Patoc, Alex: Green Computing – IT responsibility in the protection of the environment


I. INTRODUCTION

Mankind’s survival in his only planet called Earth is in peril. Global warming or climate change is currently the biggest threat to man’s existence. Is it really happening? If yes, are humans causing it?

Yes. Earth is already showing many signs of worldwide climate change.

  • Average temperatures have climbed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius) around the world since 1880, much of this in recent decades, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
  • The rate of warming is increasing. The 20th century’s last two decades were the hottest in 400 years and possibly the warmest for several millennia, according to a number of climate studies. And the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that 11 of the past 12 years are among the dozen warmest since 1850.
  • The Arctic is feeling the effects the most. Average temperatures in Alaska, western Canada, and eastern Russia have risen at twice the global average, according to the multinational Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report compiled between 2000 and 2004.
  • Arctic ice is rapidly disappearing, and the region may have its first completely ice-free summer by 2040 or earlier. Polar bears and indigenous cultures are already suffering from the sea-ice loss.
  • Glaciers and mountain snows are rapidly melting—for example, Montana’s Glacier National Park now has only 27 glaciers, versus 150 in 1910. In the Northern Hemisphere, thaws also come a week earlier in spring and freezes begin a week later.
  • Coral reefs, which are highly sensitive to small changes in water temperature, suffered the worst bleaching—or die-off in response to stress—ever recorded in 1998, with some areas seeing bleach rates of 70 percent. Experts expect these sorts of events to increase in frequency and intensity in the next 50 years as sea temperatures rise.
  • An upsurge in the amount of extreme weather events, such as wildfires, heat waves, and strong tropical storms, is also attributed in part to climate change by some experts. [1]

The sad reality regarding the changes abovementioned is that humans are very likely to have caused the same.

  • Industrialization, deforestation, and pollution have greatly increased atmospheric concentrations of water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, all greenhouse gases that help trap heat near Earth’s surface.
  • Humans are pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere much faster than plants and oceans can absorb it.
  • These gases persist in the atmosphere for years, meaning that even if such emissions were eliminated today, it would not immediately stop global warming.
  • Some experts point out that natural cycles in Earth’s orbit can alter the planet’s exposure to sunlight, which may explain the current trend. Earth has indeed experienced warming and cooling cycles roughly every hundred thousand years due to these orbital shifts, but such changes have occurred over the span of several centuries. Today’s changes have taken place over the past hundred years or less.
  • Other recent research has suggested that the effects of variations in the sun’s output are “negligible” as a factor in warming, but other, more complicated solar mechanisms could possibly play a role.[2]

Our country was not spared by the devastation caused by these natural calamities. A month ago, the Philippines was battered by successive super typhoons which meteorologists claimed were the effect of global warming.

In this time of cyber technology and development, can we use these advancements in technology as an instrument to heal Mother Nature or this technology contributes to its further degradation.

II. TOXICITY OF ELECTRONIC DEVICES (E-WASTE)

In today’s fast-moving digital age of high-technology electronic products, the unfortunate by- products are the obsolescent equipment that gets discarded.

One estimate suggests that by 2010, 100m phones and 300m personal computers will be thrown on the rubbish tip.

Most of these contain toxic cocktail of substances including lead, mercury and arsenic.

At the moment a lot of this waste ends up, often illegally, in dumping sites around the globe, especially in the developing world.

Computers and mobile phones contain a large variety of chemicals and plastics which can cause serious harm if not dealt with correctly.

Eric Karofsky from AMR Research advises companies about getting rid of such troublesome waste.

“There are all sorts of problems. These are toxic materials that need to be collected and recycled appropriately.

“If not, they are severe environmental hazards for both the population that lives near landfills as well as the world.”

“Ideally an approved collector will accept it,” Mr Karofsky adds. “They will erase data on the hard drive or destroy it physically.”

He feels that unless companies are punished there will always be computer waste ending up illegally dumped in Africa, India and China.

“Until severe financial penalties are levied upon the brands, these laws will not help much.”

A 2005 study by the environmental group Greenpeace found that as much as 47% of waste found at 18 European seaports was illegal, much of it toxic and headed for export. [3]

This similar predicament is also a reality in the Philippines. Electronic device purchases in the Philippines are increasing despite the dire economic situation. People are buying more computers, mobile phones and electric appliances, as prices are going down and performance improving. However, few are aware of the dangers of electronic waste. [4]

While electronic waste in the Philippines remains low, environmental group Greenpeace warns that the lack of legislation against proper disposal and management of e-waste could have dire effects on the country’s ecology and human health in the future. [5]

The European Union (EU) has already foreseen the impact of the IT industry on the production of e-waste. The EU has signed into law the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive” that requires manufacturers, private firms and individuals to properly dispose obsolete electronic equipment.

Different states in the United States have implemented their own e-waste disposal directives with others totally banning electronic devices being thrown in landfills.

Such specific law on e-waste is not available in the Philippines. Even the National Solid Waste Management Commission generally designates electronic garbage as one of the “special garbage” based on the definition of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, the only law the mentions electronic devices. There is also no long-term study made about e-waste in the Philippines. [6]

Due to the lack of proper legislation and take back initiatives from private companies selling computer equipment, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Toxic Waste Campaigner Beau Baconguis said the Philippines could suffer from an e-waste problem in the next five years.

She said the Philippines is also becoming host to many call centers and business process outsourcing companies that purchase and eventually replace computers after three to four years.

Baconguis said they have approached members of the House of Congress several times in the past years to lobby for an electronic waste law.

However, political upheavals and lack of understanding of the environmental issues related to e-waste among lawmakers placed proposed legislations in the backburner, she said. [7]

However, despite the current political and legislative status regarding such initiatives the computer industry is increasingly waking up to the need to control where its products end up when their useful life is over.

III. GREEN COMPUTING [8]

Green computing or green IT, refers to environmentally sustainable computing or IT. It is “the study and practice of designing, manufacturing, using, and disposing of computers, servers, and associated subsystems—such as monitors, printers, storage devices, and networking and communications systems—efficiently and effectively with minimal or no impact on the environment.

Green IT also strives to achieve economic viability and improved system performance and use, while abiding by our social and ethical responsibilities. Thus, green IT includes the dimensions of environmental sustainability, the economics of energy efficiency, and the total cost of ownership, which includes the cost of disposal and recycling. It is the study and practice of using computing resources efficiently.”

With increasing recognition that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are a major contributing factor to global warming, enterprises, governments, and society at large now have an important new agenda: tackling environmental issues and adopting environmentally sound practices. Greening our IT products, applications, services, and practices is both an economic and an environmental imperative, as well as our social responsibility. Therefore, a growing number of IT vendors and users are moving toward green IT and thereby assisting in building a green society and economy.

The goals of green computing are similar to green chemistry; reduce the use of hazardous materials,
maximize energy efficiency during the product’s lifetime, and promote recyclability or biodegradability of defunct products and factory waste.

A number of focus areas and activities were identified as the primary concern for green computing. These are: design for environmental sustainability; energy-efficient computing; power management; data center design, layout, and location; server virtualization; responsible disposal and recycling; regulatory compliance; green metrics, assessment tools, and methodology; environment- related risk mitigation; use of renewable energy sources; and eco-labeling of IT products.

Modern IT systems rely upon a complicated mix of people, networks and hardware; as such, a green computing initiative must be systemic in nature, and address increasingly sophisticated problems.

Elements of such a solution may comprise items such as end user satisfaction, management restructuring, regulatory compliance, disposal of electronic waste, telecommuting, virtualization of server resources, energy use, thin client solutions, and return on investment (ROI).

The imperative for companies to take control of their power consumption, for technology and more generally, therefore remains acute. One of the most effective power management tools available in 2009 may still be simple, plain, common sense.

Below, are the few green computing initiatives being pursued and implemented by various technology developers.

A. Approaches to green computing [9]

a. Algorithmic efficiency

The efficiency of algorithms has an impact on the amount of computer resources required for any given computing function and there are many efficiency trade-offs in writing programs. As computers have become more numerous and the cost of hardware has declined relative to the cost of energy, the energy efficiency and environmental impact of computing systems and programs has received increased attention. A study by Alex Wissner-Gross, a physicist
at Harvard, estimated that the average Google search released 7 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2).

However, Google disputes this figure, arguing instead that a typical search produces only 0.2 grams of CO2. Algorithms can also be used to route data to data centers where electricity is less expensive. MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and Akamai project up to a 40 percent savings on energy costs.

b. Virtualization

Computer virtualization refers to the abstraction of computer resources, such as the process of running two or more logical computer systems on one set of physical hardware. The concept originated with the IBM mainframe operating systems of the 1960s, but was commercialized for x86-compatible computers only in the 1990s. With virtualization, a system administrator could combine several physical systems into virtual machines on one single, powerful system, thereby unplugging the original hardware and reducing power and cooling consumption. Several commercial companies and open-source projects now offer software packages to enable a transition to virtual computing. Intel Corporation and AMD have also built proprietary virtualization enhancements to the x86 instruction set into each of their CPU product lines, in order to facilitate virtualized computing.

c. Terminal Servers

Terminal servers have also been used in green computing methods. When using terminal servers, users connect to a central server; all of the computing is done at the server level but the end user experiences the operating system. These can be combined with thin clients, which use up to 1/8 the amount of energy of a normal workstation, resulting in a decrease of energy costs and consumption. There has been an increase in using terminal services with thin clients to create virtual labs. Examples of terminal server software include Terminal Services for Windows, the Aqua Connect Terminal Server for Mac, and the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) for the Linux operating system.

d. Power management

The Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI), an open industry standard, allows an operating system to directly control the power saving aspects of its underlying hardware. This allows a system to automatically turn off components such as monitors and hard drives after set periods of inactivity. In addition, a system may hibernate, where most components (including the CPU and the system RAM) are turned off. ACPI is a successor to an earlier Intel- Microsoft standard called Advanced Power Management, which allows a computer’s BIOS to control power management functions.

Some programs allow the user to manually adjust the voltages supplied to the CPU, which reduces both the amount of heat produced and electricity consumed. This process is called undervolting. Some CPUs can automatically undervolt the processor depending on the workload; this technology is called “SpeedStep” on Intel processors, “PowerNow!”/”Cool’n’Quiet” on AMD chips, LongHaul on VIA CPUs, and LongRun withTransmeta processors.

e. Power supply

Desktop computer power supplies (PSUs) are generally 70–75% efficient, dissipating the remaining energy as heat. An industry initiative called 80 PLUS certifies PSUs that are at least 80% efficient; typically these models are drop-in replacements for older, less efficient PSUs of the same form factor. As of July 20, 2007, all new Energy Star 4.0-certified desktop PSUs must be at least 80% efficient.

f. Storage

Smaller form factor (e.g. 2.5 inch) hard disk drives often consume less power per gigabyte than physically larger drives.

Unlike hard disk drives, solid-state drives store data in flash memory or DRAM. With no moving parts, power consumption may be reduced somewhat for low capacity flash based devices. Even at modest sizes, DRAM-based SSDs may use more power than hard disks, (e.g., 4GB i-RAM uses more power and space than laptop drives). Though most flash based drives are generally slower for writing than hard disks, in a recent case study Fusion-io, manufacturers of the world’s fastest Solid State Storage devices, managed to reduce the carbon footprint and operating costs of MySpace data centers by 80% while increasing performance speeds beyond that which is was attainable by multiple hard disk drives in Raid 0. In response, MySpace was able to permanently retire several of their servers, including all heavy-load servers, further reducing their carbon footprint.

As hard drive prices have fallen, storage farms have tended to increase in capacity to make more data available online. This includes archival and backup data that would formerly have been saved on tape or other offline storage. The increase in online storage has increased power consumption. Reducing the power consumed by large storage arrays, while still providing the benefits of online storage, is a subject of ongoing research.

g. Video Card

A fast GPU may be the largest power consumer in a computer.

Energy efficient display options include:

  • No video card – use a shared terminal, shared thin client, or desktop sharing software if display required.
  • Use motherboard video output – typically low 3D performance and low power.
  • Select a GPU based on average wattage or performance per watt.

h. Display

LCD monitors typically use a cold-cathode fluorescent bulb to provide light for the display. Some newer displays use an array of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in place of the fluorescent bulb, which reduces the amount of electricity used by the display.

i. Materials recycling

Computer systems that have outlived their particular function can be repurposed, or donated to various charities and non-profit organizations. However, many charities have recently imposed minimum system requirements for donated equipment. Additionally, parts from outdated systems may be salvaged and recycled through certain retail outlets and municipal or private recycling centers.

Recycling computing equipment can keep harmful materials such as lead, mercury, and hexavalent chromium out of landfills, but often computers gathered through recycling drives are shipped to developing countries where environmental standards are less strict than in North America and Europe. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition estimates that 80% of the post-consumer e-waste collected for recycling is shipped abroad to countries such as China, India, and Pakistan.

Computing supplies, such as printer cartridges, paper, and batteries may be recycled as well.

j. Telecommuting

Teleconferencing and telepresence technologies are often implemented in green computing initiatives. The advantages are many; increased worker satisfaction, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions related to travel, and increased profit margins as a result of lower overhead costs for office space, heat, lighting, etc. The savings are significant; the average annual energy consumption for U.S. office buildings is over 23 kilowatt hours per square foot, with heat, air conditioning and lighting accounting for 70% of all energy consumed. Other related initiatives, such as hotelling, reduce the square footage per employee as workers reserve space only when they need it. Many types of jobs — sales, consulting, field service — integrate well with this technique.

Voice over IP (VoIP) reduces the telephony wiring infrastructure by sharing the existing Ethernet copper. VoIP and phone extension mobility also made Hot desking and more practical.

IV. CONCLUSION

We are currently living in a fast-paced and challenging times. Products being offered nowadays have convenience of use as a major factor. In order to satisfy convenience, technology is creating and innovating ways to make life simple and within reach for the modern man. However, this progress and development lead to man’s own undoing. Care and nurture of the environment were sacrificed as payment for these. The tell-tale signs are evident. Is it too late for mankind to reverse the effects of the abuses he did?

Through the efforts, concerted and unified, from people of all nations, man can triumphantly overcome this problem. Every people in every nation are requested to be aware in their activities that contribute to global warming. People are told to recycle and reuse. Consciousness regarding waste management is aroused in their minds. As a result, computer companies were also encouraged to contribute to this movement. These companies did not turn a deaf ear to such request. Technology as we know now is developing advances in their field conscious and aware of environmental changes they can offer to save nature.

The Philippines is among the nations which clamor for environmental protection. However, legislation towards this subject has yet to be initiated. Our legislators are pre-occupied with political bickering that, in a way, they forget or neglect this most pressing issue in our midst. Legislation on the regulation and control in the use of cyberspace is an important aspect in today’s human activities.

However, law on the care of the environment is a subject that should take precedence over the latter.

Enforcement of laws involving regulation and control of cyberspace will be ineffectual when, in the future, the only planet, our Mother Earth, will become a desolate and arid wasteland.


Footnotes

[1] Global Warming Fast Facts. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/12/1206_041206_global_warming.html

[2] Ibid.

[3] Takatsuki, Yo. Dealing with Toxic Computer Waste. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6110018.stm

[4] Article by Alexander Villafania from Inquirer.net. Finding reuse for Electronic refuse. http://www.envirocycle‐inc.com/news.php

[5] Villafania, Alexander Inquirer.net. Greenpeace warns of future dangers of e‐waste in RP. http://blogs.inquirer.net/insidescience/2008/07/31/greenpeace‐warns‐of‐future‐dangers‐of‐e‐waste‐in‐
rp/

[6] Article by Alexander Villafania from Inquirer.net. Finding reuse for Electronic refuse. http://www.envirocycle‐inc.com/news.php

[7] Villafania, Alexander Inquirer.net. Greenpeace warns of future dangers of e‐waste in RP. http://blogs.inquirer.net/insidescience/2008/07/31/greenpeace‐warns‐of‐future‐dangers‐of‐e‐waste‐in‐
rp/

[8] Green Computing from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_computing

[9] Ibid.



Author licensed this article under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Philippine license

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