Gathering Green

Low-hanging fruit for today and stretch goals for tomorrow, to save you green by going green.

Chief Technology Officer Arvind Thapar wants to bring new green technology to his company, but his proposed initiative -- installing wind turbines to generate power -- is decidedly outside the usual realm of IT.

Thapar is still preparing his formal pitch to First National of Nebraska, the Omaha-based financial services firm where he works, but he says initial reaction to the idea has been positive -- something he wouldn't have expected five years ago.

His experience clearly shows the shifting winds of our times.

Leading businesses are looking for ways to get green. Some are motivated by concern for the planet; others by the cost savings or the marketing advantages that can come from more environmentally friendly policies. Often, they're driven by a combination of factors. In any event, IT has a key role to play.

Here's a checklist of suggestions from Computerworld's Computerworld's Top Green IT 2008 winners, to get you started and keep you moving in a greener direction.

Low-Hanging Green Fruit

1. Limit paper use

The paperless office is still a dream. Each year, the U.S. goes through 4 million tons of copy paper, 2 billion books, 350 million magazines and 25 billion newspapers. This can lead to deforestation, and the paper manufacturing process produces carbon dioxide.

But IT can take simple steps to cut corporate paper use.

London-based BT Group PLC moved printers from desktops to central locations. That forces workers to get up when they want to retrieve printed material -- which helps deter excess printing, says Donna Young, BT Group's head of environmental climate change. The IT staff also set printers to automatically use both sides of the paper.

Other World Computing in Woodstock, Ill., controls paper use by sending managers reports of what's been printed so they can spot excess usage and try to curb it, says CEO Larry O'Connor.

2. Buy renewable energy

This is an easy one: Contact your power company to see if it offers electricity from renewable energy sources (many do), such as wind or solar power, says Austin Energy CIO Andres Carvallo.

There are a few caveats, though. Unless you can persuade the facilities folks to get green energy for the entire company, you might have to limit it to just the data center (where CIOs usually have more control over power supplies). You'll also have to persuade the finance people to shell out a little extra money, at least to start.

Carvallo says green energy usually carries a premium -- Austin Energy charges 20% extra for it -- although many power companies, including his own, lock in the price for multiple years, which means your green power could soon be cheaper than electricity from conventional sources.

3. Use power management tools

The nonprofit Climate Savers Computing Initiative estimates that using power management features for desktop computers can save more than 600 kilowatt-hours of electricity and about $60 annually in energy costs per computer. Multiply that by the hundreds -- or thousands -- of PCs you have in your IT shop, and you can see how this simple action can turn into a lot of green.

To maximize energy savings, the Climate Savers Computing Initiative recommends putting monitors and hard drives to sleep after 15 minutes or less of idleness, with system standby occurring after 30 minutes.

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