Sustainable information & communication technologies in higher education

There’s a whole web site on this JISC-funded eco-computing project, including a small, but you would hope growing, page of resources – and most importantly, a newly minted report. That is now on my e-reader (my e-reader, an iRex Iliad, has very poor power-management). From the executive summary, I’m excerpting stuff on personal computing, but it also covers management and sector bodies:

“ICT in UK further and higher education has a large environmental footprint

However, the benefits of ICT are partially offset by ‘hidden’ environmental, and, on occasion, social costs.
A scaling up of findings at the University of Sheffield, Lowestoft College and City College, Norwich,
suggests that UK universities and colleges as a whole:

* Utilise nearly 1,470,000 computers, 250,000 printers and 240,000 servers
* Will have ICT-related electricity bills of around £116m in 2009, and
* Are indirectly emitting over 500,000t of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from this electricity use

The production, and disposal, of ICT equipment also involves the release of many hazardous substances;
consumes large quantities of energy and water; generates large amounts of waste; and sometimes involves
dangerous and exploitative working practices (discarded computers from UK universities have been seen,
for example, at unsafe recycling sites in Africa).

There is a growing consensus amongst experts, leading ICT suppliers and policy makers, that the
combination of rapid ICT growth and negative environmental impacts of the kind described, make current
ICT practices and trajectories unsustainable. Several studies have suggested that ICT is already responsible
for 2% of global carbon emissions, and that its relative share will increase further.”

But we love computing. We must compute.

“This study estimates that personal computing accounts for around 50% of ICT-related electricity
consumption in universities and colleges. Much of this is wasted, because many devices: are energy
inefficient; are often left switched on when not in use (eg at night or in holiday periods), or in more active
states than they need to be for much of the time; are considerably under-utilised even when they are in
use; and are often more powerful than is required for the activities they are undertaking.”

What can we do?

“A strategic approach to personal computing is required to reduce this wastage, and to meet student and
staff needs in the most cost-effective and sustainable way possible. This requires a cross-functional team
bringing together (at least) IT staff, users, and energy or environmental managers, and chaired by a
relatively senior manager. Key elements of their work will be: auditing of the computing footprint within
the institution; defining user needs and matching appropriately; seriously examining low impact alternatives
(such as thin client); and building awareness and support amongst users. Actions are also needed to:

* Purchase appropriate hardware and software, and especially models which are – at a minimum –
* Energy Star 4.0 compliant, and preferably exceed its requirements considerably
* Reduce energy consumption, for example, by increased powering down of devices, and
* Increase longevity through extending refresh cycles, and avoiding software-induced replacement

Electronic printing and copying accounts for at least 10–16% of ICT-related electricity consumption, and
survey respondents were printing an average 224 sheets a week, or 10,000 annually. This sums to well over £1m of printing and copying costs in larger universities. Volumes, costs and environmental impacts are
generally rising, and ‘out of control’ in some institutions. No more than half of those responding to the
SusteIT survey were undertaking any of three key measures for sustainable printing: replacing single with
multifunctional devices; setting duplex (double-sided) printing as a default; and use of 100% recycled paper.
Other measures to reduce the energy consumption and environmental impacts of printing and copying

* Document and print management, including: development of a green printing strategy; maximising
* print substitution; effective document management; consolidation of devices; and building user
* support
* Purchasing appropriate equipment: involving careful definition of basic equipment needs, using
* relevant procurement standards, and assessing vendor commitment to sustainability
* Reducing energy consumption: by enabling and using power management, and by switching
* equipment off to a greater degree; and
* Reducing paper and consumables usage: by purchasing recycled and/or lighter weight paper,
* encouraging more paper efficient printing, and other means

There’s more to the executive summary too. Read the whole thing. And the growing interest in video conferencing is worth special attention. I think it’s positive in the grand scheme of things (i.e. environmentally), but the social ramifications of ‘working from home’ are bigger than we imagine. Well-being is the thing to keep in mind.


2 thoughts on “Sustainable information & communication technologies in higher education

  1. Interesting list of resources – I remember using JANET for research and support at college.

    I wonder if FOSS counts as being sustainable? I guess it’s “sustained” by a community according to need, rather than by a market-driven company, with all that entails.

  2. I’m not sure. I think of FOSS as a bit like working from home. As a model of production, it could probably be better. Thinking about the industrial revolution the mill owners brought all the cottage industry workers in-house not only because it was cheaper, but because they could control the pace of productions… How that translates to service provision, me not sure.

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