Q: What is great to see but unfortunately only half green?

Posted on August 20, 2007

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A: The Australian Computing Society’s Green ICT Policy

The CfS Agenda places a high priority on engaging with professional and industry groups to articulate computing’s response to sustainability. This, then, is very exciting:

Environmental considerations are set to become an integral part of the professional conduct, practice and ethical considerations that ICT professionals will bring to their organisations.

This is the conclusion of the Australian Computer Society’s just announced Policy Statement for Green ICT.

The ACS has just completed an audit of carbon emissions and found that ICT contributes more to greenhouse gases than the cement industry and more than aviation. They rightly state that this has to change. In response to the audit’s findings, the ACS has launched a policy containing suggestions on initiatives ICT professionals, government, consumers and ICT manufacturers can take: (pdf policy)

1. Extending the Energy Rating System to ICT equipment for domestic and commercial use – To be run as a joint initiative by the Federal, State and Territory governments, to cover domestic and commercial ICT equipment;

2. Leverage innovative technologies to reduce power consumption and lower carbon dioxide emissions;

3. Purchase carbon offsets to help offset the emissions being produced by ICT equipment used in the office – For a typical Australian ICT SME comprising 5 to 20 employees, this would cost between $144 to $576 per annum.

4. Look at replacing conventional telephone equipment with soft IP phone clients on computer workstations – Look at combining the communications server with existing servers;

5. Examine the feasibility of using virtualisation technology to significantly reduce the number of servers in use.

6. Disable screen savers and implement ‘sleep mode’ for periods of inactivity for ICT equipment.

I repeat: this is marvellous to see. So why am I describing it as “half green”.

1. With a teensie nod to the safe disposal of old technology, the policy is entirely focussed on carbon emissions. I really don’t understand why a group prepared to make such a good move has been so extremely short sighted. What about all the other aspects of computing for sustainability? I’m thinking ewaste, toxins, etc at the level of the recommendations they do make, and then changing business practices (away from a short term replacement cycle etc) at a higher level.

2. The policy only considers the negative aspects of computing:

There is virtually no product or service that does not depend on ICT in some way for its development, production, commercialisation or distribution. Our reliance on ICT comes with a price – an increasing demand for power and its consequent generation of carbon dioxide emissions.

What about the positive contributions, empowering people and organisations live more sustainably? What about the critical thinking required of a sustainable practitioner? They recognise the key role of computing ” underpinning the productivity gains of all sectors of our economy” but miss their opportunity to in really “shaping the future of Australian business”. They do make a start:

Innovation in ICT and advances in technology are streamlining processes, creating more energy efficient equipment, facilitating consolidation and sharing of networks and improving business models.

…but there could be so much more. Where could computing really make a difference – how about if financial software always came bundled with environmental accounting? How could computing help move organisations up Willard’s 5 stages?, How could computing really make a difference? (see Logan’s work) etc etc.

So, in short, well done ACS, good to see a move in the right direction. Maybe your Special Interest Group will generate some transformative thinking and next year we’ll see some real green policies. Here’s hoping….

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