The importance of green computing

How low energy consumption technologies and habits can make a difference

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By Alex

The term green computing refers to the environmentally responsible use of computers and related resources:  this concept includes the best practices in the manufacture, disposal, and use of PCs, both laptops and desktops. The implementation of energy-efficient CPUs, servers, and peripherals, the proper disposal of e-waste and the efficient use of computers, both at home and in the office. Measures aimed at energy conservation, such as providing stand-by for computers that are not in use, also fall into this category.

In a broader sense, the concept of green computing includes all the methodologies that can lead to the environmentally friendly design, implementation and management of computing devices.

What is green computing

Green computing or green information technology deals with the realization of energy-efficient technologies and with the creation of computer systems – from the smallest such as a mobile phone up to large and energy-intensive data centers – evaluating their entire life cycle (LCA or Life Cycle Assessment): from production, operation, up to the end of life and recycling. Basically, the realization of green computing systems that avoid waste of energy not just during operation, but also after end of service.

green computing

What does an environmental computer scientist do?

The environmental computer scientist is the professional in charge of green computing. This professional role has arisen in recent years and is now in high demand in view of the ambitious goals required to mitigate climate change by 2050.

Who is the environmental computer scientist? It is a computer scientist who designs, implements, and configures software and IoT systems to foster the responsible use of natural resources. He or she is responsible for applying digital techniques, tools and languages in sustainable business management.

When was green computing born?

The first time we heard of green computing was back in 1992 when the EPA, the main U.S. environmental protection agency, created the Energy Star label, which is a certification mark that is placed on electronic devices to certify that it is an energy-efficient product. The commonly used label is a white star on a blue background and is awarded to many technologies. Since then, computers and other devices are increasingly requested to be not only innovative and functional, but also energy-efficient.

In the following years, other countries in both Europe and Asia gave birth to certification marks of this kind. These certifications are aimed at certifying not only energy sustainability but also the environmental dangers, ergonomics and sustainability of the production chain.

Since 2000, there have been many actions put in place by major IT companies precisely to show that the IT sector is also increasingly gearing up to meet the world’s green needs.

For example, in 2004 Intel Corporation halted the development of two computer chips (Tejas and Jayhawk) to replace them with more efficient technology.

In 2021 to address the growing climate emergency as many as 26 companies around the world joined the European Green Digital Coalition. Basically a declaration of commitment to implement only efficient, circular, and climate-neutral digital technologies.

Today a growing number of IT vendors but also users themselves are moving toward green computing with the goal of creating an ecologically sustainable digital economy.

Goals of green computing

It’s possible to mention some fundamental objectives, which are comparable to those of green chemistry, with focus on:

  • increasing energy efficiency over the life of the product
  • promote the recycling of products and their end-of-life parts, including scrap
  • promote reuse, for example by pushing the sale of refurbished cell phones
  • promote the biodegradability of end-of-life products, including factory waste.

The challenge here is not only to create electronic devices with excellent technological performance and high economic value, but also with respect for social, environmental and ethical responsibilities.

Thus, the environmental computer scientist has the task of improving technological performance to cut down the emission of greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide, while also keeping the economic aspect as a priority during production. A path that needs the synergy of several factors and involves producers, organizations and end users.

In this path it becomes important to look at the following 4 determinants.

What are the 4 factors of green computing

Sustainable computing deals with the impact on the environment and the creation of an energy-efficient digitization. To address this issue effectively and comprehensively, IT manufacturers are required to take a holistic approach and consider certain factors:

  • reduce energy consumption by computers and other computer systems and use them in an environmentally sound way
  • review and reuse old computers
  • recycle all electronic devices that cannot be reused
  • encourage energy-efficient design and environment components, computers, servers, cooling equipment, and data centers
  • produce with minimal environmental impact both electronic components, computers, and other subsystems

In practice, both the life and end-of-life stages of IT production must adhere to a green approach.

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Best practices of green computing

To address the production and lifecycle management of electronic and IT products, manufacturers have set some best practices in both production and disposal:

  • use fossil fuels to a minimum during manufacturing processes by also using waste energy
  • design data centers that consume less energy to reduce the energy consumption of these information systems as much as possible by implementing renewable energy sources. Eco-friendly data center design embraces IT systems, electrical systems, cooling systems, environmental conditions, air management, waste heat recycling, and electrical generation
  • realize data centers that reduce land waste
  • increase product lifespan and limit the management of non-recyclable waste, because producing items that last means maximizing the aspect of repair, modularity, and upgrading, to increase the lifecycle of electronic devices
  • recycling and disposal of IT materials, such as the recycling of cell phones and tablets. The establishment of disposal facilities for the many harmful substances such as mercury, lead, cadmium is of paramount importance.

Green computing examples in daily life

Green computing is now a constant part of working life. Here are some practical examples:

  • smart working: allows the use of digital technologies and at the same time reduce car pollution. Smart working during the pandemic enabled the abatement of several thousand tons of CO2 emissions.
  • use of cloud technologies, which reduce the need for data centers
  • edge computing, which helps reduce the size of the data center
  • power management for a conscious and efficient use of ICT tools at home and at work
  • parallel computing and creation of efficient algorithms: to influence the number of resources needed for a computing function
  • 5G technology: used in high-carbon sectors, such as energy, transportation, manufacturing, and construction, could reduce CO2 emissions by up to 170 million tons per year.