Tech industry leaders: We're already reducing emissions

American IT firms are already hard at work reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing energy expenditures, some of their leading representatives told the United Nations today. Among their cases-in-point are server virtualization and remote printer management.

UNITED NATIONS (BetaNews) - A recent IBM project to move the processing power of some 3,900 of its own enterprise servers onto 30 mainframes has already saved the company $450 million in operational expenses and $30 million in additional energy costs, according to Rich Lechner, IBM's vice president for IT optimization. Lechner, along with several other industry executives and diplomatic leaders, spoke at a conference on the technology industry's responsibility for the global environment today at the UN in New York City.

Earlier in the day, IBM vice president for environmental affairs and product safety Wayne Balta told the UN audience that prior to the virtualization project, his company had already implemented energy reduction programs that saved its data centers a total of $290 million since company policy reforms began in 1990.

But from here it gets harder, Balta announced. "The low-hanging fruit has already been picked," he said, referring to energy conservation goals that companies have already implemented. "The easier goals have already been met." Now he says the company plans to reduce carbon emissions throughout its entire worldwide corporate and manufacturing complexes by another 12% by 2012.

Earlier today at the UN, a Dept. of Energy official proclaimed that data centers were the least efficient energy consumers in information technology, deeming them "centers of enormous waste."

But Dell's director of sustainable business, Tod Arbogast, politely -- diplomatically, you might say -- took issue with that approach, telling the UN audience that data centers with efficient servers are in fact more efficient, in terms of processing energy and maintenance energy. It's PCs, Arbogast said, where the efficiency problem today truly lies.

"The largest opportunity [for improvement] is in the desktop," he remarked, mainly because even the smallest efficiency boost that manufacturers such as Dell can make are then magnified and replicated among "hundreds of millions of PCs out there." Simple, incremental improvements to PC power management can make all the difference.

Whether it's a problem or actually a benefit, Xerox' vice president for environmental affairs Patricia Calkins told the UN, there's something about paper that people just don't want to part with. "People really like paper," she remarked, stating that it invokes all its users' senses -- including sight, sound, touch, and smell -- in a way that LCDs cannot.

After reading a passage from Rachel Carson's classic Silent Spring -- a classic 1962 book which introduced the world to the dangers of the pesticide DDT -- Calkins asked the audience to imagine how Carson, whose 100th birthday is today, would think of corporate environmental consciousness today, especially when compared to the cover-up mentality that existed over four decades ago. She might come to the conclusion, Calkins theorized, that "green has gone chic," and that the idea of being environmentally responsible was in danger of becoming the next fad, of growing passy.

For Xerox' part, she said, it started instituting best practices long ago, by advocating "full duplex" printing - making copies on both sides of the page. She later quoted from the classic 1975 Xerox treatise on "the paperless office," before remarking that networked offices today actually generate more paper consumption than three decades ago.

"We're worse off now than we were back then," Calkins proclaimed.

Solutions she suggested sound strangely familiar: for instance, deploying multi-function communications devices such as phone/fax/printer combos, software tools that enable administrators to manage copiers from one location (reducing the need to drive back and forth between branch offices), and following Xerox' "smart document" policies which reduce the need for repetitive duplication. This from what remains largely known as a copier company.

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