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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Modest proposal #7 - Conscientious computing
April 15, 2008 - 2:02pm

One of the biggest causes of increased electrical usage -- and so, increased greenhouse gas emissions -- on campus is the explosion in computing. Desktops, laptops, and the like are so much more convenient and capable than the old mainframe terminal ever thought of being. Power keeps going up, prices keep dropping, the increased number of computers is easy to understand.

In an attempt to moderate the environmental impact of all those computers, the IEEE has established a standard (1680-2006) for environmentally responsible computer design and manufacture, and the Green Electronics Council, an industry group, has established an enforcement/certification mechanism. The certification is called EPEAT, and it comes in the typical flavors: bronze, silver and gold. It addresses such considerations as reduction of heavy metals and other undesirable materials, use of post-consumer recycled materials, energy conservation (starting with EnergyStar certification, and going on from there), extended product design lifetime, design and management for responsible disposal at end of use, and environmentally responsible packaging. Pretty comprehensive.

Right now, Greenback U has no real standard for purchasing computers. Our various computing support organizations each have preferred models -- the range of models and components is limited, mainly to reduce the variety the poor system administrators have to know how to support. But the truth of the matter is that if it's a computer, and you buy it for use on campus, you can almost certainly plug it into the campus information network, and the campus electrical power grid.

For next year, I'm going to suggest that, at least for computers purchased by units of Greenback proper, we buy only computers certified EPEAT silver or gold. If there's a special kind of computing required, and no EPEAT certified product available, waivers can always be granted. But let's be honest, most of the computing that goes on in universities is little different from what goes on in corporations, or small businesses, or homes.

According to the EPEAT website, there are currently 484 products certified silver, and 62 products certified gold. More are becoming available every week. And our preferred PC vendor offers a wide range of certified models. There's no reason we can't set silver as the acceptable minimum. (The City of San Francisco has.)

No reason, of course, except that it flies in the face of our laissez-faire personal computing history. To make this one fly, we're going to have to do some serious promotion/marketing on campus. Explain the problem, explain the benefits, sell the solution. And provide centralized purchasing services, as the local end of the enforcement chain.

Don't know if this can be in place for Fall 2008. But, if we don't start now, ...

Does your school require EPEAT certification for university-owned desktops? laptops? other computers?


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