You Don't have to be an Environmentalist to Have Green Habits

You don’t have to believe to be green

Here’s some interesting facts you won’t read in your local newspaper: the world has stopped warming. Data from all four major global temperature tracking outlets (Hadley, NASA’s GISS, UAH, RSS) released in February this year show that the world cooled between 0.65-0.75C in 2007.

The trend isn’t new. If we take the global average temperature from 2001, the trend is downwards. In the 1730’s, Europe underwent a period of rapid warming similar to the one recorded in the lead up to 2001. There is a lack of activity on the sun that some are suggesting could be the start of a Maunder Minimum.

Every time you hear people on television say that there are only a handful of manmade global climate change skeptics, you might be interested to note that the number in the United States alone includes 31,000 scientists – 9,000 with doctorate degrees in atmospheric science, climatology, Earth science, environment and other specialties. The list includes 9,021 Ph.D.s, 6,961 at the master’s level, 2,240 medical doctors and 12,850 carrying a bachelor of science or equivalent academic degree.

I could spend hours trying to convince many of you that the idea of man made global warming is flawed, and no matter what the facts, you will probably never change your mind. Believers in cults rarely do. But ultimately what you believe doesn’t matter, because you don’t have to believe to be green.

Oil

We’ve switched from leaded fuel to unleaded, and yet the pollution keeps on being pumped out. Whether air quality is related to global warming or not makes no difference as no one wants to breathe smog.

Then there’s a pure economic side. As gas has surged past $4 a gallon in the United States, the cost of filling a car has skyrocketed. Even if the price settles down in the short term, the price will only increase over the long term as global demand increases and global supply diminishes. The concept of peak oil is open to debate as to when we’ll run out, but we know oil is a finite resource.

We can make a difference now. Smaller cars, greener cars. Electric vehicles are readily available today, and some diesel vehicles coming out of Europe offer extraordinary milage. Smaller cars offer great savings as well, and do you really need an SUV to go to the local supermarket?

I drive a 2003 3 door Toyota Echo with a 4 cyclinder, 1.3 liter engine. I don’t know what the imperial conversion is, but it does 4.1lts/ 100 kms. [Editors Note: That would be a whopping 57 miles/gallon, but is also the manufacturer's numbers.] I do so little driving now that I fill it up only once a month. When we purchased the car I was driving 200kms (about 130 miles) a day at a time where gas was half the price it is today, because even then we knew that we didn’t want to spend a growing chunk of our incomes on filling the car.

Reducing your gas consumption is both good for the environment and saves you money.

Plastic bags

Plastic is made from petroleum products, so in some ways this relates to the need to get off of oil. But from a green viewpoint there’s nothing hard about taking your own bags to the supermarket, and most places sell green friendly, reusable bags for a small cost. When we do get plastic bags, we keep them and reuse them later. One person doing so doesn’t make a huge difference, but imagine if we all did it.

Recycling

Recycling, depending on where you live can be a bit of a joke, and there were reports in Australia last year that recycled materials were being dumped because no one would take them. Even if that is true, that a portion of the materials you recycle are used is a start, and technology is increasingly delivering better ways of recycling just about anything you can think of. Chances are that next ream of paper you buy, or newspaper you read, will have at least part recycled paper. Recycling reduces pollution through reduced use of resources and by reducing the amount of rubbish dumped in landfills.

Water

Many experts now think that the wars of the future will be over water. We have lot of salt water, but fresh water is a scare resource, and much like oil will increase in price as demand outstrips supply. Here in Australia, water is THE number one environmental issue, and where I live currently you can’t water your lawn or even wash your car (you can wash your car at a car wash, but the car washes themselves have strict recycling and environmental restrictions).

There are plenty of things you can do to save water. Don’t plant a lawn, or if you have one add a soil wetting agent so the need for regular watering is reduced. Put a water saver into your shower that reduces the flow of water, or install a dual flush toilet (which are now compulsory in all new Australian homes). Not only is saving water good for the environment, it can be good for your back pocket as well.

Use public transport

Better than reducing the size of your car is giving up your car completely, or where possible. Mass transit systems worldwide are experiencing a boom in use as oil prices have gone up, but Governments will only invest more into these systems when even more people switch. If you’re commuting, can you drive to a local train station and catch a train? Is there a local bus, or tram you can use? Every car off the road cuts down on oil use and pollution, and helps deliver a better environment. It will also save you money.

* Photo credit: Richard Giles

3 Things You Can Do to Green your Data Center

Data Centers pose a problem when it comes to being energy efficient. Servers are on all day, every day and are expected to perform with a speed and reliability that we rarely expect from any other service. As a result, they generate tremendous amounts of heat and consume tremendous amounts of power. However, there are solutions that have come out within the past few years that make it possible to use less power while still meeting everyone’s expectations.

Virtualization

Windows NT 4.0 had a problem. It was difficult, if not impossible, to run multiple applications on the same server. Since this was the dominant platform for corporations, this lead to a mindset among IT professionals that the more servers you have is proportional to how important you are. When the Enron debacle happened with the rolling blackouts in California, IT Managers began to change their perspective. With the introduction of various virtualization engines such as VMware, Hyper-V, Xen and OpenVZ, it’s now possible run multiple servers on a single computer or even a small computer cluster. This means that Virtual Machines can be dynamically allocated resources as they need it and scaled back when they don’t. VMware is particularly good at this since they will also power down CPUs when they are not needed.

To run a robust virtualization environment, the disk space should be separated from the CPU cluster. Disks use a finite amount of power. By consolidating the disk space to a single cluster, it is possible to only use the amount of disk space that is actually needed rather than the amount of disk space that is desired. Nearly all virtualization engines will dynamically grow VMs to only use the amount of disk space that is needed. There are also SAN systems such as EMC and Copan Systems that will dynamically power down disks as needed to further reduce the overall power consumption.

Solar Power

Many data centers are dedicated buildings. This means that there is an unused piece of real estate that goes to waste: the roof. Since solar panels are getting more efficient year by year, it’s now possible for data centers to get a significant portion of their power from solar panels that are competitive to the costs of getting power from the local utility companies. While it will still take a long time for the efficiency of solar panels to equal the needs of the entire facility, it will still take a significant portion of power off the grid. During the summer months, power companies are typically struggling to keep up with the overall demands of residential and commercial AC systems. As a result, the local utilities are pressuring the data centers to reduce their power consumption. Solar is now a cheap way to do just that.

Geothermal Heat Pumps

Data centers need a tremendous amount of cooling. The more power that is consumed, the more adequate cooling is needed to keep them from overheating. Traditionally, air based cooling towers have been used to cool the rooms. Now there is a newer technology that is gaining traction: Geothermal heat pumps.

Geothermal heat pumps are a technology that uses the temperature of the ground to heat and cool spaces above ground. The Tennessee Valley Authority has already done a large study on this technology and has shown significant savings in not only power consumption, but overall costs as well. Traditional chilling towers require a lot of maintenance, are prone to failure, and require a routine chemical treatment to prevent corrosion and freezing during the winter months. Geothermal heat pumps require fewer moving parts and produce consistent results regardless of the time of year. Furthermore, geothermal heat transfers are more efficient than air cooling resulting in lower energy costs.

Data centers certainly have distinct disadvantages when it comes to being green. With proper planning, those problems are not insurmountable. For large enterprises who maintain their own facility, it will provide savings well into the future. For the small and medium sized businesses, consider hosting your applications and services with a company that uses these techniques to reduce their consumption. Not only will it make your operation a little more green, but less prone to failure as well.

Eco-friendly Conference Attendance

There’s probably several dozen major tech conferences, or pseudo tech-conferences, that happen every year. Social media hounds and bloggers head off to conferences like SXSW, Gnomedex or even SES.

What are some of the things that people can do to be a little more environmentally conscience while attending these things.

Walk

Instead of taking a cab, if you can swing it… walk! In most cases, people try to book hotel reservations in close proximity to a conference venue. You might be tempted to get a hotel close to the airport because it’s cheaper on a per night basis, but think about the gas or cab fees (and possibly tolls, depending on the locations!) you end up spending for the cheaper per night accommodations.

Consider staying close and eliminating cabs and rental cars from the mix. Save the gas and cab fares and maybe save a little extra money in the long run.

Hotel Room: Climate Control

Most of the time, hotel rooms are there solely for the purpose of crashing at night. You probably aren’t spending a lot of time in it during the day, so what’s the point in keeping the room climate at 68°F(20°C)? Bump it up to 75° when you’re not around and then reduce the temp to 71° or 72° when you get back in at night. The sun will have gone down and the afternoon heat will have dissipated.

Hotel Room: Linens and Towels

Most hotels these days have a little sign in the room encouraging you to reuse your towels and sheets. I encourage this as well. If you’re in a room for, say, 5 days… you probably only need to have your sheets changed twice. You can reuse that towel as well by hanging it up and letting it dry out. You’re not going to stink by using an already used towel. Believe me, if you’re like me, your towel is not getting changed out every day at home, is it?

Webinars

Many conferences stream some or all of their sessions. Consider not going to the conference and, instead, watching it at home on your computer. Participate in the back-channel in whatever form it might me. Sure, you won’t get the personal interaction you might get in networking with other attendees, but you’ll have saved a few hundred on airfare, a few hundred more on hotel, and all those fuel surcharges.

For a more exhaustive list of good eco-friendly conferenct tips, check out Zack Greant’s post “20000 km, $7000, 7 Days and 4 tons of CO2 (or, ‘Making Event Attendance Count’)“.