UI powers down to green

BY ASHLEY HAUGO | MARCH 13, 2009 7:30 AM

In addition to the stacks of paper, cans, and bottles UI student Nicki Petersburg already recycles, she will likely add to her environmental repertoire by endorsing a new challenge to reduce the amount of computer energy consumption on university campuses.

With her signature, the 25-year-old history major will join university communities worldwide in the inter-collegiate competition Power Down for the Planet.

“I think it’s a very good idea,” she said. “It sounds like a moral responsibility almost.”

Beginning on March 23, the campaign calls for university students, staff, and faculty to pledge to enable power-management features — like setting a sleep mode to activate after 15 minutes of inactivity — on information-technology equipment and to buy ENERGY STAR equipment when making new purchases.

“If everybody makes a small change in her or his behavior, the collective impact could be quite substantial,” said Steve Fleagle, the UI chief information officer.

For one month, the UI will go head-to-head with more than 150 other universities worldwide to see which institution can garner the highest percentage of its campus endorsing the changes.

While no prizes nor money will be doled out to the top finisher, Jenn Cornell, the spokeswoman for Climate Savers Computing Initiative at the University of Michigan, believes the collaboration of the universities is the key aspect.

“The more people we can get thinking green, the better off we will be,” said Cornell, whose university developed the idea for the challenge as a way to get other campuses involved in the climate initiative.

Indeed, with information technology equipment responsible for nearly three percent of the energy consumed in the U.S. and that number expected to double in the next three to five, Climate Savers Computing Initiative Executive Director Pat Tiernan sees an urgency in initiating action.

“This is a big problem we need to solve,” Tiernan said. “Universities have a huge ability to make an impact.”

But the planet wouldn’t be the only one to benefit from these behavior changes. Tiernan noted every computer that has enabled power management features could save between $40 and $70 a year.

And the UI has already started to witness the money-saving potential of such practices. According to a March 10 news release, the UI’s Information Technology Services powers down 934 computers for 6 hours during the night. This saves the university nearly $14,000 a year.

Liz Christiansen, director of the UI Office of Sustainability, said awareness is important to initiating change.

“I don’t know as if people always think about computers as being energy consumers,” Christiansen said. “[The pledge] is a simple step to change your perspective and hopefully that translates to action.”

While Petersburg said she’ll likely sign the pledge, she is slightly skeptical about the campaign’s overall impact. She added many people likely already implement power-management practices.

For those who do sign it, Petersburg said she hopes they act on the promise.

“I think [the pledge] would pull at people’s desire to conserve energy enough that they might follow through if they sign it,” Petersburg said.

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