Learning To Implement An Effective Green ICT Strategy

Tom Worthington FACS CP HLM

Adjunct Lecturer, Australian National University

For IT Financial Management, Sydney, 3:20pm, 10 August 2010

The first globally accredited Green Information Technology course for computer professionals commenced in January 2009. The course uses Moodle to teach how to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Sponsored by the Australian Computer Society as part of an international program for professional education, the course now run at the masters level by the Australian National University.

Course designer Tom Worthington discusses how to build policies to initiate Green ICT, design a strategy to manage the total cost of ownership, appointing vendors with a green procurement policy and enhancing capabilities and value for money with consolidated data centres and applications.

Tom Worthington FACS CP HLM

Tom Worthington preparing to depart the USS Blue Ridge by Military Helicopter during Exercise Tandem Thrust 97 Joint Operations Control Center (JOCC) on aboard Blue Ridge during Exercise Tandem Thrust 97

Here is the usual bio I provide for conference:

Tom Worthington is an independent ICT consultant and an Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science at the ANU. He designed the Green ICT Courses for the ACS and ANU. Previously he advised on IT policy at the Department of Defence.

Tom was the founding chair of the ACS Green ICT Group. In 1999 He was elected a Fellow of the ACS for his contribution to the development of public Internet policy in Australia. He is a past president, Fellow and Honorary Life Member of the ACS, a voting member of the Association for Computing Machinery and a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

One experience at the Department of Defence, while doing web pages for military exercises, seems relevant to this conference. At the invitation of the web master of the U.S. 7th Fleet I visited them on the Flagship on exercises off the coast of Queensland, for some extreme mobile computing. The 18,500 ton, 1,550 crew USS Blue Ridge is a mobile floating headquarters, equipped with ordinary desktop computers used to run military exercises. Standard office software and web browsers are used. This reduces the cost and allows systems to be easily upgraded. Temporary staff, such as the US Marines bring their laptops and stick them to the desktops using green gaffer tape.

The lesson from the US Navy was that that IT requirements need to be in simple to survive.

Four Steps to Green ICT

  1. Build policies to initiate Green ICT
  2. Design a strategy to manage the total cost of ownership
  3. Appoint vendors with a green procurement policy
  4. Enhance capabilities and value for money with consolidated data centres and applications

Build policies to initiate Green ICT

Many organsiations see "Green" issues as a task of their marketing and corporate relations department: add sustainability to the list of Corporate Social Responsibility topics, donate some money to plant some tree, give some old computers to charity and the job is done. However, I suggest that green issues are not going to go away any time soon, as witnessed by the current debate in the federal election over climate change. Organisations therefore need to have real green policies to ensure they have staff trained to understand the issues and deal with them.

Design a strategy to manage the total cost of ownership

A policy on green IT has to consider the total cost of ownership. There is little point is giving managers green targets which conflict with financial ones. Green issues need to be considered alongside financial ones when considering purchases of hardware, software and services. In teaching Green ICT to students who are encouraged to use real data from their organisations in assignments it is clear that many organisations do not consider TCO when making decisions, with or without green considerations. As an example, an analysis of one major organisation showed that its printers were consuming about ten times as much electricity as they should. Further analysis showed that there was nothing wrong with the printers, it was just that the organisation had purchased ten times as many as was needed. They had been advised that Multi Function Devices (print/scan/copy) devices where more cost effective than separate stand alone units. So the organisation replaced each of their separate small devices with a large MFD, providing ten times the capacity needed. This not only wasted a lot of energy, causing greenhouse gases, but wasted a lot of money.

Appoint vendors with a green procurement policy

Business is about relationships. An organisation cannot simply have a long laundry list of requirements when purchasing products, it needs to do business with people who are like minded. If a business has green ambitions, it needs to look for like minded businesses and form a relationship with.

Enhance capabilities and value for money with consolidated data centres and applications

There are two elements to green ICT: measurement and reduction. These can be applied to not only reduce the environmental impact of ICT operations but enhance value.

The easiest way to reduce the environmental impact of ICT is by more efficient use of hardware and applications. Most computer systems spend most of there time doing very little. Consolidating onto a few larger systems can reduce the amount of equipment needed, the cost of the equipment and the energy it needs to run (provided the load can be balanced). It takes about as much energy for the cooling system to remove the heat from a computer as the computer uses to process data, so the savings are magnified.

Many organsiations have already picked the low hanging fruit, by consolidating servers onto a few virtual servers. This can be taken further, by replacing legacy applications with ones designed to run in this environment. Applications can be redesigned to use a simplified web interface (particularly using HTML5) which can removed the need for dedicated desktop software and hardware. In many cases the user can replace their desktop computer with a smart phones, tablet, net-book or thin client computer.

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions with ICT


Climate Scientists have recommended a 25% to 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020. This is substantially more than reductions which have been debated in Parliament, such as 5% to 15% in the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill.

Computers and telecommunications (ICT) are responsible for 2.7% of Australian greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report for the Australian Computer Society. This is primarily from the burning of coal to generate electricity to run computers and telecommunications.

The Climate Group estimate that more effective use of computers and telecommunications can deliver a reduction of 15% in emissions. This would be by using ICT more efficiently so it uses less energy and applying ICT more effectively so that emissions from industry are deduced.

Existing ICT infrastructure can be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions relatively quickly, without the need for extensive new investment in equipment of infrastructure. However, this does require ICT professionals to have new skills to measure emissions, design systems to reduce emissions and convince their clients to do so. These skills can be provided using e-learning.

Green ICT Course As an Example of a Consolidated Application

The ACS and the ANU use the Australian developed Moodle open source Learning Management System. This is used to provide forums for students to discuss what they are learning, not just receive content prepared by teachers. The techniques of using mentored collaborative on-line learning for computer professional education were developed for the ACS by David Lindley. This allows a full formal university level education to be provided with the student never having to attend a campus. Apart from saving the providers the cost of classrooms, this save on energy expended in student travel.

Both ANU and ACS decided to have their e-learning systems hosted by specialist e-learning providers. As a result the systems are running on shared server also used by other institutions and students, reducing cost and environmental impact. This consolidation is actually a byproduct of the need to have specialist staff maintaining the e-learning software.

Mobile Devices and iPads

The Moodle system used by ACS and ANU is designed to work with accessible standards compliant web pages on standard compliant web browsers. As a byproduct of this the application can be used on a smart phone, such as an Apple iPhone or Google Android device, a tablet computer, such as an Apple iPhone, as well as on a net-book. As a result users do not need a full size laptop or desktop computer. As well as giving them more freedom to work where they want and not be desk-bound, money and energy are saved when a low power hand held device is used in place of a larger device.

It is not feasible to have every copmp[uter application run on a remote server. However in many cases a simple Offline Web applications as provided for in the HTML 5 draft standard will be sufficient. This allows caching of relatively static content on the client computer, with limited creation of new content offline, and then synchronisation when on-line. Such a system can be implemented relatively simply with HTML5, without the need for additional software on the client computer. Having only a limited offline capability can be an advantage to a business, as it prevents too much corporate data from being held outside the control of the corporate data centre.

More Information

  1. Green ICT Strategies COMP7310, Masters program, The Australian National University, from July 2009
  2. ACS Green ICT Course
  3. Green ICT Book
  4. Tom Worthington
  5. This document is available at: www.tomw.net.au/technology/it/green_ict_strategy/

Slides for these notes are also available.

Copyright © 2010 (Version 1.0, 26 July 2010) Tom Worthington

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