Green ICT Progress in Higher Education

We've noted that there has been too little focus on Green ICT in American higher education. This does not mean that colleges and universities in American and around the global aren't making any progress at all - you can click on the 'education' tag above to see examples. We regularly add updates about global higher education in this post -- the latest looks at an American University's attempt to make an impact on student e-waste.


We updated our post about the persistence of analog TVs in the e-waste stream with this picture from the Donate and Take station during Moving Days at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an institution with 43,000+ students. The Isthmus reports, "The Donate and Take station is run by the UW Office of Sustainability and WE CONSERVE and was open from Aug. 12 to 17 as a way of diverting still usable items from the landfill during the chaotic moving days. The amount of things tossed during this week can be significant. Bryan Johnson, Madison’s recycling coordinator, says about 1.1 million pounds of move-out waste from the streets went to the landfill last year...WE CONSERVE collected 1,428 working and nonworking electronic items, including TVs, printers, motherboards and popcorn makers. 'We’ve had more than 300 TVs come in from campus and the Madison community,' says WE CONSERVE intern Kate Giguere." The article does not says what happened to unwanted electronics and the organizers did not respond to a request for disposal details.


Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC) "is a not-for-profit charity with a membership of over 220 universities and colleges, supporting sustainability within the UK tertiary education sector." EAUC offers a Sustainable ICT Exchange for members to share information and access webinars.

The SURFnet initiative includes Green ICT in Dutch higher education. A 2010 survey "...found that on average ICT consumed roughly 20 per cent of the total energy consumption of a typical higher education [institution]..." The situation today? "While some of the [green ICT practices] have become more common, many [ICT departments] responded that energy saving or green ICT in general was not a priority...Because ICT departments are not paying (directly) for the energy they use!" The SURF website offers Dutch-language Green ICT case studies and best practices for education.

The Green Gown Awards, started in 2004, "...recognise the exceptional sustainability initiatives being undertaken by universities and colleges across the UK." A 'Green ICT' award was introduced in 2009 but was dropped in 2013. The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC), the award organizers, tell us that Green ICT is now embedded in two other award categories: Facilities & Services and Technical Innovation for Sustainability. Here is each year's 'Winner', followed by the 'Highly Commended', for the period that specifically recognized Green ICT.
2012 - De Montfort University, Nottingham Trent University
2011 - University of Hertfordshire, Imperial College London, Queen Margaret University
2010 - University of Liverpool, Warrington Collegiate
2009 - Queen Margaret University Edinburgh, Cardiff University, Imperial College London

An April 2012 report puts the annual ICT energy expense to UK universities and colleges at £147 million. The finding that ICT electricity costs could represent as much as 57% of total electricity costs is not surprising given the energy consumption of ICT-intensive research labs. Other indicators of the unique nature of educational institutions is that imaging equipment can consume up to 19% of ICT energy and audio-visual equipment 21%. This is why Green ICT requires an inclusive definition ICT.

Would a new survey find 2014 ICT energy consumption up or down? The report notes that its figures are significantly higher than those from a 2008 assessment, "likely to be in part a result of increased IT intensity." There is no indication that such growth intensity has decreased since 2012.

There is also a cautionary tale in what happen to PC energy use over that period. "The new results also find personal computing (PC, laptop etc.) energy to be a somewhat smaller proportion of total ICT energy than in 2008...A major reason for this is likely to be the impact of powerdown measures." This is what all-to-often happens to a Green ICT initiative focused at just one part of an ICT infrastructure. Its positive contribution is overwhelmed by the intensity of the growth elsewhere. We've seen a similar phenomenon in US households where the explosion of personal ICT gear has negated other energy consumption improvements.


EPA Green Power Partnership logoUniversities are major users of power for ICT facilities ranging form data centers to research labs, so the use of renewable power on campus contributes to Green ICT. The EPA's Green Power Partnership published its most recent Top 30 College & University ranking in September. The University of Pennsylvania, the University of Oklahoma and Ohio State University ranked tops for annual green power usage. These three schools were also in the top 40 within EPA's National Top 100 list across all sectors.

St. Mary's College of Maryland, Western Washington University, Georgetown University and Santa Clara University ranked best for the percentage of their total power consumption that was green. These were the schools that generated more green power than they consumed.


University of Liverpool won the Green Gown's Green ICT award for its freely-available PowerDown power management tools for Windows, which is says eliminated 1,000,000 hours/month of idle time. But even while receiving the award, the University was already in the process of replacing PowerDown with a more "aggressive" commercial product (PowerMAN) which it predicts will double the reductions. Green ICT never stands still!