Credit Al Gore, David Suzuki or common sense, but it seems everyone is jumping on the enviro-friendly bandwagon: award ceremonies (last year's Oscars showcased hybrid limos and recycled paper); furniture (like Herman Miller's sustainable design initiatives); even this year's Toronto International Film Festival had a green component.
Another business sector is also hoping to go green - information technology.
Momentum is building for data centres to U-turn from power over-consumption to a more energy-efficient path. Data centres, massive computer farms that store business information and facilitate Internet traffic, often require up to 50 times more power than comparable-sized offices. The industry is projected to double its energy consumption between 2006 and 2011.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking the issue seriously. In a report to Congress last month, the EPA called on I.T. managers to install new energy-saving technologies and prioritize enviro-friendly solutions. Otherwise, the EPA said, I.T. centres will continue contributing to global emissions problems.
One of the main issues is cooling. As little as 30 per cent of the juice flowing into data centres is used to run computers; the rest keeps air conditioners running 24/7 to counteract the scorching heat produced by computers or racks of servers.
Neil Rasmussen, chief technical officer of data centre equipment supplier American Power Conversion Corp., told Associated Press that even a 1-megawatt data centre will rack up $17 million U.S. in electric bills over 10 years.
A major group looking to curb this unfriendly trend, and many others, is the Green Grid, a consortium of 80 tech companies that want to improve the energy efficiency of data centres.
Based in Portland, Oregon, the group aims to offer guidelines, resources and best practices for managing existing and designing new data centres in an eco-friendly manner, says Colette LaForce, Green Grid board member and vice-president of marketing at Rackable Systems.
She says the Green Grid can change the way data centres operate.
"[We're] planning to work with government agencies to find any and all ways to promote the adoption of energy-efficient standards, processes, measurements and technologies," she says, adding that the group seeks to work with industry standards associations to ensure that certain guidelines are met.
Already, the Green Grid is moving into action. In early August, it announced its 2007 plan and "key deliverables," saying it will collect data and then release various studies on power consumption and performance metrics. Its end-year papers will offer proposals on what technologies work best for companies seeking a greener I.T.
Only one Canadian company is on board so far.
"The data centre is in a crisis right now as a result of the growing energy demands that result from server, storage and cooling loads," says E.L. McDaniel, vice-president of sales and marketing at Burlington-based SatCon Power Systems Canada, which develops renewable energy technologies. McDaniel says an upcoming dot-green revolution is sweeping the world, and he hopes Canadian companies will join the side of clean tech.
The I.T. industry is taking big steps to win green credentials. IBM claims it will reduce power costs by taking 16,000 internal servers out of action and moving their work to massive mainframe computers. California-based Affordable Internet Services Online, responsible for running the Web tech behind the Live Earth concerts, recently announced that it's going solar. And Intel has increased the energy efficiency of its much-touted microprocessors.
But these kinds of redesigns are not happening worldwide. Until groups like the Green Grid publish quantifiable benchmarks and propose practical solutions, management has to direct I.T. staff, who may not understand the ins and outs of power consumption, on the green map.
Laziness and ignorance are no excuse; if tech companies are truly going to commit to eco-friendly solutions for their power-hungry data centres, actions will speak louder than rhetoric-heavy meetings.
The I.T. industry is turning its attention to energy efficiency; now it's time for CEOs and business leaders to do the same.