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IT Strategy: Switch off

There is something deeply annoying about arriving at work in the morning and
switching on the computer only to be confronted with a 10-minute wait while the
plethora of largely useless, but extremely processor-intensive, applications
slowly grind into life. By the time you dare commit a double-click, the coffee’s
cold and the day has got off to a bad start.

It’s a situation that millions of office workers are confronted with every
day across the UK. That is, of course, if they bothered to turn off their
computers before they went home the night before.

I have to admit, I’m one of the heinous many who choose to leave their PC on
overnight rather than be put through this particular sort of torture every
morning. And I’m one of the better ones – I turn off my monitor. I also switch
off on a Friday evening before going home for the weekend. One morning a week I
can just about handle.

According to the Carbon Trust, leaving a computer screen on alone for just
one night uses enough electricity to microwave six dinners. And while I’d much
rather leave my PC monitor on overnight than be subjected to six ready meals,
it’s a quite startling fact – especially when we consider how expensive energy
has become over the past few years.

Technology is responsible for a huge amount of waste in the average office. A
story which would be funny if it weren’t so serious highlights the sheer
complacency most of us have towards energy use in the workplace. On walking past
an office near Broadgate in London one Sunday morning, Dr Garry Felgate of the
Carbon Trust spotted the remarkable sight of about 50 PCs, still switched on,
displaying the message ‘Remember to switch off your computer’. It obviously
didn’t sink in.

But the simple fact is that companies stand to save an awful lot of money
from improving the end-user understanding of energy use and computer best
practice. And, at the same time, it will help in the battle against climate

Again, according to the
, a computer that is left on for 24-hours a day, seven days a week
will cost £25 a year to run. However, if companies enforce a successful policy
where staff turn off their computers at the weekend and in the evening (note to
self) this can be reduced to just £7. And, while a saving of £18 does not
immediately sound enough to get the juices flowing, when multiplied by the
number of PCs in the average enterprise it’s suddenly transformed into a
significant cash saving. And this is just one aspect of how technology can help
in the environmental battle.

One company that has tackled the problem head-on is
, which, in December 2004, made the commitment to become completely
carbon-neutral. There are, of course, many ways of making this happen and the
bank pursued most, including reductions in business travel, more efficient
thermostats, the planting of trees and the sourcing of renewable energy.

But technology also plays a significant role. An increased use of
video-conferencing technology is one very efficient way of cutting down on
carbon-intensive business travel, which, for a global operation such as HSBC,
will often involve air travel. The bank has also installed energy-smart
software, which safely shuts down computers that have been left idle for a
period of time. Policies for how much printing should be carried out, and is
needed, are widespread throughout the HSBC enterprise.

But it’s not just computers that are a potential problem. In the US alone
there are an estimated one-and-a-quarter billion phone chargers. If even
one-tenth of these are plugged in during the day, and switched on, while their
owners have their phone in their pockets, they are still drawing an incredible
amount of energy needlessly.

The high-tech industry is doing its bit to cut down on energy use. The talk
in Silicon Valley has shifted (admittedly only marginally) from the most
powerful processors to the most efficient. Intel, Sun Microsystems and AMD are
all heavily involved in trying to improve the efficiency of their technology.
Research carried out in 2006 by Fujitsu Siemens and Computacenter found that the
UK’s largest 200 publicly owned companies waste in excess of £61m every year
through using inefficient, power-hungry PCs.

However, the immediate battle should not be fought in Silicon Valley, but in
the boardrooms of businesses. With a little education and a lot of perseverance,
employees will finally get the message that they can do something very simple
and practical to help improve the bottom line of the company and tackle climate
change at the same time.

I’ve at least convinced myself. Ten minutes every morning is just about
enough time to scan the headlines in the Financial Times. By the time
it’s on the recycling pile, my computer should finally have warmed up. Unlike my

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