Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Beyond Earth Hour in the Office

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

As many westerners work in office blocks and high rises and Earth Hour 2011 is fast approaching us, many companies now turn off their lights in high-rise office building in cities all around the world as a show of their environmental credibility. Great work, but something is usually missing, and simply turning the lights off for one hour a year is not good enough.  This year we need to go beyond Earth Hour and make the good deeds we perform on this event something much more sustainable. 

Which leads me to the subject of today's post.  Office Vampires, in the form of millions of personal computers (PCs) are left on, sucking the grid dry during the long dark nights and are a massive contributor to the carbon emissions of many large companies. These emissions can be avoided by enforcing energy policies and behavioural changes, but only if workers are informed of the consequences of their inaction. When examined individually, PCs may not appear to be the biggest energy hog in the office, but when you consider the sheer volume of PCs in the world, the energy and greenhouse gas implications are enormous.

Picture this: A green minded gent (yours truly) arrives at work at 0700 Monday morning and curiously thinks, “I wonder how many PCs were left turned on over the weekend?”. The curious green minded gent then proceeds to do a basic energy audit and discovers 64 out of a possible 75 PCs still turned on with their monitors in standby mode with no one on the floor but himself! What a surprise to the green gent, who actually thought that his work colleagues cared about the planet they lived on.

So to do the sums, the green gent needed to make a few assumptions. If most people leave work at 5pm Friday and return at 8am Monday, that would be 63 hours that the PCs were sucking power without any worker using them. If the average power usage of each PC including monitor, with decent power management enabled was about 54 watt-hours, multiplied by 64 PCs, then multiplied by 63 hours of idleness. That is a whopping 217.7 kWh of electricity wasted over the weekend which is more than the green gent uses at home in an entire month! In the state of Victoria, Australia, that is the equivalent to 265 kg of CO2-e. 

So assuming that every floor in the building have basically the same layout, that the workers have the same lax behaviours, and the building had 50 floors, that would be 10,885 kWh of electricity or 13.2 tonnes of CO2-e released into the atmosphere each weekend. With 52 weekends in a year, the waste would amount to 556,020 kWh of electricity or 690 tonnes of CO2-e each year! The impact is amplified in this country due to our dirty coal based energy supply.  Assuming that the cost per kilowatt hour is 19 cents, that works out to be a grand total of $105,644 of lost profit.  You simply cannot ignore losses like that!

That is just one large building in one city out of many millions of buildings world wide. The mind boggles at the incredible savings in money and greenhouse gas pollution that could be made simply and easily, by each worker turning their PC off before they go home at night. 

Now you could add all the micorwave ovens left on for the clock in all the kitchens on all the floors, and the electronic air freshener sprays with in each toilet, the phone chargers left plugged in, not to mention all the lights left on, the rapid boil hot water systems, and the air conditioning keeping the building cool for cockroaches.  Maybe every floor of every building needs a big green switch to shut down everything that doesn't need to be left on on a timer.  Now that would be very energy efficient.

According to Gartner, every year the information and telecom technology industry generates 2% of the world’s carbon emissions - the same as a year’s worth of air traffic. Moreover, PCs and monitors account for 39% of these emissions, equivalent to the emissions of approximately 46 million cars.

So next time you put your jacket on to leave for home, take a minute of your time to turn off your PC and again at the wall switch. You will be making a massive contribution to avoiding catastrophic climate change. This simple gesture will be noticed by others, who then in turn will follow your lead, and before you know it the dreaded Vampires will be no longer live in your office, ne'er a garlic bulb in sight!