Going Green May Mean Counting Calories, BTUs, and Kilowatts

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Conserving energy is more than a slogan today; it's a way to affect the bottom line.


There seems to be some debate about whether it makes sense to develop green, or environmentally sound, business practices. I love it when I read in a competing publication, or any other computer magazine, that the writer thinks that "going green" is a fad and that savvy business leaders will make decisions based on bottom-line economics, not whether a policy saves energy or reduces a company's carbon footprint. Hello? Have you not noticed the price of oil lately? I say I love to see such articles because it means that readers of these other publications will be coming over to subscribe to our own in a couple of months when they realize the level of thinking that they are getting in their current read.


IBM has been singing the "we can save you energy" song for some time now, and people finally are starting to get it. For awhile, no one really comprehended the idea that you could somehow "run out" of energy, as in "no, you can't have any more electricity because we're not going to sell you any more because we can't transport it into your building without rebuilding our entire distribution infrastructure." And this is what some companies are starting to hear when they begin planning an expansion of their data centers.


We truly have been living in a time of plenty, a time that we may look back upon with nostalgia as "the good old days." I remember as a youngster my mother telling me of the hardships she and our neighbors endured during World War II, hardships such as shortages of minor luxuries...like food. I don't know of too many people who grow their own food these days. We go to the grocery store, and we buy food that is trucked in from...somewhere. Let's see; last time I checked, tractor-trailer trucks ran on diesel fuel. Has anyone looked at the price of diesel fuel lately? And farm tractors burn some kind of petroleum distillate. I don't think they get 30 miles per gallon, either. Airplane engines really suck up the old jet fuel, too, which possibly could have something to do with why airline tickets today should only be purchased when you have a lot of credit-card points. (Question: If you file bankruptcy, and they take away your credit cards, do you get to keep your points?)


Anyway, my point is that times are changing, and our thinking has to change along with them. We need to start counting calories, baby. If you aren't counting, then how do you know how many calories you have consumed? And there is a cost to each calorie, or BTU. So if you don't know how much energy you are consuming, you really have no idea how much money you are spending, which probably means your spending is a tad out of control.


One of the beauties of computers is that they count things. So a perfect application for them today, I would suggest, is that they be put to work counting calories--all the calories, all the time, everywhere. You step on the gas of your car, you get a readout of how many energy units you are burning. You turn on a light bulb, a fan, the air conditioner, you get a real-time readout of how much energy you are using. The local cost is factored in, and voila, a price per minute is displayed so that you know at any given time how much money you are spending.


I was at COMMON recently in Nashville as many of you were, and I was amazed at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. You walk around in this biosphere that presumably is air conditioned--at least one hopes the air is conditioned so we're not all breathing the same air the guy next to us breathed yesterday (Ok, so it's a joke already)--and you can just feel the electricity meters whirring around in the place. You turn your lights off in your room, and no one reduces your bill at the end of your stay. You leave your lights on in the room, no problem, sir, it's all included. In fact, they expect you to leave your lights on because they have already charged you for it when you agreed to their rate in the first place. I mean heck, if you can't leave your room lights on and throw the towel on the floor of the bathroom, what's the point of staying in a hotel, anyway?


I'm sorry; my attitude is leaking. But it's an attitude that a lot of us share, a feeling that there is always another kilowatt over the horizon. What concerns me is that we're facing a time when we won't be searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but the liter of petrol at the base of the fuel hose. We need to come to grips with the fact that, as a society, we can no longer afford to be profligate.


Business is about counting dollars and cents, and with easy credit--essentially the freedom to spend someone else's money--we haven't been paying attention to what we've been expending. We need to become more aware of the costs as they are incurred, a big one being energy, and computers are a natural solution to gathering that information and displaying it. Knowing how much energy we are consuming at a given time can only lead to greater awareness of our use, or misuse, and result in better conservation.