The Achilles' heel of the environmental movement is that all too often, the green option is the more expensive option. The beauty of green IT, a collective term used to describe the myriad practices aimed at lowering the environmental impact of a company's IT infrastructure, is that it is one of the rare instances when you don't have to choose between the bottom line and doing right by the environment. In fact, employing green IT practices can help businesses save thousands of dollars each year. Here are eight ways to get started.
Use virtualization software
Chances are that your company's server room is filled with machines that are underused. "In very many cases, we see that IT departments buy more than they need," says Robert Houghton, president of electronics recycler Redemtech. Using virtualization software helps the IT department optimize the computing power of each server. The software, which essentially turns each server into several virtual machines, lets the IT department easily swap applications from one server to another if one gets overloaded. Because servers are more fully utilized, that reduces the number of them you must buy, maintain, power, and cool.
Virtualization software helped Steve Kolbe, CEO of Baltimore IT consulting firm Analysys, reduce his server count from 20 to four. "The cool thing is that not only are you reducing the amount of technology you're using and reducing power consumption, but you're actually increasing the reliability of the information system," he says. Kolbe estimates that Analysys's green IT initiative saves the company more than $13,000 a year. Virtualization software for small businesses, such as VMware's vSphere, can cost from about $1,000 to $3,700. Microsoft's virtualization software, Hyper-V, comes with some versions of its Windows Server 2008 operating system.
Share the electric bills
"I find it amazing the number of IT directors who don't get to see the electric bill," says Chuck Schaeffer, CEO of Aplicor, a Boca Raton, Florida–based software manufacturer. At Aplicor, before the energy bill goes to the CFO for payment, it first makes a stop at the IT director's desk. "If the people who are selecting and managing the equipment are not seeing the electric bill, that's a lost opportunity for them to do better," says Schaeffer.
Today's computers are typically 40 percent to 50 percent more energy efficient than machines from just a few years ago, says Pat Tiernan, executive director of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, a consortium of green-minded companies. "About half of the energy older equipment sucks out of the socket is just wasted as heat," he says. Tiernan recommends shopping for Energy Star–rated computers that have at least an 85 percent efficiency rating. Replacing desktop computers with laptops that employ ultralow voltage processors will save even more electricity. "Laptops have been designed soup to nuts for power efficiency," says Tiernan.
Of course, disposing of the old machines offers some environmental challenges of its own. Electronics recycling is not a well-developed industry, and some less-scrupulous recyclers simply ship old components to foreign countries, where they are landfilled. Most computer makers offer recycling options. Dell, for example, offers its customers free recycling or the option to donate unwanted computers to charity. For a list of electronics recyclers in your area that have pledged to recycle responsibly, check out e-stewards.org.
Ditch the screen savers
The biggest misconception about screen savers is that they conserve power. They don't. In fact, using a screen saver may actually consume more electricity. Tiernan suggests instead setting computers to go into sleep mode after they have been idle for a few minutes.
Take charge of the machines
Only about half of the nation's workers shut down their computers when leaving the office at night. Energy Star, an environmental initiative run by the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, estimates that using a network power-management system, which automatically powers down computers at night, can save $25 to $75 a year per PC. The technology, available from companies such as Verdiem, 1E, and Faronics, helps ensure that no documents are lost when the machines are powered down.
Power-management software can cost roughly $3 to $15 per computer for a one-time license fee for a minimum of 1,000 or more users, but utility companies often offer rebates to cover the cost of installing the software. Energy Star also offers a basic power-management program, EZ GPO, for free on its website.
Tone down monitors
Most computer monitors are by default set to the brightest setting, which uses about two times as much energy as the dimmest one. Dimming the screens a little will decrease power usage as well as reduce eyestrain. "It's probably not going to save you hundreds of dollars, but it will put a few extra dollars back into your pocket," says Tiernan.
Invest in power strips
Even when they are turned off, peripherals such as computer speakers and scanners still draw power from the outlet. The Department of Energy recommends putting those things on power strips to help eliminate what is known as phantom power draw. When the equipment isn't in use, flip the strip's off switch.
Don't forget about the printers
Many companies leave printers on at night and over the weekend. "That's just writing a check to the utilities for no real reason," says Tiernan. Adjust the settings so printers automatically power down when they are not in use. Tiernan also suggests business owners encourage their employees to print on both sides of the paper. Not only will the company help save some trees, but it will save on paper costs.