Computers Off Australia campaign kicks off

Power management, virtualisation saving the environment… one computer at a time

The Computers Off Australia (COA) campaign and labeling initiative was launched nationwide in Sydney today, with the aim of encouraging organisations and individuals to implement power management practices on their home and office computers to reduce the carbon footprint of ICT.

The not-for-profit campaign is being endorsed by peak ICT industry bodies ACS and AIIA, vendor Lenovo, as well as the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.

Representatives from these organisations touted the potential environmental and financial benefits of power management and virtualisation at the official launch this morning.

COA is an educational marketing and awareness campaign, combined with a labeling scheme that will classify organisations using three colour-coded ticks that represent various degrees of power saving measures. The labeling scheme is designed to help businesses, government and individuals identify organisations that are reducing their CO2 emissions by lowering their power consumption.

According to COA founder, Mark Winter, inspiration for the campaign came on the heels of Earth Hour, Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth, and a report on the ICT's industry's contribution to carbon emissions.

"I read in a Gartner report that the ICT industry accounts for approximately 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions... I knew then where I could start...and the idea for Computers Off Australia was born," he said.

The campaign is specifically targeting the millions of work computers that are left on all night or during extended periods of inactivity in the day, increasing power costs and contributing to climate change.

Richard Collins, an independent consultant to the equipment energy efficiency team of the federal Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, spoke at the COA launch about the lack of use of power management and power saving options that come standard in Windows and Mac operating systems.

(See Windows vs. Linux power-saving measures)

"Studies have shown 80 percent of people don't play with these power management settings...I find it appalling because it costs nothing, power management is not used enough," he said, calling for mandatory enablement of power management options at the point of shipment for all PCs.

"Even if you take out the climate change factor, you can save money [by switching off computers and implementing power saving measures], and I don't think I've ever heard anyone tell me they didn't want to save money."

According to the campaign, if Australian home users, businesses and government start switching off computers when they are not in use and implement automated power management, they will collectively save in excess of $1.3 billion per annum and reduce our carbon emissions by almost 8 million tonnes per annum.

COA says that at 12 cents per kilowatt, that figure is the equivalent of taking over 1.3 million cars off the road, planting over 2 million trees and lighting over 8 million homes for one year with the energy saved through effective power management.

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Tom Worthington, ACS director of professional development and founding chair of the ACS Green ICT group, said it was time people began thinking and acting on reducing the power their computers use.

"There are some subtle things they can do. It sounds like the bleeding obvious but when you are not using them - turn them off. And set the power settings that are built into the OS and hardware to save power - if you set them correctly the computer will use less electricity."

"For a long time people in the computer industry have assumed that they are in a clean, green high-tech industry, and that is not the case. Computers use roughly the same amount of power in Australia as the airlines do, and to go beyond the energy issues computers use materials that have toxic waste. So there all those sorts of issues and we need to raise awareness," Worthington said.

AIIA CEO Ian Birks said the environmental impact of ICT was among the top 5 priorities of his organisation, both for its contribution to carbon emissions and its ability to create technologies to reduce carbon footprint.

"Green is no longer niche, it is a mainstream environmental and financial imperative...[COA has] the AIIA's full support and we'll be promoting this to businesses and our members," he said.

In addition to promoting power management, the labeling scheme is designed to identify organisations doing their bit for the environment with three levels of COA "ticks" of approval.

A green tick means an organisation or individual has implemented or activated power management on their home and/or work PC.

A blue tick means an organisation or government department has virtualized their server or desktop infrastructure, while a gold tick defines an organisation or individual that has reduced their ICT carbon footprint and have purchased carbon offsets to become carbon neutral.

Winter said continual auditing will ensure organisations keep up to date with the practices that earned them their "tick" of approval.

The COA Web site includes information for individuals, businesses and government organisations, a CO2 and power management calculator, tutorials on activating power management settings within Windows and Mac operating systems, information on lowering power consumption, as well as three viral videos reminiscent of The Office which promote the campaign. Details on the labeling scheme and how to get involved with COA are also provided.

"If we don't start making a difference now, in every seemingly 'little' way we can, our children are going to have an even bigger problem with the environment than we have today," Winter said, speaking against the backdrop of a quote by renowned environmentalist David Brower: "We don't inherit the environment from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children."