I was in a bathroom today where, as a marketing bod put it, you need to do a "Queen Mother wave" as you walk in to activate the lights, which automatically extinguish themselves 15 seconds after you leave.
Technically, I don't think the Queen Mother does much waving these days, but you get the point. Motion-activated lighting is pretty green.
The planet-friendly facililities in question were at IBM's Auckland offices, where the company today unveiled the results of an Environment, Business & Technology survey it commissioned from the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development (NZBCSD ... and you thought the IT industry had a license on initials out of control).
The online survey canvassed the opinions of 2302 New Zealanders, weighted to match the latest census profiles, but with a special subsection of 200 IT managers.
Some of the results that caught my eye:
IT folk are less green-minded than the average citizen: Specifically, only 55% of people working in IT believe business must become more environmentally-sustainable, compared to 65% of all correspondents.
Dubious: 28% of IT managers did not think it was possible to reduce IT emissions without compromising performance.
IT's a guy thing: Incidentally, NZBCSD CEO Peter Neilsen said this shouldn't be taken to mean computer industry people are more earth-hostile per se; it's more a function of the fact that in the overall survey men were less green, and more men than women work in IT.
IT has a killer carbon footprint: IBM NZ Systems & Technology Group Manager Andrew Fox quoted a Gartner study says information technology was responsable for 2% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions last year - equivalent to all the planet's airline's combined.
IT's getting worse: Technologies like virtualisation are helping us do more with a lot less (IBM's flagship virtualisation project, at the University of Auckland, saw around 200 physical servers reduced to 15 physical servers, which today host around 400 virtual servers. Yet demand is insatiable. By one count, over the next three years the planet will need three times as many servers, and 60 times as much storage capacity.
Accordingly, Gartner reckons IT-related emissions will double over the next four years.
The big stuff is the bad stuff: At a personal computing level, it's good to switch from a desktop to a laptop, or from a CRT monitor to a much less power-intensive LCD, and to always look for new gear that complies to the latest, strictest Energy Star rating (Energy Star 4). But the average laptop is a pretty green beast. It's data centres, and those suburb-size server farms in the US and elsewhere that chug above their weight: Gartner says they produce 30% to 40% of IT emissions. Less than half of that is related to power generated to run the servers themselves. The real killer is airconditioing - $US29 billion worth, last year.
Idle IT: Despite strides in virtualisation, Fox says a recent study finding your average server is idle 80% of the time, and your average processor 70%, is "optimistic".
People won't pay more for green, but will look elsewhere if you ain't got it: A third of respondents said they are more likely to buy a green product. However, only around 3% said they were willing to pay more. The rest offer companies a negative incentive: if you're product isn't environmenally-friendly, they'll skip it for one that is. Neilsen says this offers a "first move advantage" for companies that have made their products greener.
The building I work in is medieval: And so is yours, in terms of environmental-friendliness, at least compared to Meridian Energy's new Wellington HQ (above, centre), which opened last October. For starters, there's no air conditioning, and that means no noise (I hate our noisy air-con!). Rather, everything's done by ventilation, controlled by smart sensors. If things get too hot, cold water is piped through to chill the building's beams. If it gets too cold, heat pumps push through hot water. All drainage water is drawn from a rain-collection tank on the roof (you can take a virtual tour here).
Green IT in action: Meridian CIO Rob Bolton said the new building's green IT enhancements include wireless networking everywhere, and every employee being issued with a laptop and mobile phone as their virtual office. Why is that green? to take one of Bolton's many examples, everyone can walk into a meeting with their laptops, and wirelessly pull the same PowerPoint file off a server. No need for print outs.
Follow-me printing: Bolton has identical Fuji-Xerox multifunction printers installed around the building. Where-ever you are, totting your laptop, you can wirelessly send a file to a single virtual print queue, which automatically prints your document to the nearest Fuji-Xerox. The green angle? Bolton says people used to print screeds of stuff then forget which printer it had gone to; just forget it full-stop; or be unable to find it in an overflow of print-outs once they finally made their way to a printer (guilty! guilty!). As a side benefit, it also stops sensitive documents hanging around random print trays - a problem in every company.
The best server room? None: When I asked Bolton how he managed to chill Meridian's server's sans air-con, he replied the building had no servers. Wellington's CityLink fibre-optic loop meant inhouse servers biffed in favour of hosting with a third-party data-centre (which of course has to power and cool its server farm, but it's a more efficient set-up).
Cold? Feel the data: IBM's Fox pointed out most company's thinking is 40 years in the past. When they get the chance to set up a server room, they think of how many square metres they'll need, not about air flow or ventilation. And similarly, air con tends to be uniform - he compares it to cooling your entire kitchen rather than putting stuff that need to be chilled in the fridge - rather than targetted where needed (IBM has a whole suite of products for monitoring server rooms). Yet a data centre is always going to generate a decent whack of heat.
Fox says IBM is using heat exchange technology to work with several companies in Europe to experiment with using excess server room heat to warm their buildings during winter.
In one case, in Switzerland, IBM has rigged a Zurich company's data centre so it's heat is transferred to warm a next-door swimming pool (see the report in our sister publication TechWorld here).
Learning from the boy racers: Water cooling has long been a fad with case-moders, who bring boy racer frills to desktop PCs. It actually used to be the fashion in corporate IT circles too. And now, with electricty prices sprialling every-upward, it's making a come-back. Fox says water-cooled server racks are 4000 times more efficient