Definition

green computing

What is green computing?

Green computing, also known as green technology, is the use of computers and other computing devices and equipment in energy-efficient and eco-friendly ways. Organizations that use green computing methods often deploy energy-efficient central processing units (CPUs), servers, peripherals and power systems. They also focus on reducing resource use and properly disposing of physical and electronic waste (e-waste).

One of the early green computing initiatives in the United States was the Energy Star labeling program. This voluntary program was developed by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1992 and implemented by manufacturers to promote energy efficiency in computing hardware and other types of appliances. The Energy Star label is common, especially for laptop computers and displays. European and Asian countries have implemented similar programs.

What is included in a green computing strategy?

IT managers typically focus energy efficiency efforts on data centers, equipment rooms, storage areas and other elements that use energy or are affected by energy use. Saving money is one driving factor. Government regulations dealing with energy conservation also drive green efforts. Concern about climate change, along with internal and external pressure to be environmentally responsible, is a third factor behind the green movement.

Companies' green computing strategies can include the following steps:

  • Remote work. The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred many changes in the workplace environment, including ones that have led to reduced energy consumption. It has decreased the number of people commuting to and from work. It has also cut the number of employees present in an organization's facilities, reducing demand for power, water and other resources.
  • Smart technology. Organizations can use internet of things sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) monitoring tools to collect and analyze information about the data center and create a power usage model. AI-powered tools can also autonomously manage heating, cooling and power in the data center.
  • Upgrade and rearrange the data center. Older equipment often uses more energy and puts out more heat than newer devices. Hot and cold aisle setups can be used to group assets based on energy consumption and temperature, optimizing heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) efficiency.
  • Power down. CPUs and peripherals can be powered down and turned off during extended periods of inactivity. Power up energy-intensive peripherals, such as laser printers, only when needed.
  • Strategic scheduling. Do computer-related tasks in dedicated blocks of time, leaving hardware off at other times.
  • Display selection. Liquid crystal display monitors use less energy and give off less heat than cathode-ray tube monitors.
  • Computer selection. Laptops use significantly less energy than desktop computers.
  • Power management. These features can be set to automatically power down hard drives and displays after several minutes of inactivity.
  • Temperature check. Newer IT devices can safely run at higher temperatures than older ones, so the data center may not need to be as cool as in the past.
  • E-waste. Dispose of e-waste according to federal, state and local regulations.
  • Alternative energy. Investigate alternative energy sources, such as geothermal cooling and wind and hydroelectric power.
Diagram of carbon emissions of IT products
Sustainability issues start well before IT products arrive in the data center. See where some of them come up.

The importance of green computing

The key mission of green computing is to reduce energy consumption. This not only cuts energy costs for organizations, but it also reduces the carbon footprint, particularly of IT assets.

The environmental impact of IT components is important in the study of data center design. Advances in energy management and energy conservation have turned computers and other computing resources into highly energy-efficient assets. Green design of data centers, office buildings and other high-energy assets has become a key part of new construction and building upgrades to make them more environmentally sustainable.

An important consideration with green IT is to reduce the use of energy from fossil fuels. This helps lower the amount of pollution released into the atmosphere and water system. Reduced emissions have been shown to have positive effects on weather and air pollution.

Building energy considerations into the system development lifecycle has resulted in the use of energy-efficient equipment, power systems, lighting and HVAC systems, and a variety of ancillary systems. For example, many data center components have a sleep mode that reduces power use or completely shuts down a system during times of low or no use.

Most IT equipment manufacturers support green manufacturing. As noted earlier, the Energy Star logo is an important metric when selecting IT equipment and data center elements.

Chart showing four steps to offset carbon emissions
Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is one goal of green computing. Businesses can reduce their own emissions and then offset the remainder.

How to achieve green computing

The following is a list of ways to increase green computing and energy efficiency in data centers and other facilities:

  • Install building environment systems that are energy efficient.
  • Install overhead lighting with low energy consumption and include timers or motion detectors to control light switches and reduce the time lights are in use.
  • Buy energy-efficient servers, switches, laptops, desktop systems, printers, scanners and other equipment.
  • Install energy-efficient windows and doors that have reflective glass to reduce heat.
  • Install fans throughout equipment racks to reduce heat.
  • Turn off systems that are not performing scheduled work.
  • Use refillable printer cartridges.
  • Establish corporate policies that stress energy conservation and the use of energy-efficient equipment.
  • Explain to senior management the importance of green computing and make sure to have their support.

Find out more about green computing best practices and how to put them into practice.

This was last updated in January 2022

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