The Greener Side of Tech

Sure, it’s easy to toss trash into the proper receptacles and to turn off the lights when leaving a room, but how does a university with thousands of personnel, administrators, and students on campus initiate a greener place to live, work, and study? Green initiatives for the higher education sector are everywhere, and there are so many ways that colleges can get involved, from implementing cleaner technologies that use less power consumption to offering vegan dining choices in the cafeteria to properly disposing of old, outdated printers.

Sustainability Initiatives

Sustainability is a big topic these days, and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) is at the forefront, providing resources and support to organizations that want to make their campuses greener. For members who want to improve upon or measure their sustainability performance, AASHE offers a framework known as the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) for higher education institutions. STARS is ideal for a campus in the beginning stages of implementing sustainability measures as well as for institutions that are considered leaders in this area.

Paul Rowland, AASHE’s executive director, says, “STARS helps higher education institutions to better understand the importance of sustainability by providing the resources needed to implement such a program while also helping colleges see what others are doing in this area.” STARS offers a large checklist that highlights various suggestions for higher education participants to earn credit for every change that is implemented. These changes include organic gardening, sustainability-related college courses, trayless dining in the cafeterias, timers for temperature control, landscape waste composting, and telecommuting.

The Wharton School, the business school of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and San Francisco, has implemented a sustainability program, which the operations department oversees. The sustainability program identifies issues and works to identify solutions and implement actions that will help reduce the school’s environmental footprint and promote sustainable behavior, and the results aren’t just about recycling paper from a printer. Jon M. Hunstman Hall, a 24-hour building on Wharton’s Philadelphia campus, has experimented with off-peak hour escalator shutdowns, which have the potential of saving 20 percent to 40 percent in utility costs annually. Over 600 compact fluorescent light bulbs, incandescent, and halogen lamps in Huntsman Hall were recently swapped out for LED lamps, which are expected to reduce annual energy costs by about $13,500 and annual maintenance costs by $49,000, while also significantly improving the lifespan of the bulbs.

The Wharton School has also found some other ways to save energy and costs stemming from the IT department.

Green Technology in Use

IT Technical Director at Wharton’s Philadelphia campus, Marko Jarymovych, points out that green initiatives need to be a coordinated effort between the facilities and IT departments. IT personnel look at technology in terms of how well a particular product meets the needs of a group as a whole, but from a facilities standpoint, things are a little different. Jarymovych explains, “I’m looking at it like this: a classroom needs a particular projector because of its brightness and clarity so that students and faculty receive the maximum benefit from it. However, if that projector’s brightness consumes more power and results in a higher electric bill for the university, then this factors into the decision on whether we should purchase it or not.”

The Wharton School, which educates 5,000 undergraduate, MBA, and doctoral students, and 9,000 in executive education programs, purchased projectors from Epson for its audiovisual classrooms because the products promised a lifespan of approximately five years while also offering various necessary functions.

“Green technology is definitely a motivator in using these projectors, but functionality and reliability were critical, and the bottom line really matters,” Jarymovych says. “There are ways to be responsible in terms of using less energy, but you need to look at the problem from multiple angles so that you get the products that best meet your needs. Operational efficiency is an ongoing process and you need to periodically evaluate your goals and metrics relative to the infrastructure you deploy, so you can maintain the optimal balance between cost and environmental impact.”

Sustainable storage systems, such as the ones offered by Nimbus Data Systems, are an ideal solution for colleges that need to cut costs while also greatly decreasing their environmental footprints. Sustainable storage, or flash systems, operates at higher speeds than traditional spinning disk storage systems yet require less space because they can hold more data in a smaller package. Traditional solutions drain energy and take up entire rooms of space, something many campuses lack.

For college campuses that don’t have the space for more storage racks or the money for high operating costs, all-flash memory storage boasts lower power consumption, lower operating temperatures, and less rack space than traditional disk storage products. “Our customers see an 8:1 consolidation on rack space and a 30:1 consolidation on performance as compared to other competitors. This equates to significant cost savings while also using less energy,” explains Donna Brown, marketing associate for Nimbus Data Systems.

Less Waste, More Recycling Options

Shipping waste hits not only the environment, but also a college’s pocket, so it makes sense for administrators to do their research and find out if other methods for shipping are available. Shrink-wrapping multiple projectors on a pallet is a much greener option over cardboard boxes filled with Styrofoam peanuts.

In addition, what does a university do with 50 outdated projectors that have been replaced with newer, more efficient technology? Do they set those old products out in the trash for transport to a landfill? It makes sense to find out if the company that the university purchases from offers optional recycling and haul-away programs. The Wharton School learned that its old projectors would not end up clogging the ecosystem and old equipment would be disposed of in a responsible way. “This is one of the reasons that I like Epson,” Jarymovych adds. “At the time we were making this purchasing decision, Epson was one of the few manufacturers that offered a recycling program, not just an equipment buy-back or discounting program, for our old equipment regardless of the original manufacturer.”

The Green Process

Green initiatives should become so simple, once they have been implemented, that people almost don’t even need to think twice about doing the right thing. That means that everyone pitches in to help, from the top-level administrators to faculty and down to the students. For those considering going green, Rowland has a suggestion. “Joining AASHE is a way to not only gain great insight into how to implement sustainability plans, but to also receive credibility for making improvements campus-wide,” he says. “It makes the entire process easier than doing it alone.” 

Karen Spring has been a technical writer and senior editor for an IT publishing and consulting firm. Ms. Spring also contributes to a weekly newsletter that highlights network and Internet security topics.