What is Green information technology (IT)? Why is green computing important? What is the goal of eco-ICT? What’s an example of Green ICT?
In this article, we will answer all of those questions, so if you are interested in learning more about Green IT and how it can help sustainability, read on!
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Table Of Contents
What is Green information technology (IT)?
Green IT, also referenced as green computing or eco-ICT (information and communication technology), aims at reducing the environmental impact of information technology systems as well as improving sustainability thanks to their use.
Green IT means not only reducing the carbon emissions and energy consumption of ICT systems but also minimising the overall impact on the environment during the entire lifecycle of computer systems, including their design, manufacturing and disposal.
IT sustainability can be improved by using edge computing and other energy-efficient designs, reducing the use of rare or hazardous materials such as mercury, lead and chromium in manufacturing and promoting recycling of outdated systems.
IT data centres typically require a lot of energy not only to run the computing machines but also to keep them at the right temperature and remove the excess heat generated under load. For this reasons IT sustainability, especially in high-performance computing (HPC) setting, must also consider data centre design and cooling optimisation. Large scale HPC systems are generating so much heat under load that designing an energy-efficient data centre is a necessity to avoid unbearable energy consumption and running costs.
Other aspects of Green IT include energy-efficient networking, virtualization, containerization (allowing multiple users and applications to run in parallel on the same server) and cloud computing. For example, cloud computing allows the same IT system to be shared among different businesses and users, leading to full utilisation of the machine. In the past instead, businesses used to purchase and maintain computers even if they were needed only for limited time intervals. For these reasons, the advent of cloud computing lead to large cost savings for businesses as well as improved sustainability by fully utilising the purchased machines.
Green IT is a great example of how to reach the goals of green technology while also benefiting the entire landscape of industrial tech. This is because the increased digitalization and use of IT systems with technologies such as machine learning and data analytics can lead to significant improvements in business operations, which in turn leads to increased sustainability. For this reason, despite the continuous demand by businesses to increase their computing capacity, this can still be considered eco-friendly, because of the positive impact it will have on the overall business sustainability.
The goal of Green Information Technology (IT)
The goal of Green IT is to reduce the impact on the environment of ICT systems and improve sustainability. This is generally achieved by focusing on:
- Improving the design of computing devices to make them more energy efficient and easier to disassemble and recycle.
- Reducing the use of rare metals or dangerous chemicals in both the devices and the manufacturing processes.
- Promoting correct disposal and recycling practices of electronic waste.
- Promoting the use of renewable energy to power the IT infrastructure.
- Encouraging to reuse old computing systems if not yet obsolete.
- Using the IT systems to Improve business sustainability.
Green IT Example
the evolution of CPU technology towards more eco-friendly and efficient solutions
In recent years the increased emphasis on Green IT and sustainability, as well as reduction of operating costs, contributed to achieving a better understanding of how to improve application performance and hardware energy efficiency. This had a big impact on the evolution of IT systems and lead to much more efficient and environmentally friendly machines.
Here’s a green IT example, in the past, increases in computing performance were primarily achieved by simply running at higher CPU clock speeds, with a consequent increase in energy consumption and reduction of computational efficiency. Running higher CPU clock speeds leads to increased thermal dissipation issues, so the technology evolved towards multi-core CPU architectures: with lower clock speeds but an increased number of cores in a single processing unit.
Finally, it was understood that most applications were (and still are) limited by the speed at which they can access the memory (ie. memory bandwidth) rather than the CPU computational power itself. This led to the latest generations of CPUs, like the AMD Epyc, that feature not only increased miniaturization and core count but especially increased memory bandwidth, allowing most applications to run much more efficiently and using less energy.
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Why is Green Information Technology (IT) important?
Green information technology (IT) is one of the most important examples that is helping us to achieve sustainable development. This is true for several reasons:
- IT accounts for about 17% of the electronic waste in the world (2014 data). Unfortunately, most of this waste is hard to recycle.
- The computing sector is responsible for about 2% of the global CO2 emissions. For reference, this is similar to the contribution given by global aviation. Unfortunately, most of the IT systems are still powered by energy produced from fossil fuels and the data centres are not always applying environmentally friendly cooling systems due to different constraints. However, companies are starting to put their money where their mouth is. According to the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), the ICT sector has the potential to slash global emissions by as much as 20% within 2030. For those reasons green technology companies tend to always prefer green IT solutions.
- The correct use of computing resources can contribute to better product designs, reducing waste of materials, improving manufacturing efficiency and overall reduced CO2 emissions. From smart monitoring of energy consumption to optimisation of agriculture and manufacturing, ICT applications have the potential to power many green technologies and dramatically improve sustainability across all areas of the economy.
- Green IT can lead to substantial savings for businesses that implement it correctly, not only by reducing the energy bill but especially because IT applications can be used, among other things, to automate & optimise processes or for example to reduce the need for costly physical prototypes thanks to the implementation of digital twins. An example of digital twin is the use of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), which can be used to reduce the need for costly and more energy hungry wind tunnel aerodynamic experiments, leading to a dramatic cost reduction while also reducing the time to market of a new product. CFD can lead to cost savings of up to 60% and save as much as 80% of the design time. That’s one of the reasons why the digital twin is one of our top 10 digital transformation technologies for 2022!
Given the impact that IT can have on business profitability and sustainability, the continuously increasing business demand for more computational capacity shouldn’t be a surprise, especially considering the benefits of green technology.
In conclusion, sustainable information technology (IT) plays a central role in achieving sustainable development not only in the ICT sector but more at a global level, touching every aspect of the economy and of our lives.