Tech is not the answer to being eco-friendly

by Ashutosh Desai    Aug 16, 2010

The last time I met up with Alok Bharadwaj, VP-Marketing, Canon India, it was mainly about the new line of imageRunner printers and the company’s progress and targets for the year. But before we got to the company’s roadmap and numbers, Bharadwaj placed some startling facts. According to Canon, there are approximately two lakh copier and multi-function devices in the offices of large enterprises and SMBs. This does not even include publishing companies. Another 20 lakh devices across the country are printing devices, bringing the grand total to 22 lakh. The total amount of paper printed from these 22 lakh devices is estimated to be at 12 billion sheets — every month. Almost 20 percent are considered to be of waste — either unclaimed or printed but not found.

I tried to get an estimate on the number of trees this figure translates into. Based on the calculations carried out by a popular general knowledge website, a single tree can produce 80,500 sheets of paper. (I am not going to get into the type of tree and the kind of paper manufactured from it. Let’s just consider ’standard issue’ paper.) Divide 20 billion by 80,500 sheets of paper and you get a whopping figure of 248,447.205 trees. That’s how many trees are required to fuel 20 billion sheets every month. How many trees would we have saved if that ‘20 percent waste’ paper was not printed at all? You do the math. Also keep in mind, this 20 billion figure is an estimate — it could be more and it does not account for publishing houses. The latter are notorious for printing articles for multiple proof reads and most of them are never reused. I should know — I was part of it at one point of time.

Wasting paper through unnecessary prints is just one example of how resources are abused knowingly and unknowingly. The repercussions of excessive printing have an effect on energy consumption, increased maintenance and frequent ink cartridge replacement. Each one affects the environment. Everything we do in the office today impacts the environment in some way or the other. (Actually, how we use and abuse resources outside office also plays a factor but let’s stick to the office for the moment.)

Can this attitude be reversed? If not for the company, can we be frugal for the environment? Even if your company’s policy does not include any ‘green rules’ in its handbook, is it possible to follow your own? I think it is possible, if one puts in some serious thought. Using resources sensibly does not have to mean that you have to turn into a Holy Joe, hug trees and paint red crosses on the backs of ‘eco-sinners’. Each one of us can decide to change the way we use resources in the office. Most of all, initiatives do not need to revolve around technology only. Technology can be the enabler not the answer.

Here is an example. Deepak Visweswaraiah, Senior Director and General Manager, Storage Software Group (SSG), India Center of Excellence at EMC, took it upon himself to ensure that the new R&D facility was designed to be sustainable — from IT as well as the environment perspective. Visweswaraiah ensured that the facility was designed to provide efficient cooling without obstruction and used eco-friendly raw material. Since the facility houses over 3,000 servers, a process has been put into place wherein idle servers are identified and automatically turned off over the weekend. Come Monday, the servers are functional before the engineers walk in. With approximately 800 servers being put through this routine, Visweswaraiah has affected a 15-20 percent energy savings. This could increase as he hopes to identify more idle servers. This is what he refers to as the IT perspective of corporate sustainability.

The other bit is his resolve to be more environmentally conscious. He is in the process of setting up a car pooling service for the employees in the facility so that everyone reduces their own carbon footprint. An internal online car pooling application is being set up to ensure that employees only car pool with colleagues. Other initiatives he set into motion were simple things like ensuring that by default everyone printed on both sides of the paper and monitors go off when idle.

These are simple activities that we all can put into practice. Visweswaraiah does these things because they are close to his heart. It just shows that sometimes being ‘green’ does not always require you to use new age technology. It only requires you to use your ‘common sense.’