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Issue Date: September 2007

Green meanies

27 September 2007
Brian White

There is now an additional source of irritation as a forefinger beats a staccato rhythm on the delete button when zooming through the morning e-mail.
Green ink has, for some reason, always been the choice of those with mental health problems who wish to communicate their anger in letters to publications. And that is usually the color chosen to pick out the letters of the message at the footnote of e-mails: 'We are committed to protecting the environment so please do not print this e-mail unless you really need to.'
Apart from complicated directions to a venue, who would ever want to print an e-mail? If it contains matters of interest, the text can simply be transferred to a relevant document. But the point about the footnote is that it is not intended to deter anti-social behavior, it is simply there to confirm the writer's green credentials.
Saving the planet is a serious business that demands action. And because it is an important issue, it is troubling to see how it has been hijacked by marketing departments as a means of selling products. It is trivialising an important issue. Just as an overweight youngster will ask for a Big Mac, fries, and a diet coke, so irrelevant little gestures such as not printing an e-mail detracts attention from the main issue.
It is particularly irritating when this happens in IT because everyone tends to forget that these are the good guys. While automobile companies are still happy to sell gas-guzzling monsters to rich city-dwellers who like to pretend they own a ranch, IT has long been geared to make the world a more economic efficient place. This is not because it is populated by saintly figures who go to work each day tormented by visions of baby polar bears plunging to an icy grave. It is because customers will only buy the industry's products if it will save them money. The easiest way to do that is to use resources more efficiently.
Any that deviate from this course are soon brought back into line by competitive pressures. Intel and AMD were happy to peddle increasingly power-hungry processors until the arrival on the scene of upstart Transmeta.
It promised to offer low-power X86 performance, and while its processors never lived up to their hype and were ultimately abandoned, it forced the established companies to rethink their architecture and prepare for the portable computing boom now upon us.
It is hard to think of a sector whose power consumption has not benefited from IT. Millions can forsake commuting and work from home. Events can be video-conferenced around the globe and save time-consuming traveling.
Software ensures that supply chains are more efficient and ships and trucks can travel fully loaded. New technologies are about to transform the transport industry. 3D maps of the earth will shortly be linked to automotive systems that will be able to gauge the most fuel-efficient combination of engine speed and gear to handle a particular road.
Datacentres are notoriously power-hungry environments with much of the electricity used to keep the processors cool. But they have replaced thousands of less efficient and even more power-hungry computers scattered in offices everywhere. Competitive forces will cool them as business will go to the vendors that can promise the lowest power costs.
Thinking green is the slogan of sales managers forever trying to dignify their business with a higher motive than making money. But the two are inextricably linked as no product will find a market without lowering customer costs.
The primary responsibility for improving the environment rests with governments and their willingness to force voters to make hard choices. An industry that allows most of us to walk round with massive amounts of battery-powered computing power on our person is going in the right direction and has nothing to be ashamed of.

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