Green computing, as the name suggests, is a method of making computer waste (and electronics in general) recyclable and implementing energy efficient technologies. It actually reduces poisonous components of computers or electronic goods, and minimizes environmental harm. The technology used in green computing is known as green technology, and its purpose is to implement technology which is energy efficient. This can be energy efficient central processing units, servers, accessories or a number of other components. These technologies help in reducing power and consumption of other resources. The overall purpose is to use technologies on both the hardware and software side to reduce environmental pollution, improve energy efficiency in IT and also promote recycling of materials.

What Is Green Computing?

Green computing, as mentioned, comprises methods used for the minimization of computer waste and the implementation of technologies that are energy efficient in nature. The green computing program was born in the year 1992, with the Energy Star program in the U.S. Its purpose was for the computer industry to adopt sustainable practices on several fronts, such as manufacturing, design, usage and eventual disposal. This program was a success and also made its way to several other nations, like Japan, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and also the EU.

The computers that we use so immensely are made with poisonous materials, such as lead, chromium, mercury and cadmium. If these metals happen to make their way into the environment, by land, water or air, they can cause serious harm to human health. Additionally, there is no solution to date with regard to the millions of computers that crowd landfill sites around the world. While we are dependent on computers for a large number of tasks, they consume a significant amount of energy for operations.

So, it can be said that green computing essentially is a means to achieve environmentally sustainable computing, which can be done without affecting or only minimally affecting the environment, in terms of designing, making, using and disposing of computers and similar devices or systems.

How Is It Implemented?

When it comes to green computing, implementing it is getting easier day by day, largely due to the several software and hardware solutions that allow one to adopt green standards. They also apply to all classes of systems, whether it is a small handheld scanner to large data centers that host thousands of servers.

The most notable contribution of the Energy Star program was “sleep mode” for computers, where the system simply goes into hibernation when it isn’t in use, thereby saving energy. Since then, it has come a long way. Software optimization and deployment can be a good means for implementing green computing. This can be achieved via efficiency in algorithms, proper allocation of resources, and virtualization. Current methods of saving energy include:

  • Algorithmic efficiency directly affects the amount of resources required for running computer functions. In this regard, changes such as moving from linear-based search to hashing or indexing can result in faster processes, thereby reducing the usage of resources. Closely linked to this is the aspect of resource allocation. If proper allocation of resources can be made in computing, one can reap the benefits, as it means their efficient utilization. This can also lead to a cut in costs for businesses.
  • Virtualization is another very important method that helps in implementing green computing. Here, two or more logical computer systems can be run on the same piece of hardware. Thus, one can cut down the number of computer systems required by simply having one powerful system. Virtualization also helps in terms of energy efficiency, as one system will certainly consume less power than many.
  • Power management can very effectively allow for implementation of green computing principles, as it helps in improving energy efficiency. With proper power management, it is possible to reduce power consumption, which further leads to a reduction in carbon emissions. Several key operating systems, such as Windows and macOS versions have power management features that allow for standby modes and turning off the monitor, without actually having to shut down the system in its entirety. These can be used when needed and it helps save energy. Further, there is third-party software, such as 1E NightWatchman and Faronics Power Save that can help by offering power management features that are not offered by Windows or macOS.
  • In terms of hardware usage too, green computing can be implemented. For example, one can make use of hard disk drives of the small form factor, i.e. 2.5 inch, as they consume less power. Another major way is to replace them with solid-state drives that contain no moving parts. This will also lead to reduced power consumption. CRT monitors are also known to consume more power when compared to the newer LED or LCD monitors. So, replacing any antiquated monitors you still have around the office can be another means to implement green computing.
  • Cloud computing is effectively one of the major ways to achieve sustainability in terms of computing. It reduces energy usage and resource consumption. Many companies can, and have been, moving their applications to the cloud, thereby cutting down on use of computing and energy resources and carbon emissions. (For more on this, see Cloud Computing and Carbon Footprints: Why Cloud Solutions Are Green Solutions.)

These are just some of the more easy-to-adopt means to achieve green computing, and there are many more as well.

What Is the Impact?

With challenges such climate change and the heavy consumption of non-renewable energy resources, business and individuals have understood the need for adopting green computing standards and have shown the eagerness to contribute to it.

In addition to this, governments and organizations across the world have also taken steps to increase awareness in this matter. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green IT unit stresses e-cycling and refurbishment of electronic products. Likewise, there are several organizations too that certify green computing practices such as CompTIA, the Green Computing Initiative, the Information Systems Examination Board, the Green Grid and Green500.

As such, many business organizations have also resorted to achieving green computing standards as it boosts their image. These companies often have departments that are devoted to cutting energy consumption and carbon emissions. IT systems often make up to 30 percent of a company's electricity bills, and many companies have started to improve on them. They regularly review their bills, calculate their carbon footprint and focus on their reduction to achieve better standards. (To learn more about how going green can help a company's image, see 5 Reasons Why Green IT Is Pure Gold for Business.)

What Is the Future?

One of the most talked about aspects when it comes to green computing is the adoption of alternative energy resources to power IT. While these hold plenty of promise for the future, scientists have also been looking at other means to promote this. Nanotechnology is being used for the manipulation of materials on a nanometer scale, such that they can be more efficient in energy consumption.

Many companies have green computing initiatives that aim to achieve energy efficiency by using clean-computing strategies for designing and manufacturing CPUs, motherboards and other computing hardware. VIA Technologies, based out of Taiwan, is a notable promoter of this.

Carbon-free computing has been adopted as another means, where the main purpose is to make use of technologies that emit lesser amounts of CO2 into the environment.

Recycling and the use of refurbished products have seen light of late, and can be trendsetters for the future. Dell is well known for its product recycling program across that world, and it also comes at no charge. So, these are likely trends that will lead the way to achieve green computing in the future.

Conclusion

As the use of computers and related devices grow every year, it is imperative that people and organizations are well acquainted with the consequences, as far as the impact of these devices on the environment is concerned. The present level of computing is clearly unsustainable. The internet is probably one of the biggest platforms to educate people about ways to promote and achieve green computing. Individuals can start to inculcate simple practices, like turning off devices when not in use, or buying energy efficient products to begin with. This will enable the promotion and widespread implementation of green computing principles.