Everywhere you look here in Copenhagen, you see computers. Laptops. Smart phones. Netbooks.
With so many of the world’s prominent leaders and stakeholders plugging in, it should not go unnoticed that “staying connected” does have an environmental impact. Alexander Wissner-Gross, an Environmental Fellow at Harvard University, has estimated that every second someone spends browsing a simple web site generates roughly 20 milligrams of C02. We know that our virtual environment impacts our natural environment through energy consumption, manufacturing and waste.
Given that information and communications technology (ICT) is a major growth area of the global economy, it’s critical that we start thinking about how our time online or checking e-mail contributes to climate change. Today, we had the chance to catch up with Lorie Wigle, Intel’s General Manager of Eco Technology and President of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative. One of the leaders in the movement to reduce the environmental impact of technology, Wigle offered some of her thoughts on the role of technology companies in addressing climate change:
Q: How is the tech industry working to increase the energy efficiency of IT?
A: We’re collaborating as an industry – meaning we collectively are innovating to address some very complex problems such as power management and next generation adoption. That is where Climate Savers Computing plays such a key role – competitors coming together to bring the industry as a whole forward. In addition, we’re making sure that both businesses and consumers understand the impact that the use and purchase of IT has on the environment. We want them to be a part of the solution in reducing energy consumption.
Q: You mentioned collaboration among competitors. How are companies that compete in the marketplace working together on environmental issues?
A: I was just telling someone Copenhagen is probably the first time that all eco-leaders of the global technology companies are in the same place at one time. That’s a big deal. As part of Climate Savers Computing, major companies such as Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Intel and Microsoft are working alongside the World Wildlife Fund and U.S. EPA’s Energy Star program. We recognize that the issues facing the industry are so complex that no one organization is going to have all the answers. We’re building workgroups that are creating new technical specifications for power supply efficiencies and guidelines for power management specifications. It’s the expertise of many that has allowed this to be successful.
Q: What is one thing you think people should do to reduce their carbon footprint from IT?
A: The easiest, lowest-hanging fruit is to simply power down your computer when it’s not being used – when you leave your office or desk. Also, making sure that your computer’s settings are in place to put it to sleep when in an inactive state. Most people probably don’t realize that as much as half of the energy consumed by our computers is wasted as heat, or that the heat generated can drive up energy costs further from air conditioning.
Q: With consumers demanding reduced energy use from computers, how will the sector move forward to meet that demand?
A: Across our industry, the tech sector is developing systems and products that provide the most efficient operating systems, data systems, software, and hardware. The challenge will always be ensuring consumer awareness about the benefits of current and next generation technology, and that there’s renewed demand as new innovations come to market.
Q: How is Climate Savers Computing involved with advancing energy-efficient computing in emerging markets such as Asia, and what challenges lie ahead for increasing awareness in those regions?
A: There are more than 1 billion desktop and notebook computers in use globally. It is projected that will increase to 2.25 billion by 2015. India, for instance, is the sixth largest producer and consumer of energy in the world. It is projected that with growing computer penetration, especially in the smaller markets, energy usage will increase. The India chapter of Climate Savers Computing is striving to address the development of more energy efficient computing devices by educating organizations and individuals in smart practices of power management. Emerging economies such as China will be major forces in the adoption and use of ICT systems. The challenges in these regions are diverse, but we’re focusing on how to address the issues of increasing demand for energy and awareness of efficiency practices.
Q: Do you think government needs regulations or incentives to increase energy efficiency in IT?
A: I’ll say that incentives are important. The EPA Energy Star program has been a tremendous partner in helping educate consumers and businesses about the cost-savings from power management. Federal agency procurement guidelines already require the government to purchase EPEAT certified electronics, including computers. I think that if more people understood that by reducing the energy consumption of computers by half we’d save $5.5 billion dollars a year, that’s the best incentive out there.
Kevin Tuerff, CEO of Green Canary Sustainability Consulting and President of EnviroMedia Social Marketing, is reporting for Environmental Leader from the UNFCCC in Copenhagen, Denmark. More updates available at GreenDetectives.net. Disclosure: Climate Savers Computing is a client of EnviroMedia Social Marketing.