the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive, Dr. Ed Piñero from Rochester Institute of Technology, and Rob Pinkerton from Adobe Systems. A copy of my prepared remarks should be available at the conference presentations site shortly. The ensuing keynote was done by Dr. Daniel Esty, who is the Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University and the author of “Green to Gold.”

Day two started with another keynote, “Environmental Design and Energy Efficiency for Federal Facilities: An Executive Perspective,” by Kevin Kampschroer, Acting Director, Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings, Public Buildings Service, General Services Administration. He offered his insights into how to build green, energy efficient buildings. I spoke with him afterwards (and got his business card) as my college, Buffalo State College, is constructing a new science building and after that a new technology building. My department will be moved into the latter. I hope that these two pending structures will incorporate energy efficient designs. As pointed out by Kampschroer, energy saving design does not have to increase building cost. When asked how you can push for green design without being obnoxious about it, Kampschroer quickly advocated being obnoxious, if that’s what it takes. Unfortunately, I could not stay for day two’s concluding luncheon keynote as I had to go to the airport for my flight back to Buffalo.

Here are some selected notes from the keynotes, presentations, and table conversations:

  • The federal government prefers using “electronic stewardship” over “green computing.”
  • The federal government spends $60B (as in Billion) annually on electronics, making it the biggest IT user in the world.
  • There is an increased pressure for e-cycling at “end of life” for electronic equipment. Just discarding old tech stuff does not cut it any longer. One federal government program – Computers for Learning – directs excessed computers and related peripheral equipment (e.g., printers) from federal agencies be made available free to schools. All the necessary information is available at its Web site.
  • PC users can save $75-100 per PC per year using power management techniques on their desktop computers.
  • The green wave is not cresting. It’s more like a tsunami.
  • There is an underlying logic to eco-computing: save energy, reduce costs.
  • A lot of acronyms (a lot of federal employee presenters and participants in the audience) and green phrases like “carbon constrained future” were bandied around.
  • There is a price for inaction on green computing. Doing nothing can cost more than action.
  • There is a need for more efficient servers for IT.
  • Cool equipment, not rooms, in your IT operations.
  • Prioritize – what’s strategic, ROI (return on investment).
  • Kaizen – in chaos lies opportunities.
  • Government’s role is to incentivize, not control.
  • thompson28dec08Telework (aka telecommuting) agreement does not necessarily mean employees never go into the office. Barriers to telework include perceived loss of control (cannot manage who you cannot see), security, and negative impressions of past efforts.
  • Videoconferencing reduces pollution, speeds up decision making through increased communications, aids in recruiting and retaining employees, reduces travel costs and increases productivity, and enables real time face-to-face communication with remote employees.
  • Measure, measure, measure (e.g., energy costs, carbon emissions). What gets measured gets done. Conduct baseline of energy use with an energy audit. Implement your green initiatives. Measure again. Repeat.
  • Environmental Protection Agency has an energy savings calculator.
  • Green buildings:
    • Placing lights as close as possible to work sites reduces the amount of light needed.
    • Install waterless urinals.
    • Wireless sensors provide more local user control.
    • Install a green roof.
    • Challenge assumptions and “business as usual.” As the old saying goes, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.”
    • Possible to put up buildings that achieve 50% reduction in energy needs with no additional capital expense.
    • Giving users control for lighting leads to less light used.
    • Use LED lights (less energy, less maintenance).
  • US government has approximately 445,000 buildings with three billion square feet (and leases another 57,000 building with 374 million square feet).
  • Paper represents 37% of trash that is thrown out. One ton of recycled paper equals one acre of trees.
  • Successful program needs supportive leadership.
  • The Business of Green.
  • Greenbuild International Conference and Expo.

When I got back home, I put all this in a report to those who subsidized my travel to DC. I explained that the Green Computing Summit was a very worthwhile experience. We’ll have to see what changes on my campus as a result. But I’m going to talk with my department to start making some changes (e.g., use less paper, PC power management). Every journey of a thousand miles . . .