Wesleyan Advances Green Computing Methods

Shawn Hill, desktop support specialist, front, and Catalino Cuadrado, junior instructional media specialist, send a document to a printer in the Science Tower Computing Lab. Three printers in the lab are set up for duplex printing, which is just one way Wesleyan is implementing “green” computing methods.
Posted 02/01/08
First came green energy, then green chemistry, and now Wesleyan is exploring green computing as another way to fight global climate change and become a more sustainable institution and community.

“We are in the process of implementing several green computing ideas to support the university’s mission to become a responsible environmental steward,” explains Ganesan “Ravi” Ravishanker, associate vice president for Information Technology Services.

In November 2007, President Michael Roth signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, stating that Wesleyan will exercise leadership in the community by modeling ways to eliminate global warming emissions and leave a smaller environmental footprint.

As a result, ITS created a Green Computing Committee. The group meets regularly to discuss technology policy, software, and hardware changes that ITS can initiate so Wesleyan faculty, staff and students use technology more sustainability. They have been working on ways to save energy, minimize electronic waste, purchase chemical-free equipment, and promote green computing campus-wide.

“We can all do things at the office and at home to make our technology-based environment a little greener,” says Shawn Hill, desktop support specialist and head of the Green Computing Committee.

The Green Computing Committee is working with Academic Affairs and Administrative departments to phase out older computers and monitors on campus when possible. Older computer and monitors are more inefficient than current models.

This past summer, using an energy usage monitoring tool, ITS tested a variety of computer models found at Wesleyan and estimates that a Mac G5 computer without a monitor (for example) can cost Wesleyan up to $270 a year in electric bills, whereas a Mac 17-inch laptop can costs only about $30. Old, bulky CRT monitors cost up to $120 a year to power, whereas the slim LCD monitors may only cost $25 annually. Old Wesleyan monitors are recycled at the Exley Science Center loading dock off Pine Street.

Students can help reduce carbon emissions by simply turning off their monitors, or shutting down their computer when they are away. The cost of electricity in Wesleyan’s wood-framed homes is about 66 percent more expensive than on campus, according to Physical Plant.

“While using the ‘Power Management’ settings of your computer does save energy, it is always better to shut the computer off if you plan not to use it for a stretch of time,” Ravishanker advises. “This will not only save energy, but it will extend the life of your computer.”

About 600 faculty and staff office computers have been part of a night-time remote backup service, requiring users to leave their machines running 24-hours a day. ITS is currently experimenting with morning computer backups, a process that would eliminate the need to leave machines overnight.

“Users on the morning backup schedule may experience slower response times when the backup is occurring, but we believe that users who volunteer for this backup schedule will appreciate being able to help reduce Wesleyan’s carbon emissions,” Hill notes.

He estimates that up to $185 a year – per computer – could be saved by those electing for day-time backups. Another option is to back up computers manually, a simple process that can be explained by any of Wesleyan’s desktop support specialists.

Printers – especially the massive office units – are the largest energy-eaters of all, costing Wesleyan up to $440 a year each in electricity charges when left on 24-hours a day. A simple solution is to power them off after office hours, or whenever they are not in use.

“When possible, we should avoid printing on paper,” Hill says. “Readings, assignments and documents can be distributed in electronic format, and the recipients can reduce paper usage by reading documents on the screen and using the track changes feature in Microsoft Word to mange edits.”

If printing is the only option, the Green Computing Committee suggests you send the document to printers that offer duplex printing to minimize paper waste. Newer printers, such as one in the Science Library and four in the Science Tower Lab, have the ability to print on both sides of a piece of paper.

ITS also is implementing automated power supplies, which work on an electric timer and shut down computers and printers when students’ computer labs are closed. These timers can be programmed from a touch-screen in ITS.

“We are finding resources to purchase more of these power supplies, and hopefully within a year we’ll have all 60 of Wesleyan’s multimedia rooms on automated timers,” says Heric Flores, manager of Instructional Media Services. “They will pay for themselves in about three years.”

Flores already installed the automated units in Beckham Hall, where audio amplifiers, mixers, speakers and other equipment were powered 24-hours a day. The average use time of this equipment is three hours a day.

“Even when they were in ‘sleep mode,’ we were still wasting 2,000 watts of electricity a day by leaving them on all the time.”

That’s equal to running 20, 100-watt lights all day at a cost of about 40 cents an hour. In time, the bill runs high.

Computers themselves also are going green. Wesleyan is working towards buying environmentally friendly hardware based on Electronic Product Environmental Assessments Tool (EPEAT) standards. EPEAT evaluates electronic products in relation to 51 environmental criteria such as elimination of lead, mercury, plasticizers in certain applications; using post-consumer recycled plastic or renewable/bio-based plastic materials; packaging devices in marked, recyclable materials; and adopting ENERGY STAR specifications.

“We’re hoping to buy energy-efficient computers with lead-free chips, recyclable plastic parts and efficient power supplies,” Hill says. “When one of these green computer is retired, our hope is that we can recycle a significant percentage of the components, producing minimal electronic waste.”

The Green Computing Committee has set up a blog open to the campus community at http://greencomputing.blogs-staging.wesleyan.edu/. The blog provides suggestions for more economical, environmentally-friendly uses of technology. The committee encourages the Wesleyan community to share their own green computing ideas via the blog.

“We hope you’ll use this blog to learn more about institutional and personal changes that can make a difference here at Wesleyan and in your life off-campus,” Hill says. “We would like all students, faculty and staff to think sustainable when making technology decisions here at Wesleyan and of-campus as well.”

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor