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Mon 1 Jan 2007 12:00 AM

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Green computing

While it may not be uppermost in the minds of IT managers and CIOs in the Middle East, there is no getting away from the fact that environmental impact is moving higher on the corporate agenda — and technology systems are in the firing line.

Imagine blistering temperatures, severe storms on a daily basis, and 13 of the world’s 15 largest cities submerged by seawater. Imagine a complete loss of coral reefs, the disappearance of Pacific islands, the extinction of thousands of species of plants and animals, contamination of fresh water supplies and more than a hundred million refugees.

It is a bleak outlook but remains a real possibility unless scientific warnings are heeded and the consumption culture that now dominates the world gives way to a radical new green ideology.

What does all this have to do with CIOs in the Middle East? More than you would first think. To date, the nearest that many CIOs and IT managers have come to environmental awareness is a glance at the power consumption and heat emission statistics for the latest technology kit that they intended to purchase. In many cases this has little to do with environmental concerns and more to do with a desire to minimise running costs.

For years the United Nations and Greenpeace have been warning of the dangers that computers, IT hardware and other office equipment pose the environment, suggesting that CIOs and IT managers need to start taking more responsibility for the negative impact the running of their workplaces is having on our world.

A UN report in 2004 issued a stark warning, claiming that building the average PC requires 10 times the weight of the product in chemicals and fossil fuels. Many of the chemicals are toxic, while the use of fossil fuels contributes to global warming.

Given the short lifespan of today’s IT equipment, mountains of waste products are accumulating, either dumped in landfill sites or recycled - often in poorly managed facilities in developing countries - leading to significant health risks.

In November 2006, however, the UN issued a further report, declaring that developing countries were bearing the brunt of a rising global tide of electronic waste, known as e-waste.

UN environment programme executive director, Achim Steiner, stated that discarded products carried a wide range of pollutants, from heavy metals to chlorine compounds.

Steiner also called for more recycling projects and ‘take-back’ schemes, and welcomed the emergence of public-private partnerships, citing the example of mobile phone companies that refurbish old phones and sell them on to developing countries with guarantees and at reasonable prices.

He adds: “These kind of partnerships are important steps forward, but we know there is a lot more that needs to be done.”

In the United States alone, an estimated 14 to 20 million PCs are thrown out each year, while developing nations are expected to triple their output of all electronic waste by 2010.

As PCs became smaller and more energy-efficient, their environmental burden was expected to decrease, but the UN suggests that the opposite has been happening.

It found that manufacturing a 24kg PC with monitor needs at least 240kg of fossil fuels to provide the energy, and 22kg of chemicals. Compare this with cars or refrigerators, which use only between one and two times their weight in fossil fuels, and it is clear that making more than 130 million computers worldwide has a significant environmental impact.

The UN also warns that people could be exposed to health risks at both ends of the short lifespan of computer equipment. Chemicals such as brominated flame retardants and heavy metals including lead and cadmium pose potential risks to factory workers and can also contaminate water supplies near landfill sites where old computers are dumped.

Little scientific research on this environmental impact has been carried out, but recent research by Greenpeace has found that even the dust that collects on the top of computers is in fact toxic. The toxic chemicals in this dust have disturbingly been found in the breast milk of pregnant women who use computers.

The major vendors in the computer and office equipment space are finally starting to take note. Greenpeace is now investigating the biggest names in the technology industry and began publishing a ranking of their ‘green’ credentials in August 2006.

The guide ranks the 14 top manufacturers of PCs and mobile phones according to their policies on toxic chemicals and recycling.

Nokia and Dell were ranked as the most environmentally friendly, thanks to progressive policies on both their chemicals policy as well as the disposal of electronic waste.

Motorola has been the fastest climber in the ranking guide. From second worst in the first version of the guide, it has made strong commitments and has now moved up to fourth place. Apple was ranked last, with Greenpeace noting the company had made no improvements in its green policies.

Dell, HP, LG, Nokia, Sony, Acer, Samsung and Lenovo have all pledged to phase out the use of two groups of chemicals known to be hazardous to the environment - all types of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and plastic polyvinyl chlorine (PVC).

Major vendors are starting to take the environment more seriously. Last month Dell unveiled two enhanced PowerEdge servers in EMEA that underscored the company’s commitment to environmental responsibility and its strategy to design the most energy-efficient products in the IT industry.

The computer manufacturer has now engineered Energy Smart technology - which debuted in select corporate desktops in September - into its PowerEdge 1950 and 2950 servers to further decrease power consumption and help IT managers reduce overall operating costs. Dell claims that the PowerEdge Energy Smart 1950 and 2950 can deliver up to 25% greater performance per watt while reducing power consumption by 20%.

These improvements can save hundreds of dollars per server every year, which can translate to millions of dollars per year in large data centre deployments. Customers can also benefit from the smaller energy footprint these products deliver to drive increased density in the data centre by deploying four PowerEdge Energy Smart servers within the same ‘power envelope’ occupied today by three standard servers.

Eric Velfre, enterprise director at Dell EMEA, explained: “Dell’s commitment to designing products that simplify operations and lower our customers’ overall cost of ownership is unwavering.

“The optimised Dell Energy Smart PowerEdge servers, combined with Dell OptiPlex desktops and Dell’s industry-leading services, partnerships, and sustainability programmes deliver on our commitment to drive energyefficient solutions that increase performance and reduce power consumption from the desktop to the data centre.”

Dell also expanded its end-to-end solutions for small businesses and enterprises in EMEA in December with the introduction of two new OptiPlex desktop computers – providing increased technology choice and energy efficiency that it claims can help transform IT operations into competitive advantages.

Eric Greffier, director of client marketing at Dell EMEA, claimed: “Dell is focused on providing a comprehensive technology portfolio that reduces IT complexities so our customers can focus on growth.

“The expansion of the OptiPlex PC family allows corporate customers and small businesses to choose customised solutions that will increase productivity and reduce power consumption.”

It is not just IT vendors that are keen to display their green credentials.

The wave of environmental awareness sweeping the industry also extends to the office equipment space - including the paper-hungry printing space.

Sharp Electronics, producers of a wide variety of office equipment including printers, faxes, scanners and projectors, wants to be one of the leaders in environmentally friendly electronic production techniques and has vowed that, as a company, it will have zero impact on the environment by 2010. Sharp is also an active player in the development of commercially viable alternative energy sources.

The company is now the global leader in the production of photovoltaic (PV) solar cells and has been for six consecutive years. ITS PV production reached an impressive 428 megawatts in 2005 with the global PV production amounting to 1.7 gigawatts. Hans Kleis, CEO at Sharp Electronics Europe, recently stated: “In view of rising energy prices, a growing number of people rely on power from the sun.

Forty years ago, Sharp recognised the high potential of solar energy and made PV one of its major strategic business focuses.

“This year we are heading for an increase in global sales of PV products of 22.7%, and for the next year we envisage another 33.3%.”

In the printing space, one of the most innovative and exciting advances in environmentally friendly technology could come from document management company Xerox.

Scientists have invented a way to make print images that last for a specific period of time, so that the paper can be used over and over again. The technology, which is still in a preliminary state, blurs the line between paper documents and digital displays and could ultimately lead to a significant reduction in paper use.

The experimental printing technology could eventually replace printed pages that are used for a brief time before being discarded.

Xerox estimates that as many as two out of every five pages printed in the office are for what it calls ‘daily’ use, such as e-mails, web pages and reference materials that have been printed for a single viewing.

Paul Smith, manager of Xerox’s new materials design and synthesis labroratory, stated: “Despite our reliance on computers to share and process information, there is still a strong dependance on the printed page for reading and absorbing content.”

“Of course, we’d all like to use less paper, but we know from talking with customers that many people still prefer to work with information on paper.

Self-erasing documents for short-term use offers the best of both worlds.”

Clearly the development of more environmentally friendly IT equipment is on the increase - be it printers, computers, energy efficient lighting, green servers or websites powered by renewable energy. Environmental awareness in the workplace is also gradually spreading around the globe, especially in the USA and Europe. This ‘green movement’ has, however, been slow in reaching the Middle East.

Many IT managers in the region know very little about what environmental products are on offer to them, and are unaware of how these products can benefit not only the world we live in but also their business.

It is because of this lack of awareness that environmental impact is seldom a major factor in corporate buying decision making in the Middle East.

Hakam Sourani, now employed as IT manager at Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi, having previously worked in IT in Oman and Jordan, admits: “It’s not something that we look for as IT gurus.

“We usually check the specifications of the equipment that we’re buying.

Power-saving features, which reduce the consumption of electricity, and can help cut the bills, are of interest.

“The computers we use and the materials they are made from are environmentally friendly, but to be honest I know very little about this.

The problem is that the hardware manufacturers don’t really give the proper training or information about this. They try to sell it in some countries and then just forget about other countries. In the Middle East it is not the number one issue but maybe in other countries it is.

“So they try to sell it as a feature in those countries as opposed to around the world. I think they don’t think it is a priority for IT managers in the Middle East right now, but it is very important and I’m sure that it is only a matter of time before it really catches on here.”

Aziz Alaali, business developer, Middle East, Pakistan & Turkey at UPS vendor APC, can understand why IT managers are reluctant to spend their money on green computing, but is sure that it is soon going to change.

Alaali says: “My company, for example, looks at how we can use environmentally friendly equipment that also helps to reduce costs. For example, how to efficiently use electricity and cooling systems.

“Everyone would like to save the environment, but they don’t want to have to pay for it. But there are plenty of ways to cut costs. If you look back a few years when people were recycling paper, it was initially very expensive.

But today people are actually using recycled paper because it’s cheaper.

“I think that with all aspects of environmentally friendly office equipment, the costs will come down anyway. I think for IT managers in the Middle East to start spending their money on it though there is going to have to be a drive.

“For example, in Germany, the government drives companies to invest in the environment and I think the Middle East, like any other region, requires a drive from governments to help them focus on adopting green equipment. How many people in the Middle East know about all this? I think not many. We’re so engrossed with what we do on a day-to-day basis.

Fire fighting within our own role and worrying about what is going to happen with future technologies isolates us from thinking about the environment.

“Everyone is busy with other issues that they find more critical. Do they really care? I think we’re all human beings and we do all care – but we all have to deal with these issues in the context of our own lives.”

Green computing issues will only become more important in years to come. The fact that adopting an environmentally aware corporate IT policy also has the potential to reduce running costs is a point that not all CIOs and IT managers fully understand.

When you examine the issues around green computing from this perspective, it is surprising that less companies have adopted formal policies regarding their purchasing strategy in the context of environmental impact.

Corporate social responsibilty has become a popular phrase for many large enterprises in the Middle East and green computing can play its part.

Customers too are waking up to the environmental challenges that the world faces and in future this will increasingly influence the services they choose to use and products that they choose to buy.

Many firms can talk the talk when it comes to the environment but only a few are walking the walk. Environmental issues are here to stay and CIOs and IT managers in the Middle East should adopt responsible corporate policies sooner rather than later.

“Everyone would like to save the environment, but they don’t want to have to pay for it.”
“I’m sure that it is only a matter of time before it really catches on here.”
“The problem is that the hardware manufacturers don’t really give the proper training or information."

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