User Behavior Can Thwart Green Tech

We can't emphasize enough that behavioral/cultural change is the oft-overlooked challenge to Green ICT. We have seen what happens when green is not the default behavior or when cultural entitlements thwart good intentions. A couple more examples come from academia.

A major public university conducted an energy audit and discovered that its consumption on 24 December, the day of lowest activity, was still ~60% of its consumption on a typical day when class is in session. This essentially represents standby power for an always-on campus whose members expect 24/7 access to labs and other facilities. It will take a major cultural transformation, not just green tech, to make a major reduction in that consumption.

Princeton discovered that moving educational materials to digital formats did not necessarily reduce printing. The university reports, "Statistics show that students are not reading digital articles and book selections on their computer screens, but rather downloading the same files again and again, and printing them multiple times in the course of a semester...Since the inception of digital document delivery on campus, printing has increased, rather than lessened." Princeton is now experimenting with e-readers to see if they will change student behavior.

As with most high tech endeavors, Green ICT is as much about social science as computer science.

Update 2010.08.16
Stanford University is giving iPads to incoming medical students this fall. The San Francisco Chronicle calls this "a move that administrators hope will improve the learning experience and also cut the school's paper use." The paper goes on to report a "total cost around $40,000...only slightly more than what the medical school used to pay to print paper course materials, which now will only be available online."

Will e-devices actually reduce print? A follow-up study at Princeton suggests they will. "Most students surveyed in the Princeton pilot (94%) said they did use less paper, reducing by as much as 85% the printing they normally would have done in the pilot course....In reviewing the printing figures for the semester among pilot participants and other students, it would seem at first glance, that the students were quite accurate in their self-assessments...[Another] seminar had a high percentage (24%) of students who were also participating in the e-reader pilot. Students in that course printed an average of 1508 sheets of paper. Students who had a Kindle taking the same course printed an average of 570 sheets. This suggests that there is a cumulative effect in saving paper when e-readers are used in more than one course."