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Toward a greener IT landscape in Asia

Posted: 18 Mar 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Asia green IT? engineering green? 3R energy?

Catastrophic natural disasters have in recent years become ever-present reminders of the power of nature. Events such as the devastating earthquake in Sichuan province, hurricane Ike in the United States and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami have shocked the world. These have been seen as a wake-up call for the human race as it continues on its relentless path of economic growth, development and consumption.

Even in our day-to-day lives, the hallmarks of global change are apparent, in the sprawl of cities over the countryside, the manifestation of climate change in warmer winters and more severe heat waves, dirty air in our cities and pollution in our waters.

Home to some of the world's fastest developing regions, it's perhaps no surprise that such changes are noticeable here in Asia Pacific. With its huge number of territories, rich diversity of ethnicities and cultures, and supporting almost 4 billion people or 60 percent of the world's population, our region is experiencing exponential increases in consumption. China and India will account for 45 percent of the increase in global primary energy demand by 2030, for instance, with both countries more than doubling their energy use over that period.

Part of the problem, not solution
Pressing environmental challenges include urban air quality, fresh water stress, agricultural land use (a threat to food security) and increased waste. What has all this got to do with the IT industry? According to analyst firm Gartner Inc., at present the IT industry is seen as part of the environmental problem, instead of being part of the solution. Perhaps with good reason, as it is estimated that IT does as much damage to the environment as the airline industry. IDC estimates that roughly $0.50 is spent on energy for every dollar of computer hardware, and this is expected to increase by 54 percent to 71 cents by 2010.

One related example, illegal traffic in electronic waste, is a new challenge affecting the environment. More than 90 percent of the 20-50 million tons of electronic waste produced globally every year ends up in Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar and Pakistan. But Asian workers are reported to be "using obsolete technologies to process 21st century wastes." Gartner calls on CIOs to take the lead to review policies and practices, as well as set basic environmental IT targets.

What are some of the other steps that the technology industry should be taking to help face some of these immense challenges? The good news is that there is a growing range of options available for reducing and changing consumption patterns as well as dealing with the resulting electronic waste. Here are some key considerations for the IT industry and users alike:

Saving energy at home!Energy awareness starts at home. Take a look around your home. Chances are you are living in a digital home typical of today with STBs, PCs, home entertainment systems and more.

By simply unplugging appliances such as coffee pots, toasters, hair dryers and computer cords when leaving the house, and switching off large energy consumers like entertainment centers when leaving for vacation, harmful CO2 emissions can be reduced; money is also saved on energy bills. estimates that it costs U.S. homeowners $100 per year to power appliances in standby mode.

Supporting initiatives such as Climate Savers Computing will help in the global push to improve energy usage!the group's mission is to reduce global CO2 emissions from the operation of computers by 50 percent by promoting development, deployment and adoption of smart technologies for computer power efficiency.

Addressing corporate computing environments!Compared to households, data centers and business computing environments are large users of energy. Indeed, energy efficiency has emerged as one of the most critical issues facing the data center today. It will take the combined efforts of industry players to advance energy efficiencies here, and non-profit consortium The Green Grid has been established for precisely this purpose.

The group works to define new policies to improve performance and reduce hardware power requirements; developing, adopting and promoting new industrywide standards, best practices and technologies designed to optimize today's data center environments.

Green manufacturing!Smart uses of technology can also go a long way to improving the green credentials of manufacturing, across multiple industries!providing opportunities and impetus for new innovations by the IT community. From deploying alternative energy sources such as solar or wind power, implementing new waste water treatment or recycling solutions to increasing use of ocean vs. air shipping, CO2 emissions and water pollution can be significantly reduced.

One simple way for manufacturers to improve their environmental protection measures is to redesign packaging to reduce their use of plastic and paper, aiming for 100 percent recycled and recyclable product packaging.

Lobbying for new policies!Governments throughout Asia are taking a stance and encouraging corporations and consumers to adopt green practices and technologies. While ongoing initiatives and awards such as the National Excellent CSR Fulfillment Award (China), The Prime Minister's Industrial Awards (Thailand), Singapore Environmental Achievement Award, Clean Production Enterprise Award (Shenzhen) and Kanto Area Chairman's Award (Fujisawa) should be encouraged and supported, there is still some way to go before government policy frameworks in Asia are on a par with other regions.

In Europe for example, the RoHS directive helps to eliminate toxic substances from electronic equipment while WEEE requires equipment to be appropriately marked for recycling. Interestingly, China has followed suit and adopted RoHS guidelines of its own.

Meanwhile, Gartner expects more collaboration between enterprises and governments to accelerate eco-friendly efforts. And as CIOs are increasingly pressured to cut IT costs, especially in these times of financial downturn, there will be even more demand for smart innovations and adoptions of IT that are both green and cost-effective.

Too much to ask for?
Forward-looking technology leaders are seeking ways to simultaneously incorporate environmental protection into the home, corporate computing environment and their own manufacturing operations.

For instance, the new EcoTrac symbol used in the HDD industry identifies products that provide benefits to customers through power efficiency and minimal impact to the environment over the product lifecycle. Similarly, new CoolSpin hard drive technology delivers high levels of power efficiency and quiet operation for digital video applications. CoolSpin drives use a low-power motor design which, in turn, lowers energy costs for consumers. On the manufacturing side, the Super Eco-Factory certification was created as a way to develop and promote industry-leading environmental practices and to apply them globally to hard disk drive manufacturing facilities.

Such innovative thinking is attracting the attention of venture capital investors, who have high hopes for green-tech initiatives. According to recent KPMG research, investors see green IT ventures leading the way in IPO activities in the coming year!especially given high fuel costs and ever-rising green consciousness. Most respondents (70 percent) expected a 10 percent increase or more in 2009 in IPO activity among alternative fuels, solar power, auto and wind ventures. The technology industry will be eagerly anticipating successful listings to bolster and validate the burgeoning green technology sector.

So, as we have seen, environmental protection today is somewhat more complex than the old "3Rs" rule of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle," and IT firms have a major role to play in driving toward creative solutions for home and corporate users, as well as manufacturers. Meanwhile, governments should continue to foster collaboration to accelerate environmental protection measures. We can no longer ignore the wake-up call to radically rethink our relationship with the environment, for the good of industry as well as society.

- Robert Chu
VP for Asia Pacific, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies

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