The AIA 2030 Commitment: Green Your Info Tech

You’re probably reading this blog while inside a building. Maybe it’s where you work. Do you know how much energy your office space uses? No? You should.

With the AIA 2030 Commitment deadline for reporting on firm operational data approaching, the Bergmeyer leadership team had ideas. To reduce our firm’s paper consumption and waste, we would get help from our Accounting department. Changing our transportation and meeting policies would need input from Human Resources. But what about reducing our office energy consumption?

We did the math. Based on actual electricity use, our office space used 42 KBTU/sf/yr. Not too bad, that was 30% lower than the AIA 2030 comparison baseline of 60. But could we do better? Pushing down our office energy use would mean enlisting the assistance of the folks in our . . . (drum roll) . . . Information Technology department.

Jim Croce warned against tugging on Superman’s cape. Besides space heating and cooling, the most energy-intensive sector of an architectural firm today is its computers. Our space already had compact fluorescent lighting, conference room motion-sensors and Energy Star kitchen appliances. But asking Information Technology to use less power? It sounded dangerous. Poke the mask of the Lone Ranger dangerous.

It didn’t help that our IT department was constantly busy. Not exactly grumpy, but the last people we wanted to ask to do one more thing. We started with a softball e-mail survey about our computers.

Short answers came back. We own zero Cathode Ray Tube monitors. Every printer, plotter and work station in the office is Energy Star rated. We just bought 4 HD web cams so we can do virtual conferencing. Ah, the sound of boxes being checked. Eighty-one percent of the AIA firms reporting did these things, too. Tugging the cape was required. So I asked: what else can we do?

Funny things can happen when you ask good people to do more. Ken, our IT guru, introduced me to “virtualization and consolidation”: the world of “green IT”!

Those big machines in that air conditioned closet over there? Those are your servers. In our case, we had accumulated sixteen towers over many years to handle data, direct e-traffic, and back up our work every night. An astonishing factoid: Worldwide datacenter power use increased by 16% per year between 2000 and 2005.

Our plan? We were consolidating our servers to three super-efficient processors with access to a SAN (Storage Area Network) that gave us virtual offsite data storage. Plus, all our new equipment would meet EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) standards, an advanced LEED-like measure assuring even greater energy efficiency. And the manufacturer said they would plant a tree for every EPEAT-rated unit we bought. Seriously.

There was more. Ken was on a roll. Next up would be file virtualization. Then access space re-mapping. Replication. Meta-data. He lost me at that point, but I got the concept. Like a smart grid, the key is streamlining data transfer so it flows as needed and isn’t dependent on big heat-producing power-consuming machines. We would use less floor area, less electricity, and reduce our cooling load. Win, win, win.

Amory Lovins had it exactly right. We don’t need to own the thing, we just need the service the thing provides. Ditch the servers, go virtual! Try it. Your firm’s IT Department can be part of the sustainable operations solution, too.

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