How Green Was My Valley is a 1939 novel by Richard Llewellyn and a 1941 film directed by John Ford. It was written and filmed in the days when green was just a colour and not an aspirational life style. I blogged about IBM’s green data centre plans a few months ago, but I wanted to revisit this whole issue.
There does seem to be a lot of misconceptions about what’s green and what isn’t, and it does seem to depend on how you look at an issue.
For example, I have heard it said that because flat screens use less energy than cathode ray tubes, we should all (if we haven’t done so already) get rid of those old screen and replace them with new flat ones. Apparently wrong! Because of the huge amount of energy and resources it takes to create a CRT and a flat screen, it is, in fact, more energy efficient to use that CRT right up to the moment it fails, and then change to a flat screen. This is because, although per hour of usage the flat screen is greener, the total amount of energy it took to extract all the raw materials and then construct the screen far outweigh the energy used by that screen. So we should be using that old device until it no longer works and then change over.
Interestingly, thinking about the raw resources, it has been suggested that a standard PC uses 1.8 tonnes of raw materials.
Another common comment is that recycling computers is a good thing. The idea is that computers contain lots of expensive metals (like gold) so old ones should be stripped down and the expensive metals extracted and reused. Unfortunately, the energy audit for this is quite high. So is there a better alternative? Well yes, or else I wouldn’t have mentioned it! There are a variety of companies and charities that will refurbish computers and peripherals. This refurbished PC could be re-sold or it could be shipped to the developing world – both better choices than trying to regain the metal from the old PC and then using it in a new one. It’s the difference between re-use and recycling.
Storage vendor ONStor recently found that 58% of the companies they surveyed were either still talking about creating a green IT environment, or still have no plans to do anything. But with conflicting and confusing messages that isn't completely surprising.
Things like consolidation and virtualization could help reduce power, cooling, and other operational expenses – and these would therefore help reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, etc.
Of course, we could all do more. Many sites (and many of my friends’ houses) have old machines sitting in cupboards and under unused desks. These could be given to charities and sent on to developing countries. They’re certainly not doing anyone any good gathering dust. And even if the computer doesn’t work, given two or three machines, enough spare components could be put together to get one that does work – and which would the be put to good use.
Even if we’re not concerned with being green, with saving the planet, or helping third-world countries, we are paying the electricity bill. So in terms of simple economics, powering off unused printers and computers and anything else we leave in stand-by mode will save us money and is a way of being green too. I know you can’t power off your mainframe, but there’s often a lot of laptops left on in offices. Think, how green can your offices be – not just your data centre?!