Upfront - 11

One mans junk …

Last month, my hometown held an electronics drop-off—one of those events where community members are invited to dump their technology detritus (in this case, at a local high school).

When I heard about the event, I figured it was a recycling program, but looking at the flier after the fact, I discovered that the word "recycling" was never used.

Of course, Im not going to track down my stuff to see where it went—Im just happy its gone. And the no-questions-asked mentality was obviously common among my neighbors as well. I got to the drop-off about 20 minutes after the announced start time, and already there were piles of electronic junk all the way down the block. The line of cars waiting their turn stretched well down the street.

Obviously, people will jump at any chance to get rid of their once-prized, but now useless, equipment.

No questions asked? Perfect. I wont ask any, either.

Wending my way to the drop-off point through the growing heaps of equipment, I noticed that CRT monitors were the big losers for the day—scores of them littered the sidewalk. I was getting rid of my first flat-screen monitor—a hideous 17-inch MAG LCD that started looking terrible about 3 minutes after the warranty expired—among other things that had collected in my closet after years of reviewing tech products.

The head of the collection, a man who looked exactly like you would imagine (chubby, curly brown hair, beard, ironic T-shirt), was actually excited to see a flat-screen monitor. "Ill mess with the power and get it working," he boasted.

Perhaps that "contribution," at least, wont wind up in a landfill—yet. —Andrew Garcia

Power down

As it turns out, what should be one of the easiest ways to save energy in IT—turning off PCs not in use—is not so easy to do.

Nor does it seem to be a priority for many IT shops.

Vendors such as Symantecs Altiris have marketed desktop administration tools for years that include the ability to automatically shut off networked PCs after-hours or after a given period of inactivity.

But one customer highlighted in a thumbnail case study a few years ago by Altiris isnt using the Energy Saver Toolkit anymore.

Why not?

"Our corporate policy changed," explained Benjamin Story at Dot Foods, in Mount Sterling, Ill. "It said we couldnt control the desktops that way anymore."

Although Altiris estimated that Dot Foods was saving about $6,000 a year by using the tool kit, those savings werent enough to override other concerns.

Still, the savings can be significant. The federal governments Energy Star program estimates that you can save anywhere from $25 to $75 per PC per year by using the power management features on your PC.

The numbers can add up. According to a survey by 1E and the Alliance to Save Energy, businesses in the United States are wasting about $1.72 billion a year on PCs that are not shut down at night. About 30 percent of all corporate PCs in the company are left on overnight, the PC Energy Report found. For a midsize company that has 10,000 or so PCs, that means wasting more than $165,000 a year in electricity costs for computers left on overnight, according to the survey, which was conducted in May.

The researchers found that about 31.2 million of the 104 million corporate PCs in the United States are left on all night, and the carbon emissions saved by turning off every one of those computers would be the same as taking every car in Maryland off the road.

By implementing the power management functions on 20,000 computer monitors in its California offices, Cisco Systems expects to save $528,000 a year. By expanding that to another 30,000 monitors across its different locations, it expects to save $1 million a year and reduce power usage by 8.5 million kilowatt hours.

Thats enough to power maybe 10,000 homes in the United States for a month. Imagine if everybody used those power management features on their home PCs. Then the 21st century version of "turn off the lights when you leave the room" wouldnt be a common refrain. (Like we need more reminders that we sound like our parents.) —Paula Musich

Not in my back yard

Congrats! You just got your company on board with an aggressive e-waste recycling program. Dont you feel great? Well, hold that thought. Theres a good chance all that obsolete computing equipment you cheerily handed off to the new electronics recycling company wound up in what is essentially the back yard of some family youve never met.

The United States got slammed for turning over its defunct ships to foreign countries for dismantling and reuse—thereby avoiding the possibility of all those icky and hazardous chemicals poisoning our groundwater—and now were handing over our e-waste to someone else to figure out. And, in some cases, that someone else is a poverty-stricken village, bereft of environmental regulations and any kind of measure protecting workers in charge of this "recycling."

The Basel Action Network is a global organization combating the reckless dumping of toxic waste in other peoples back yards and neighborhoods. You, too, will think twice about where your electronic recyclables end up after perusing the organizations very substantial report on the recycling of e-waste in Asia. The report, "Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia," is chockfull of pictures of little kids sitting on piles of computers and other e-waste materials.

Recycling in the poorest of poor countries means the open burning of monitors and desktops. Or maybe your end-of-life electronics take a dip in an acid bath, guaranteed to release horrible chemicals into the air and just waiting to poison the groundwater below. BAN estimates that as much as 80 percent of U.S. e-waste is recycled on foreign shores. Whats more surprising is the wide-reaching, out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality that permeates the high-tech industry. Just the other day I was chatting amicably with an IT manager about a recycling program he heads at his company. I was shocked to learn that he was unsure if his e-waste was being properly disposed of. Even when confronted with the idea that his electronics in the wrong hands might be ruining the lives of a disadvantaged community, his response was, "Once its out of my hands, I dont care about it. I just want it gone." —Tiffany Maleshefski

Dell and the environment

For a long time Dell seemed to be behind the green IT curve.

While rivals such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun Microsystems were busy adopting Advanced Micro Devices energy-efficient Opteron chips, Dell was steadfastly sticking with longtime partner Intel, with officials saying they werent seeing a demand among customers for the AMD technology.

And while those competitors were touting the need for more eco-friendly technology, Dell officials were saying that they werent hearing many complaints from customers about high power bills or the expense of cooling their data centers.

But if the company was behind before, its making up for lost time now.

Since resuming his role as CEO, Michael Dell has aggressively pushed energy efficiency and eco-friendly technology to the forefront of his namesake companys agenda, saying in June that he plans to make Dell the "greenest technology company on the planet." That intent was never more evident than over the past two weeks.

Twice in the span of 15 days, Dell has taken a stage to let anyone who was listening know that his company is not only in the green IT game, but intends to become the leader of it, to have the name Dell synonymous with environmental responsibility.

First it was at a policy forum organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington Sept. 26, where he announced that Dell was going to be a carbon-neutral operation by the end of 2008.

"Never before in the history of business have we seen such a critical need to build a worldwide community dedicated to improving the environment," Dell said at the forum. "Leadership starts at home, which is why we are going carbon-neutral. But this should only be the beginning of building long-term partnerships with customers, stakeholders and suppliers of all sizes to team up and make a difference for the Earth we all share."

Fast forward to Oct. 10 at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, Fla., and there was Dell again, standing before an audience—me included—talking about reducing carbon emissions, making products that are significantly more energy-efficient and recycling. He even said that Dell has its suppliers reporting their carbon emissions, "so we can keep track of them."

You can expect Dell to continue this drumbeat on the environment, as will most other OEMs, chip makers and software vendors. In an industry that has now fully embraced the idea of green IT, dont expect Dell to be a laggard any longer. —Darryl K. Taft

The greening of Houston

When the conversation turns to energy-friendly cities, there are a lot of urban areas that come to mind before Houston. Somehow, the home of big oil, Halliburton, the Houston Ship Channel and (dare I say it?) the Houston Astros does not bring a positive environmental picture to mind. But I guess I thought wrong.

While leafing through the Continental Airlines magazine on a flight from Washington, I read about the airlines efforts to save fuel and reduce its carbon footprint.

When we landed at Houstons George Bush Intercontinental Airport, I saw what the airline was talking about: Instead of hundreds of little diesel trucks that do everything from pulling airplanes around to delivering baggage, Continental Airlines was using electric vehicles.

This was encouraging. Still, on the way from the airport to the Hewlett-Packard facility in northwest Houston, the scenery consisted mostly of multilane highways populated by huge SUVs—in other words, the landscape looked a lot like Washington, but with less traffic.

However, the environmental theme continued when I reached HPs Houston Development Lab. I learned about the organizations plans to make its servers as energy-efficient as possible. Energy requirements have dropped so dramatically that the HP labs entire blade system takes less electricity to run than an electric hair dryer. This in turn means it produces less heat and requires less cooling. I like that even more than electric airline trucks—after all, I dont have to go to the airport to experience it. —Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...