5 Steps to Green IT

Companies must build power and e-waste solutions into their budgets and RFPs.

The greening of the technology industry is a trend thats developing with impressive velocity, and with good reason.

According to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, e-waste is the fastest-growing part of the waste stream, and the Environmental Protection Agency estimates e-waste accounts for 2 percent of the municipal solid waste stream in the United States.

Whats more, the toxicity of many materials that drive modern IT operations means that e-waste can end up exacting a higher toll on public health than its 2 percent share would suggest. More than 1,000 chemicals used during electronics production, such as lead, mercury and cadmium, have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems and other illnesses.

Meanwhile, now that technology is as essential to enterprises as the air we breathe, the demand on our power grids has forced technology companies to begin creating and manufacturing more energy-efficient and sustainable products to reduce power consumption.

Certainly, there are environmental reasons for going green, but a green focus also can result in significant savings. Whereas in 1996, when IT departments spent 17 cents of every dollar powering and cooling a new server, IT departments 10 years later were shelling out 48 cents per dollar, according to a September 2006 IDC report. IDC also predicts that number will grow to 70 cents per dollar by 2010. Whatever the goals, IT managers have more options than ever for getting their companies thinking and acting green. eWeek Labs has created the following guide that will help make your company a better friend not only to the planet but also to your organizations pocketbook.


The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition estimates there are 500 million obsolete computers in the United States, and 130 million cell phones are thrown out every year.

Indeed, e-waste is a major problem that can no longer be resolved by tossing end-of-life electronics into a nearby trash bin or landfill.


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Both the EPA and some state environmental agencies mandate the proper disposal of e-waste. For example, Californias Department of Toxic Substances Control requires companies to manage the disposal of CRTs with the same caution and care as they would hazardous waste. Meanwhile, a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives-HR 233, also known as the National Computer Recycling Act-would establish an advanced recycling fee of as much as $10 on desktop computers, monitors, laptops and other electronics. The money collected would be?ö?ç?ígranted to organizations, local?ö?ç?ígovernments and individuals to help encourage collection and recycling of products.

Companies need to create a recycling plan that will address equipment obsolescence. This includes figuring the costs of recycling into your technology budget.

"IT managers need to start allocating money for recycling in their IT budgets," said James Kao, founder of San Francisco-based electronics recycling company GreenCitizen. "We need to start changing our mind-set. Disposal costs need to be built into the budget."

GreenCitizen is one of several organizations that host drop-off locations for e-waste or provide pickup services for obsolete equipment.

GreenCitizen recycles a wide range of electronics and components for free, including computer monitors, laptops, inkjet printers and cartridges, and cell phones. The group also provides e-waste pickup service to businesses for a fee.

At GreenCitizen, discarded equipment is tracked in a comprehensive database, providing information to manufacturers that links recycling behavior to a products end of life.

GreenCitizen also provides this tracking information, by request, to its client companies. To find an environmentally responsible recycling center near you, check out two Web sites recommended by the EPA: the Electronic Industries Alliance site and the International Association of Electronics Recyclers site.

You can also hold your hardware vendors responsible for recycling and disposal.

For example, both Sun Microsystems and Microsoft sponsor active recycling and reuse programs designed to keep electronics out of the waste stream. At Sun, customers can participate in the companys hardware upgrade program, where they can return end-of-life equipment at no cost. Sun then ships the equipment to a third-party vendor, which dismantles the equipment and returns any useful parts to Sun.

Over at Apple, officials estimate that the company recycled 13 million pounds of e-waste in 2006, the equivalent of 9.5 percent of the weight of all Apple products sold since 2000. Apple plans to increase that percentage to 13 percent this year and to 20 percent in 2008.

Apple also processes all its e-waste in the United States to ensure that it isnt improperly?ö?ç?írecycled overseas, where less stringent regulations have resulted in polluted land, air and water. Both the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and the Basel Action Network, a global environmental watchdog group, estimate that between 50 and 80 percent of e-waste generated in the United States is recycled or discarded overseas.

Of course, you can also donate used (but useful) equipment, but make sure that any machines you donate are wiped clean of any potentially sensitive data.

The EPA highly recommends donation of used electronics, and the 21st Century Classrooms Act for Private Technology was created in 1998 to provide tax incentives to large businesses that donate old equipment to public and private schools.

Its important, however, to work with technology specialists at the school or district to which you plan to donate to ensure that they can actually use the equipment and have the staff to support it.

Power is costly, and, as weve seen lately, those costs can fluctuate unpredictably. Luckily, companies looking to reduce energy consumption-whether to help the environment or cut costs or some combination of both-have their choice of many new technologies to assist in that effort.

First, look to purchase low-power hardware whenever possible. Following the EPA Energy Star guidelines, Dell, among other vendors, has created several desktop and notebook products that consume less than 5 watts in low-power mode. IT managers should look for notebooks, PCs and desktops that use less power while in standby or sleep mode or while in use. Another way to cut down on power use is to curtail use of screen savers, which are typically power drains.

In addition, be sure to leverage the power-saving features of your operating systems. Vendors including Apple and Microsoft have developed power management features that help control computers energy consumption.

For example, in Microsoft Windows Vista on the desktop, power management features are turned on by default, according to Stephen Berard, program manager for the Windows Core OS Platform Architecture Team. "If these features are going to be deployed, we thought it better to have them enabled by default," said Berard in Redmond, Wash.

Not all applications power-saving features are deployed by default, however, so you may need to go digging to find them.

The Linux community and Intel have teamed up to reduce reliance on the power grid. For example, Linux platforms with multicore and multithreaded-capable processors use a process scheduler within the Linux kernel (starting with Version 2.6.18) that provides tunables. These tunables reduce the number of processor packages and CPU cores carrying the process load. In addition, there are power-saving features in development for Intel processors using Linux, with the goal of using less power on desktop, mobile and server platforms.

Linux users can also enable power management features in Wi-Fi and SATA (Serial ATA) and by using Gigabit Ethernet speeds only when needed.

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