Going Green: Some questions remain unanswered

by Sharon Lobo    May 13, 2010

As we reel under the intense summer heat, it is not surprising that phrases like ‘global warming’ and ‘going green’ find themselves mentioned in every informal conversation we might have. Though such topics on the environment are discussed on and off at various levels of society, the conviction to do something constructive about it still remains a pipe dream — the IT space being no different.

These days every IT company wants to be associated with the ‘going green’ concept. Even though there are companies that try doing their bit for the environment, frankly, it is still not sufficient. For starters, only a handful of companies claim they have eco-friendly manufacturing processes in place even though it adds to their OPEX. Now this claim can be debatable for the simple reason that businesses prefer their expenditures reduced and not otherwise.

On the other hand, there are IT companies that have waste management initiatives where customers can return their old computers instead of just dumping them. But companies prefer to heavily advertise their new products rather than their green initiatives. As a result old computers, peripherals and other electronic devices still find themselves in dumping grounds where they continue to poison the earth.

The major reason for gadgets getting obsolete so fast is our insatiable desire for newer products. For example, on an average, people change their mobile phones within a year’s time. So while you replace your old phone you might also need to get rid of its accessories as they would not necessarily be compatible with the new device. In such a scenario, an essential accessory like the power charger is discarded even though it is in good working condition. This leads to more than 51,000 tonnes of duplicate chargers being discarded every year according to a GSMA (an association which represents the worldwide mobile communications industry) analysis. That is a staggering number.

To address this issue, last February the GSMA along with 17 leading mobile operators and manufacturers decided to make Micro-USB the common universal charging interface by January 1, 2012. Users can then use their old mobile phone chargers with the new ones no matter which brand they opt for. However, the flip side is that well known mobile manufactures are yet to implement this initiative. The question still remains whether the power charger manufactures will take this move in their stride.

You might have also come across instances where the usage of renewable sources of energy has begun to gather momentum. For instance in Iceland the average temperature is no more than 15 degree Celsius and the country also has an abundant supply of geothermal power. This makes it an ideal location to setup data centers as they can be powered and kept cool using renewable energy sources. Another instance where green energy sources can be used in data centers is Google’s idea of floating data centers that could be powered and cooled by the ocean. Here too, the question remains that if both these ideas click, then what will happen about the traditional data centers that are operational? Will they — in the ‘going green’ spirit — shift base to more suitable climes?

I have highlighted only a few examples but there are numerous ‘green’ initiatives that have been undertaken by companies and still do not solve the enormity of the issue. The pace for going green is too slow and no business would want to go down this road by forfeiting even a part of their revenues. Why is it that ‘going green’ initiatives, always at some point, seem to come up against a red signal?