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ISSUE 119 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/18/2005

Efforts promote green computing

By April Wright
Variety Editor

Friday, November 18, 2005

One of the newest sustainability efforts on campus aims to reform one of students' most important possessions: the computer. Paper and energy consumption related to our computers runs very high. St. Olaf uses "enough [paper] to paper over 400 acres of the Earth’s surface," says the Black & Gold & Green website. In order to encourage "green computing" St. Olaf is taking steps to not only work against paper waste, but also computer-related wasting of energy and parts.

To combat the excessive use of paper, Information and Instructional Services (IIT) has put a 550-page cap on student printing. On average, students use approximately 450 pages each year, which is less than the limit of 550 pages. If students use above the average 60 pages per month, they receive email reminders about their printer use. Should they exceed their yearly limit, more pages can be purchased for a fee.

IIT hopes that students will take the initiative to curb their own paper use. Paper-saving strategies include printing papers double-sided, proof reading on the computer before printing, and using the "print preview" function on word processors to check for appropriate spacing.

Many professors use Moodle to avoid printing and passing out assignment sheets. Another strategy to reducing printing waste is using recycled paper.

"The paper provided on campus is made with 30% post-consumer recycled fiber," reports to the Black & Gold & Green website. Some of the paper on campus comes from Domtar, a Canadian company that is Forest Stewardship Council certified for sustainable tree harvesting and use of recycled materials. Recycled printer paper is not just available in huge bulk shipments- there is a variety of types of recycled paper products available for regular consumer purchase.

IIT also identified cutting down on computer energy use as an integral part of green computing. Because monitors use a substantial amount of energy, IIT uses computers with LCD screens, which "use half (or less) the power needed by older cathode ray tube monitors," according to Tom Swift, for the St. Olaf Website.

In many ways, saving computer energy is simple and inexpensive. On the inexpensive side, when students aren't using their computer, they are encouraged to put it to "sleep," an option on computer start-up menus, and to turn the monitor off. On many machines, there are energy saving options that can be toggled on and off. For example, most computers come with an option to automatically go to sleep after a certain period of inactivity, which can save up to 130 watts of electricity per hour compared to an unused, but "awake" computer.

On the more expensive side, there are various computers and monitors that consume less energy than others. Laptops consume far less energy than desktop computers. "Energy Star" products are certified by the Environmental Protection Agency to consume less energy than other products on the market. According to the Energy Star website, Energy Star products also last longer because there is less wear and tear on their parts.

A large component of green computing is the longevity and proper disposal of devices. The IIT department keeps computers and other electronic devices for at least five years after upgrading. Computers that are not state-of-the-art are rarely useless and can put to work in offices and student labs. When a computer can no longer be circulated around campus, it gets scrapped for parts. The parts can be used to upgrade or fix other machines. This way, as little of the machinery gets disposed of as possible.

Computer disposal is important because of all the toxins contained within each computer. Mercury, lead, cadmium and chromium are all toxic elements found in many computers. IIT hopes to send the message to waste as little as possible, and to dispose of waste properly by doing so themselves. By properly disposing of computer waste, IIT hopes St. Olaf will serve as a model for other institutions.

The final way that St. Olaf has become a greener place to compute is through the ink cartridge-recycling program. Despite being small, ink cartridges consume a lot of resources to manufacture new. Making a new ink cartridge not only requires more plastic, but significant amounts of energy to process the raw materials into a cartridge. In terms of energy and water use, refurbishing an ink cartridge is far less wasteful. Ink cartridges also contain toxins best handled at a recycling center, where appropriate handling and disposal is ensured.

Depleted ink cartridges can be recycled on campus. Bags for the cartridges are available at the front desks of residence hall front desk or at the bookstore. The cartridges mailed to Kentucky to be processed and reused.

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