Sustainability has become a priority for higher education institutions across the world. For some, student led activism and outside pressures have led to divestment from fossil fuels. Colleges and universities are even ranked with sustainability as a metric, for example the Princeton Review has a Green College Honor Roll for institutions that achieve the highest possible Green Rating. Institutions, like University at Buffalo, are creating comprehensive plans that engage many departments, including Information Technology. If sustainability has not been considered in the infrastructure decisions of Information Technology operations, now is the time to start!
Sustainability in Information Technology can take many forms, so we will focus on some common steps colleges and universities are taking that can be applied to administrative systems. It is not a stretch to say that Information Technology can play a major role in how a campus responds to climate change. As noted by futurist and educator Bryan Alexander, “IT departments will be under enormous pressure as their institutions grapple with climate change.”
The first step is to measure how much energy you currently use. Measuring energy consumption can be a challenge for the following reasons.
- Data centers may not be metered separately
- Networking equipment may be spread across campus
- Cooling for the data center may not be measured in a separate and discrete way
If you do not have energy consumption measurements available, there may be resources from your technology vendors or online calculators that can help provide an estimate.
Next, you want to look for process efficiencies, meaning ways to reduce your energy consumption. Examples of this include:
- Shutting down workstations or systems when not in use
- Reducing the use of paper (and power-hungry laser printers)
- Digital transformation of processes
Streamlining processes can often help staff become more efficient with their time while also reducing energy consumption. For example, saving the data from an online form takes less energy than printing and scanning a paper form then saving and backing up that image file, which is typically much larger than text information. SIG regularly helps clients automate, digitize, and modernize business processes.
Some levels of efficiency will be difficult to achieve in an on-campus data center because we gain efficiency from scale, and companies that run massive data centers have the benefit of size and are heavily invested in running more efficiently. This means moving to the cloud might be one of the easiest ways to be more efficient and reduce the carbon footprint related to IT operations. This is examined further in the next post of this series.