Thursday, June 25, 2009

These Days, Being Green Is a Palpable Reality

Environmental benefits of online collaboration have long been known and exalted. But aside from the obvious, how does online collaboration and cloud computing really help your business become even more green? We’ll take an in-depth look at both the environmental and fiscal impacts that technology offers to organizations through a real life example of a medium-sized Northern California land trust with under 70 easements in its monitoring portfolio.

Saving the Forest? Let’s start with the most obvious – paper. The United States uses enormous amounts of paper every day – newspaper, books, bags, boxes, and of course office files (go on! – check under your desk), all are made of paper. Yes, technology has been helping organizations reduce the amount (or at least reduce the rate) of paper consumption as digitized documents and forms have become common place. As an example, by moving its land monitoring processes to the web, our land trust helped save over 8000 sheets of 8x10 paper in 2008 alone (that’s 16 reams or 80lbs of paper – roughly equivalent to 1 tree [ref] and $64 that the land trust will save.

And Our Rivers? Admittedly, $64 is not a whole lot of money, but the savings don’t end there. In the case of our land trust, the energy costs associated to produce the paper during the manufacturing process add up to 441,000 BTUs [ref] and water consumption to 19,200 gallons [ref]. Virtually all plant cooling is done by diverting river water to the paper mill to cool down the large pulp vats were the paper is being produced. After the water is used to absorb the heat from the manufacturing process, it is warmer than it was before. This warm water is dumped back into the river or stream it came from, raising the downstream temperature and thereby changing the ecosystem for all living organisms relying on this water for their livelihood.

These are the environmental and dollar costs associated with the manufacturing print paper. If we consider the entire paper supply chain – from the tree logging process to distribution to delivery to the office door – the environmental impacts add up fast! In addition to the paper, the inks used by the office printers are neither cheap nor environmentally friendly. In fact, they are quite toxic and consume large quantities of energy, water, and chemicals through the entire manufacturing process cycle.

Shipping and Travel? Let's briefly examine the standard operating procedures and behaviors of the typical land monitor. Once the monitor has completed the site visit and created a report, s/he would keep a copy of each document & photographs and send a duplicate copy to the main office. Such practice effectively results in at least twice as many sets of paper documents being created as is really necessary. In addition, the courier and shipping costs add up quickly, too, not to mention the pollution produced and the diesel consumed by the mail delivery vehicles. Since the land trust covers a wide geographical area, if the monitor needed to report to the office in person in order to file the paperwork, the monitor would face a lengthy commute, all the while spewing the global warming gases from the tail pipe.

Electronic Document Management to the Rescue? Now, some less obvious, yet very impactful considerations. Let’s say that the land trust has decided to undertake the digital leap forward. There is an important choice to be made – do it in-house or outsource. The decision to build a web-accessible portal in-house means, among other factors, setting up an entire server infrastructure of your own (don't forget having to hire personnel to manage it). A simple server farm configuration consisting of a web server (for fast upload and download time) and a database (for storing all those reports and photos) would require purchasing and maintaining two servers, with the annual power consumption in the 18,000 to 25,000 kW/yr range for each server [ref]. Add to that the heat generated by the servers and the amount of cooling power required to cool them down in order to maintain the servers at or near their operating temperatures, and the environmental impact approaches a total of 35 million BTUs annually[ref] (to the tune of $6,000 to $8,000 /yr, depending on the local electricity provider’s prices). All this electric power generation would be equivalent to dumping anywhere between 4000 and 8000 lbs of CO2 into the atmosphere [ref] each year!

There is a Better (and Greener) Way! But what if, instead, the task of managing the technology were to be handed off to a cloud provider, especially if the provider were to utilize the same number of servers (though typically fewer, due to advances in server virtualization) which it will share as a single platform among any number of land trusts, spreading the environmental footprint and costs among a large number of organizations, thereby dramatically reducing the impact on the environment compared to the scenario in which each one of the organizations sets up its own servers? Furthermore, the recent advances in virtualization technology now permit packing several “virtual” servers onto a single physical piece of hardware, cutting the cloud provider’s environmental impact even further. Virtualization technologies make it possible to run both the web server and the database server, for example, on a single physical machine.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Online Mapping Technology

Along the trend of seeing more technology services moving to the "cloud" or online, here is a cool mapping application that does not require any infrastructure:

Interesting Article on Technology and the NGO's

This article is pretty cool. It talks about the use of SharePoint to connect and help users collaborate better together. It is wonderful that Microsoft is so supportive of non-commercial entities, it would be great to see how the partner community can help to support these groups and transform technology into organizational change.