Smart IT | October 2013 Digital Edition

How Green Tech Can Save You Green

Sustainable technology strategies can shrink both your school system's carbon footprint and its energy bills.

This article, with an exclusive video interview, originally appeared in T.H.E. Journal's October 2013 digital edition.

keyboard with a green key

Districts have a responsibility to demonstrate that they are dependable stewards of the future by protecting the environment--but boards and communities also require their schools to conserve funding. These dual purposes are forcing education leaders to address green IT issues as a matter of conscience, budget, and political value. CoSN, the professional association of school system technology leaders, offers a comprehensive "green computing" strategy that covers three areas: Purchase and Disposal, Energy Use, and Reducing Waste.

Purchase and Disposal
Purchasing green technology is a great way to get started in implementing a sustainable technology strategy. The goal is to buy devices made with recycled content, minimal toxins, and energy-efficient electronics and manufacturing processes. The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) is a system to help purchasers in the public and private sectors evaluate, compare, and select desktop computers, notebooks, and monitors based on their environmental attributes.

Given the constant churn of new devices and their relatively short life span, having a green strategy to dispose of e-waste is also critical for school district technology leaders, especially given that the United States has rather lax regulations on proper disposal methods. In fact, more than 80 percent of electronic equipment ends up in landfills, where it takes up space and releases mercury and lead into the soil and water supply.

There are local independent recycling programs available in some regions. Some major vendors have trade-in programs, and many school districts are now moving to leasing as opposed to purchasing, which places the burden of disposal on the vendor. While leaving the disposal up another organization might feel like a relief, if you want a truly sustainable program, you need to choose a company or program that is committed to responsible e-waste disposal.

A number of watchdog agencies, such as e-Stewards, list and monitor e-waste disposal organizations. The Basel Action Network has instituted a program, e-Stewards Certification, to hold disposers to these more stringent objectives, and can help you find responsible disposal organizations in your area. Disposing of Old Technology: Five "Musts" and Four "Shoulds"  from the Technology Recycling Group is another useful resource, as is the interactive map from the Telecommunications Industry Associations E-cycling Central, which shows locations and contact information for e-recyclers in every state. 

Many schools participate in nonprofit programs to refurbish devices that still have some use and donate them to lower-income families to help bridge the digital divide. CoSN offers more disposal and recycling resources here.

Energy Use
While school districts often spend considerable time exploring the cost of end-user devices and servers, the much larger long-term cost of technology is ongoing energy use. Utility bills, in fact, are one of the biggest operating expenses of a school system after personnel. One of the reasons technology leaders may not focus on this cost is that energy bills are paid through ongoing operational facilities budgets, whereas device purchases are often thought of as one-time costs. Smart technology leaders understand that lowering energy costs provides savings year after year.

In fact, CoSN's total cost of ownership (TCO) studies have shown that the one-time cost of the device is really only about 25 percent of its full cost, which includes other related expenses such as professional development, software, and support. When purchasing, districts can save considerable money and energy in the data center (or server room) and with efficient end-user computing. To compute potential savings, CoSN's free energy usage calculator is a great place to start and will likely elicit favorable attention from your finance office.

Server consolidation, or virtualization, has been a hot trend for school districts over the past several years--and for good reason. Data centers consume 10 to 100 times more energy per square foot than typical office or classroom space, and most of that power has nothing to do with processing. In a data center, 45 percent of the power usage is IT load--and only 30 percent of that goes to processors. Servers do nothing more than 80 percent of the time, so only 2 to 3 percent of the data center's energy use actually goes to active processing.

If you haven't consolidated servers already, you should explore how some modest upfront investments will generate long-term and ongoing savings. As a technology leader, this will also make you new friends in the finance office. (See my column on "Making the CFO Your BFF.")

Virtualization can also be taken to the desktop using virtual desktop infrastructure, which means that the user has a keyboard, display, and mouse, while the actual processing takes place on a server or through a box to a single PC. These "thin client" devices typically use about 20 percent of the energy used by a full PC.

Steve Young, CTO for Judson Independent School District (TX), has calculated an estimated 70 percent energy reduction for 3,600 devices by replacing desktop equipment (consuming 120 watts and turned off nights and weekends) with thin client devices. His calculations, which include blade server usage, storage-area network, and the thin client itself, show an annual energy use savings of $75,000. Virtualization in its many forms is further defined in CoSN's EdTechNextreport on "Computing Performance Virtualization," available free for CoSN members. (For more on this topic, see "4 Keys to Designing a Virtual Desktop Environment.)

Also consider how you can be more efficient with regard to cooling. Do you need to put on a coat when you walk into your data center? Current servers can run in a much warmer environment than their ancestors. Yet in many cases, we still hang on to the old beliefs about cooling.
Here are some tips for cooling data centers:

  1. Focus the cooling on processors.
  2. If you have raised floors, make sure that cables are not blocking airflow.
  3. Since warm air rises, cool from above.
  4. In cooler climates, it may pay to pull in outside air.

Modern HVAC and heat exchanger units are also more efficient than their predecessors. If you are keeping old HVAC units alive, it may be prudent to do a TCO assessment of a more efficient HVAC. The same is true for assessing an investment in a more efficient power supply.

Reducing Waste
For well over a decade, CoSN has worked on calculating the TCO of technology (see "Forget ROI, the Future of Technology Investment Is All About Value"). We have found that one of the areas where schools can save money with green technology strategies is printing. "Cheap" ink-jet printers may have a low upfront cost, but they are considerably more expensive to run than centralized network printers. Plus, as schools move to more digital content, you should be encouraging your staff to minimize overall printing. This is a strategy that is both good for the environment and for your bottom line.

One specific tip is to set the default of your printers to duplex (double-sided printing), which reduces paper usage. There are also many network management tools that remotely shut down end-user computers, as well as centralized computer controls that turn building HVAC up or down depending on the time and season.

Reducing travel through electronic means is another energy- and time-saving way to reduce resource consumption. While a virtual field trip may not be as good as actually being there, students can "go" anywhere in the world with videoconferencing and video streaming. Think also of the amount of gas and time required for students and their parents to drive to school to register for classes. Why not move to online registration? Also, with proper help-desk and network-based tools, technician travel and time can be reduced significantly through centralized troubleshooting and problem resolution.

Many districts are now using videoconferencing and online communities of practice to replace or supplement traditional after-hours professional development. This enables educators to have a "just-in-time" learning community, and also saves on time and travel.

Get Seen for Being Green
In order to recognize districts that have taken most of or all of the steps toward sustainable technology, CoSN and EPEAT have worked together to develop a green computing certification program. If you feel comfortable with implementing the tips for purchase and disposal, reducing energy usage, and using computers to reduce waste, then certification is really straightforward. CoSN and EPEAT will provide a certificate and green certification logos for your website and other communications in recognition for your efforts. You can join other leading school districts that are going green by clicking here.


Smart Purchasing and Disposal

7 Things to Remember When Purchasing

1) Check vendor "greenness" through the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT).
2) Buy Energy Star only (ability to stand by and hibernate).
3) Verify for minimal toxic content at the Center for Clean Products and Clean Technologies.
4) Remember that LCD displays use 30 watts, while CRTs use 80 watts.
5) Only purchase printers with power-saving and duplex options.
6) Invest in fewer drives with larger storage capacity.
7) Minimize packaging and documentation copies for bulk purchases.

3 Steps to Responsible Disposal

1) Investigate and set up a responsible vendor or independent disposal program.
2) Donate good, working computers and related equipment to organizations that will reuse them.
3) Don't become an e-waste site for someone else.


Tips to Save Power and Money

    • Remotely turn off power supply and power strips.
    • Encourage users to enable and use the existing power-management capabilities of their PCs.
    • Use management software that deploys log-on scripts that control power-management settings.
    • Implement a computer power-management policy locally or across the school LAN.

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