James O'Neill's Blog

December 1, 2008

Green IT and adding up the numbers

Filed under: General musings — jamesone111 @ 4:33 pm

I did the keynote for the virtualization unplugged tour recently, and I tried to draw several themes together in it. Virtualization is good for making IT more dynamic (and what that means and why it is good thing) and Virtualization is good for saving money, space and carbon emissions. But I’ve been at pains to point out that some of the things that I see as “good IT” – that is IT which lets people work in the best way – are part of being dynamic and part of being both green and cost effective.  In particular that means using  IT for flexible working.

I’m working at home today. I’ve managed to get stuff written thanks to the peace and quiet. And by staying home I’ve avoided putting 25 Kilos of CO2 into the atmosphere. I make the point over and over that the environmental benefits from using IT to reduce travel are greater than those from reducing the power our computers use. When I said this at the last event a gentleman from a company which thin client devices asked me about the numbers. He said his organization had recently published a case study for a company which was saving more than 1000 Kilowatt hours per desk per year by taking out their PCs (which were old and ran 24/7) and replacing them with thin clients from his company – which then ran their familiar Windows programs from the company’s data centre. The thin clients can save a shade over 100 watts compared with a normal PC, and a quick bit of mental arithmetic said yes the numbers add up. Its unlikely that the old PCs could have run Vista, but using a policy on Vista to enforce sleep would have got 70% of that saving.

Different countries use different mixes of fossil and non-fossil fuels, and according to the carbon trust 1 KWh of UK grid electricity generates 537 grams of Co2, so the this company was saving over half a tonne per year – per desk. It’s a great achievement and it would be churlish to knock it: Carbon, and money saved is saved. But I want to put it in perspective. Another site I checked quoted 300g/mile for air travel , and the average car on UK roads emits about 200g/KM – make that 320g/mile. So 1000 KWh is the same as driving 1700 miles or flying 1800. 3 round trip flights to Edinburgh, or as far as Greenland on the way to Seattle. Or about 25 round trips to the office in the car for me. Those trips are worth about 40 hours, my family gets some of that and the company gets some. Think of it as Microsoft getting two or three more days work, without taking more of my time… 

Here’s another way to calculate the saving. That same site gives a figure of 2630 grams per litre of diesel or 2320 grams per litre of petrol; assume you save the mileage equivalent of that. That fuel’s worth about £240 at the pump – if the company pays for Petrol that money goes to the bottom line, but for a higher-rate tax payer who buys their own fuel it’s like getting a £400 pay rise without costing the company a bean.

Of course some jobs don’t lend themselves to flexible working, some people get less benefit because they use public transport or drive short distances. But there are plenty of people who can save that much travel in a year. So lets tot up the benefits of flexible working. The company gets more hours worked and each hour worked is productive.  The employee gets a better work/life balance.* And depending on exact car arrangements they share the benefit of lower mileage in fuel and running costs. AND the environment wins.



* While I was writing my wife asked if I can collect our son from school one day this week.  Since I have only a one hour meeting that day I’m going to make it a Live Meeting and work from home.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.


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