We often come across new terms and acronyms which are often easier to say than they are to fully comprehend. One of the most interesting and frequently referenced is the question of carbon reduction and carbon footprint. This article will look at the carbon footprint of computers, something that is often considerably underestimated. So let’s just have a look at some of these acronyms and definitions first…….
Although there have been numerous global committees set up to combat the vagaries of climate change, there is very little agreed consensus beyond the established terms, such acronyms for green house gases (GHG), kilowatt hour (kWh or kWhr) and carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e, CDE, CDM or CO2eq).
Another difficulty is determining the CO2 equivalence reporting factor. This is a value which varies according to the nation in question. For example, in the UK the Department for Environment, Food and Regional Affairs (DEFRA) has devised a table of electricity generation and consumption which currently proffers a reporting factor of 0.462kg CO2e/kWhr (as of 04/2016).
And finally, the amount of CO2 or CO2e which can be absorbed by forestry is dependent hugely on the nature of the forest, the health of the soil therein and the age and type of the indigenous trees of that forest.
We have the DEFRA tables and Forestry commission documents which we can distribute to you should you wish, otherwise these can be found quite easily online (sources detailed below).
What does this mean for your business?
We have developed an example relating to a standard office setting in which 100 computers are in use. A standard computer consumes around 171 watts of electricity (this is exclusive of the display screen and any external peripherals added).
Most businesses are now being encouraged to leave there computers switched on permanently, in order to allow for the download and installation of essential updates, antivirus checks and security issues. So this calculation is based on a hundred computers being powered on for 24 hours a day, 365 days a years. This equates to a total of 8,760 hours per year.
So the carbon cost of 100 computers in an office environment is the wattage of each computer multiplied by the total uptime divided by 1000 (to convert to kilowatt hours) multiplied by the UK reporting factor of 0.462. The figure reached is then multiplied again by 100 to determine the total carbon cost of using that many computers in our theoretical commercial setting.
The result is as follows:
Using 100 standard computers produces 69,205.8 kg CO2e per annum.
According to the UK forestry commission, when UK woodlands are considered as a whole, the average forest can absorb 5.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare per year (source 2 below).
So if that theoretical office were using 100 standard computers, more than 12 hectares of UK woodland would need to be planted every year (not taking into consideration the number of years needed for those trees to attain maturity and peak carbon consumption).
That is an area the size of a small town!
So what can you do to reduce that carbon footprint, especially if your organisation uses a lot of desktop computer, laptops or servers?
- ensure your IT department has a policy in place for refresh cycles, which can be clearly distributed and planned, so that computers will only be required to be switched on overnight on infrequent occasions
- become involved with local or national carbon reduction activities
- investigate opportunities to reduce your company wide waste production
- review printer use, install automated lighting and efficient air conditioning solutions
- devise inter-departmental efficiency contests to game-ify the process and make it something engaging
- create reports so that the changes being made to embrace sustainability can be measured and recognised
- actively seek solutions that are more energy-efficient, without impacting your business
- make all these steps public – it will only reflect positively on your brand
There are many ways that we can offset our carbon emissions, without impacting our productivity or that of our business.
Hopefully, this article has proven useful to you. Of course, feel free to contact us to learn more.