On CES, Greening, and Gizmodo as Eco-Pranksters


Its a laudable goal CeBIT would begin the long road to greening by fully supporting the Climate Savers Computing Initiative. But I should point out the power used at trade shows is just absurd – all those banks of screens talking to nobody in particular.

Should we should reconsider the Gizmodo guys as eco-pranksters (have you seen the video, where all the huge screens start turning off, one after another? Maybe they should join the Green Forge.) I still don’t really understand why so much anger was directed at Gizmodo, people talking about lawsuits and so on. Annoying yes. Business threatening- come on people, get some perspective.


Its Not The Houses That Are Smart Its The People

Probably the most interesting recent news GreenMonk has seen comes from a research project at the US Department of Energy, reported in Computerworld: Pilot program puts “smart” houses on network that adjusts energy use to pricing.

The technology in play included wireless technologies, broadband connections and back-end systems that use a Web-enabled service-oriented architecture for linking disparate information systems.

The intent of the “intelligent smart-power grid” is to give consumers the ability to conserve energy with systems that automatically adjust to pricing. There are a number of ways in which that might work, and here’s one: In the event of a heavy electric demand period that is threatening a power outage, a clothes drier embedded with a controller could receive a signal that prompts it to turn off the drying element for a short period.

IBM was involved in the project, and its good to see Big Blue doing something that affects consumer behaviour. What I find fascinating though is not the automation – its the fact that if people have better access to information, they will adjust their behaviours accordingly. Electricity meters shouldn’t be down in the basement.

According to ARS Technica:

In effect, such technologies make both the machines and their human owners into members of what the lab calls “a collaborative, distributed, commerce-driven ‘society'”—some of the same terms used to describe the many “Web 2.0” destinations. In this case, though, the purpose isn’t to create the Internet’s most tech-savvy collection of minds (see the Ars OpenForum for that) but to create a “shock absorber” for the national power grid; saving money for consumers is simply a byproduct of that process.

There is an extremely cool product out there which makes electricity use manifest – the Wattson. They have a cool slogan too- DIY Kyoto.

People are perfectly capable of making intelligent, well-formed decisions, if they have the relevant tools. Bringing meters out into the open is going to be a big part of the changes societies make over the next few years. I love a quote from the Guardian story:

“Our kids are saying that they are helping to stop the ice caps melting,” she said.

My little boy is only two years old, so perhaps I am not best equipped to comment yet, but as I understand it having kids pester their parents to turn off lights – usually only happens once they have left home and are paying the bills…

special thanks to Mike Gunderloy, who sent me a link to this story through Twitter, saying it was “greenmonky”. he was right.


On Small Changes, Small Cars, Tax and Pollution

It’s fair to say that encouraging people to change their behaviour in small ways can have a big impact – cumulatively – on reducing carbon footprints and environmental impact in the long-term.

But how Governments and authorities manage and cajole the public to change personal behaviour can be a problematic process – and something that’s difficult to get right. One obvious avenue available is to incentivise change by introducing tax-breaks on ‘environmentally friendly’ products and services, and hiking tax on high-polluters. That seems to be the idea behind planned changes to the Congestion charge policy in London, which – rightly or wrongly – from next year, is being turned into an environmental charge based on carbon dioxide emissions from cars.

You can read more about it in detail here, but in short, the plan is that whereas currently nearly everyone pays £8 per day, by 2009, cars which emit more than 225 g/km of CO2 will be charged £25 ($50) a day to drive into central London. Ouch. But the flip side – the ‘tax-break’ – is that if you drive a car that emits less than 120g/km of CO2, then access is free. The idea is to move people from gas-guzzlers to eco-friendly fuel-sippers, and thus see CO2 levels in the city fall. Nothing wrong with that you might think, but there’s a potential flaw…

Sales of these small, ‘sub-120g/km’ cars are soaring across the south-east of England. A new report by CEBR (report not available openly) suggests that this ‘environmentally-driven’ policy could actually end up causing CO2 levels to rise. That’s because it’s predicted the changed system will have a net result of up to 10,000 extra cars a day entering central London. And that can only lead to an increase in congestion, and a slow down in traffic speeds. As anyone who understands the internal combustion process will tell you, the problem with (even highly efficient, and small) engines, is that they’re at their least efficient when the car is sat stationary or moving at low speeds. So despite the fact that most of these additional cars will be classified as ‘environmentally friendly’ and driving around congestion charge-free, the extra traffic and congestion they create could mean CO2 levels actually rise.

Kit like this will unsurprisingly fall into the £25-a-day bracket come next year

You will, doubtless, be surprised to hear that kit like this will cost £25-a-day to drive in central London come next year…

Whether the report’s predictions prove true, only time will tell. One potential caveat to consider is that it was commissioned by Land Rover – who aren’t exactly known for their small cars (in fact, every vehicle they currently sell falls into the £25-a-day category). In the auto-industry, nothing is ever quite as black and white as it first seems… but there’s plenty of support for it’s predictions in the form of academics for instance, who have no reason for bias.

The big questions it begs, is how governments, authorities and legislators drive a process of adoption for new, more environmentally friendly products and technologies, without having the entire process back-fire on them at ground level? The message they’re putting out to people here is ‘do this, and because you’re helping save the planet, we’ll reward you’ – but in fact, that ‘reward’ might end up having quite the opposite effect on the planet’s health. Don’t ‘reward’ people’s for changing their behaviour, and they’ve no reason to change. So the carrot-stick approach is difficult. I suspect this policy might go down in history as being one of those top-down processes, that on paper looked great – but which back-fired terribly on the ground by having precisely the opposite impact to what was originally intended. Another case which will show the need for grass-roots level innovation and adoption, rather than top-down? I think so.


BT in perpetual motion: Living Lightly and SMB greening

BT is on a roll at the moment. Shame we can’t package its perpetual green drumbeat as perpetual motion. Seriously- what other major FTSE company is doing so much to educate different sectors on greening issues?

A couple of days ago the firm was announcing the results of an Economist Intelligence Unit study it sponsored into corporate sustainability. Now BT informs me that its launched a new SMB program called Living Lightly. The simple but effective idea behind the slogan and campaign is that small firms can make a real difference to the national carbon footprint.

Its a core GreenMonk belief that small things add up (my favourite example is Google’s adwords revenues), and it seems BT is thinking the same thing:

“Small steps – when taken by a large number of individuals – make a big difference. With 4.3 million small businesses in the UK alone, the collective impact could be incredible.”

Amen to that.

At first glance the actions BT suggests look pretty self-serving:

  1. Take up conferencing
  2. Reduce unnecessary trips back to the office by using mobile communications technology
  3. Turn off office equipment at the end of the day
  4. Recycle
  5. Take-up flexible working

But as someone that has been to Lisbon and back this week for an IBM conference that could just as easily have been held in or around London, where the great majority European industry analysts seem to work, I think there is something to be said for looking at alternatives to travel. I am not alone- I heard the other day that PriceWaterhouseCoopers employees are now being asked to make personal steps to reduce their business travel.

Here are my own suggestions:

  1. Cycle to work
  2. Unplug your mobile phone chargers when its not in use
  3. Buy local services if at all possible

BT borrows heavily from the Pledgebank Model – Tell The World I Will Do It But Only If You Help with each pledge for sustainability growing the LiveLightly tree…

You on the move? “Drive more slowly – driving at 50mph uses 25% less fuel than 70mph.”

You at work? “Bring your own mug into work and don’t use paper or plastic cups.” What – why shouldn’t drink tea out of solidified petrol?

What can I say – this is goodness. Why do I big up BT so much? Why not- it should be encouraged to do more cool stuff.  In terms of using social software and quirky approaches BT is showing the way forward. Don’t hector- encourage. Green isn’t just for big companies. We all have to make a difference.


Greening the UK, carbon-busting through iGoogle

Google today gets all my love. They have just built a great interface and set of carbon-busting mashups, leveraging the AMEE back-end. You can calculate footprint, but also post videos through Sky about your own carbon-busting efforts.

According to AMEE:

Google’s implementation is based on the underlying Act on CO2 data provided by Defra and others. It makes some additional assumptions (based on data from the Energy Saving Trust) to get the number of questions down to a “manageable” few pages (specifically around appliances).

I am particularly pleased to report this initiative is driven by Google UK. sweet. Anyway- go check it out.


The Carbon Cost of The Surveillance Society

One of the things we’ll need to do if we really want better environmental outcomes is to understand the cost of things that we wouldn’t ordinarily consider, what are known in economics as “externalities”. All the stuff you don’t have actually to pay for. Fast-moving consumer goods companies (FMCG) and their packaging. Oil companies and the environmental legacy of their drilling platforms. And so on.

I found a great example of considering unexpected costs on Chris Dalby’s political rants blog. All these surveillance cameras- how much energy do they consume?

So we got all these cameras and elecronic devices like traffic ligts requireing energy being installed. This constantly increases the carbon offset requirments of the UK and drains energy sources. I have a problem with this from an environmental point of view. Just how much carbon is required to power a camera? Is this extra carbon footprint on the UK justifiable

I know I had not never considered the impact of our creeping surveillance society on UK carbon emissions. This endgadget blog mentions there being 4m such cameras in the UK (the best a quick Google search came up with). Assuming average power consumption of 50watts, that’s 200 Megawatts (MW) for UK surveillance, which is… certainly measurable. Obviously if anyone has insights into these numbers I would love to hear from you.

Chris goes on to consider street lamps too. But he also goes on to make a suggestion – compulsory solar panels on cameras and street lights. Of course these would need to charge batteries or something. There is an obvious flaw in solar powered street lamps (especially in the UK)…. but the idea of distributing power generation to take the strain off the national network and lower total emissions is basically sound.

The civil liberties crowd should maybe get out their wattmeters. One thing CCTV is really good for. Edgy self-portraits. Thanks andyrob for the main illustration!

See more on flickr here. Bonus portrait below by s j b


Cool IBM Green Data Center Blog: This is how we roll.

When I logged into my monkchips WordPress console today I noticed an inbound ping from a new blog called The Raised Floor, which got my legacy boy senses tingling. Sure enough when I got over there it was clear that we’re talking about data centers, from the people that invented the concept (and yes I do mean Big Blue). I particularly like the picture they have used for their banner, with a classic black and white shot of a mainframe room, with the floor raised… and green grass underneath. Like so:

The content is pretty solid right out of the gate – although there are some gaps. Asking whether tape vendors are pitching green, for example? You’d have to be underneath that raised floor not to have come across a tape vendor wrapping itself in the green flag. LTO, one of the sponsors of the ComputerWorld UK Green Zone, is a good example.

But its the quality of people involved that caught my eye: notably one John Patrick. Who is John? Only the guy that Louis Gerstner gives much of the credit for encouraging the company’s long march to open standards. John can probably claim as much credit as anyone for helping to change the basis of the IT economy from raising barriers to entry, to one that succeeds on the basis of lowering barriers to participation. He is a good pal of Irving Wladawsky-Berger, another one of IBM’s most important change agents of the last century. I am not a fan of John’s politics, particularly, but if he sees the importance of greener technology then I certainly have his back. As Hero Nakumura would say – This Is How We Roll.

The blog is going on my blogroll. I look forward to some great content. I leave you with an excerpt.

IBM is leading by example. One of their “green” projects is consolidating 3,900 servers onto 30 new top of the line mainframe servers. The result is not only more compute power but dramatically less use of electrical power and space. One of IBM’s customers went from 300 servers to six. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center consolidated 1,000 servers onto 300 and saved $20m in costs while freeing up datacenter space for more hospital beds.

Datacenters have been popping up everywhere — most of them built before 2001. The datacenters are very large rooms full of many different kinds of equipment — designed in the same way they were decades ago — like a kitchen where the stove puts out more heat so you turn on the air conditioning to cool down the entire room. The chef is comfortable and others in the room are freezing. IBM is designing datacenters for customers where cooling “zones” are specific to the type of equipment in each zone. Green datacenters not only save space and energy but also benefits the environment overall. In the past the electric bill has been allocated as overhead to all parts of the company. Redesigns are saving many millions of dollars. With the huge growth of energy for the IT infrastructure the CFO is reallocating energy expenditures from general overhead to the CIO so they can see what IT is really costing.


Fantastic Serendipity: What’s Your Global Action Plan

Anyone that uses social software tools knows how they sometimes create interesting coincidences. Someone will write about the same thing, on the same day, and mention you, say, when you blogged about them without seeing their post first. That kind of thing.

I was really pleased, and not a little bit surprised this morning when i went over to check out the ComputerWorldUK Green zone, where this blog is syndicated, and came across a call to action from Global Action Plan.

GAP is carrying out a survey – let’s hear your green plans. So please fill it in here.

This survey, by the newly formed Environmental IT Leadership Board, aims to find out the level of awareness of IT impact on the environment that exists between IT managers.

Chaired by the environmental charity Global Action Plan and backed by internet solutions provider Logicalis, the Environmental IT Leadership Board is the UK’s first end user green IT team. The group is comprised of members from Lloyds TSB, British Medical Association, John Lewis Partnership, E. ON UK and others, making up a diverse and influential group, committed to creating a positive change in the IT sector.

The Environmental IT Leadership Team aims to create an independent expert user group focused on exploring and publishing best practice sustainable IT strategies. While there have been other groups driven from the manufacturer side, this is first from the user perspective.

It is brilliant to see major UK organisations showing this kind of leadership.

You’re probably wondering what is the big coincidence? Well, about a month ago I volunteered to help GAP with a couple of projects, and seeing them here at my digs at ComputerWorld dovetails so brilliantly with that. I am looking forward to working with them.


Introducing AMEE, the avoiding mass extinctions engine

Its a core Greenmonk idea that open data will be crucial to the success of environmental initiatives. We need a scientific, commons-based approach, rather than proprietary data, in order to work effectively on the really big (and really small) problems.

A great example of this kind of thinking is AMEE, the somewhat scarily named Avoiding Mass Extinction Engine, which is a an open source back end data service for calculating carbon footprints. One of the really interesting elements of the AMEE model is the fact the UK public sector is getting involved in the shape of DEFRA, and Hertfordshire Council. The Royal Society too.

AMEE uses the GNU Public License and Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike licenses to ensure its data can’t be strip mined. What’s not to like? Certainly it would make a great deal of sense if competing Carbon Calculators out there used the service rather than build their own models and databases. I wrote up AMEE in a bit more detail over at GreenForge.