Too Little Focus on Green ICT in American Higher Education

The 'education' tag, above, will lead you to all sorts of stories about educational institutions around the world that are incorporating Green ICT technologies and practices. These range from the public universities in the United Kingdom to African schools in cleverly-configured shipping containers. What is missing are signs of wide-spread adoption of Green ICT by America's colleges and universities even where 'green' is the focus. A review of various 'green' lists illustrates the problem. published a 2013 infrographic called "How Green Is Your Campus?". The inforgraphic and its accompanying material recognize 10 American colleges/universities for their green practices. The practices and their outcomes are laudable, but we could find little evidence that these institutions are embracing Green ICT. "All computers are Energy Star-rated" was cited for the College of the Atlantic, but that seemed to be it.

Sierra Club's 2013 10 Coolest Schools' rating system gives "...a percentage of [7] available points based on the percentage of computers purchased that are registered EPEAT Silver or Gold." Also, "Institutions earn half of [20] available points by having a program to refurbish, reuse, or recycle electronic waste generated by the school. Institutions earn half of available points for having a similar program for electronic waste generated by students." Those two account for less than 3% of the 1000 points available, so it is not surprising the Sierra Club offers only one Green ICT citation as well: American University for its "quarterly e-waste drives."

The College Sustainability Report Card was last published in 2011, then discontinued. It had two explicit reference to Green ICT in its criteria: "Mandating through a formal policy, or informally prioritizing, the purchase of reusable or green-certified materials, including, but not limited to, Energy Star products, EPEAT-certified electronics, and environmentally preferable paper products" and a "Recycling of Electronic Waste Providing recycling for items like batteries, cell phones, computers, and printer cartridges, for waste generated by students and by the school." (It is difficult to find in the presentation of the schools' information which ones were actually doing something in these areas.) It is ironic that the one of the two rating sites that had some Green ICT criteria is no longer in operation.

The Report Card's publisher, the Sustainable Endowments Institute, is focused on a new higher-education initiative. "The Billion Dollar Green Challenge (The Challenge) encourages colleges, universities, and other nonprofit institutions to invest a combined total of one billion dollars in self-managed green revolving funds that finance energy efficiency improvements. The Challenge was launched in October of 2011." I'll take a look at how The Challenge is addressing Green ICT in a future update.

The Princeton Review's Green Honor Roll does not appear to incorporate any Green ICT criteria in its ratings and we were able to search out only two Green ICT initiatives in the text: California State University, Chico - "The Alliance to Save Energy's Green Campus program introduced energy-saving software to campus computer labs, earning CSU Chico a $50,000 grant from Pacific Gas and Electric." and University of California, Los Angeles - "Now all of the university's computers are Energy Star rated..."

Institutions on all lists are noted for broad achievements like renewable energy use, electricity reduction, LEED buildings, waste heat re-use, and other initiatives which have a potential role in Green ICT. It would be useful to know if any of these are tied to conventional ICT facilities like data centers or ICT-intensive educational spaces like research laboratories.

Everyone involved around the world in Green ICT for education would benefit from more leadership at American colleges/universities and a sharper focus from these list-makers.

IT Power Management in Education

Hi Matt, I certainly wouldn’t argue with your findings on green ICT adoption in universities and colleges, because you’ve obviously done your homework! I would perhaps just point you towards some of our own work to help universities; colleges and schools in the US reduce carbon emissions and energy costs through PC power management. I can’t promise that in all cases the universities are operating a wider Green ICT campaign, but use of PC power management is certainly a great example of Green ICT tools in use.

If you check out our website here: you’ll see great examples from Washoe County School District, Portland Community College, Chapman University and Boulder Valley School District.

Costs savings generated through reductions in energy consumption run into many thousands of dollars annually. Plus, Boulder Valley has identified a reduction of 3,670 tones of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere every year.


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