Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Green Software

Within the last few months, a number of articles have been written about "green computing". But what is this?

First. the term seems to have two meanings. First, is writing software that reduces energy consumption of the computer. Secondly, is changing the hardware to reduce both energy and heat production (reducing cooling requirements). The later usage also includes changing cooling methods of computer rooms.

Actually, I think neither meaning is really significant, with the exemption of the cooling methods of computer rooms which are really not related to computer hardware or software.

Being an avid computer user (Linux user that is :) ) I can say I highly doubt that doing such a thing would save much energy. On slashdot there was an article about how Google would save energy just by using a black background! (However, with LCD monitors black backgrounds may consume more energy -- see comments on the slashdot article.) Now, I really don't think that will solve our global energy crisis or global warming.

Recently, there was a meeting of technology companies. Where they discussed how "green" they were. But they really just a PR exercise.

Maybe if they would quit letting out their hot air, they would not need so much cooling.

All of this talk about green computing sounds like more green propaganda. In fact, it sounds very similar to the 1980's when companies like McDonald's tried to claim they were green.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

What is Clean Technology?

Often there is some confusion on the term "clean technology". Recently, I read a Reuters article where they talked about 'clean coal', by which they meant using carbon sequestering technology (pumping carbon dioxide deep underground) on emissions from power plants.

First, of all it is is not clean coal. In fact, it has nothing to do with coal. Carbon sequestering has to do with carbon dioxide emissions, regardless of whether the source is coal, oil, natural gas, etc. The term clean coal is usually used in talking about removing sulfur from coal.

Secondly, carbon sequestering is not clean technology. Clean technology is preventing emissions from occurring. Carbon sequestering is about taking the emissions and then pumping them underground. An analogy is wastewater treatment -- we take wastewater and treat it; clean technology would be reducing the amount of wastewater produced, say by changing the process.

We have learned from hazardous waste management, that clean technology (also known as pollution prevention or waste minimization) is much more effective than waste treatment. What I hope is not happening is what happened with the term "waste minimization". Waste minimization started meaning (and the preferred meaning still today) as not producing waste. But then industry started to use the name to include off-site recycling. Then they started using it to mean any treatment technology. I even saw a book that included landfilling of hazardous waste!

Let us get back to basics, start using the environmental language correctly, and quit putting the industrial spin.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Global Compact

One of the bigger items in the last two weeks was the triennial meeting of the UN Global Compact. Actual before the conference I had never heard of the compact. In fact, as I found out it had been founded in 2000 by Kofi Annan. The Global Compact is a volunteer grouping of companies who wish to follow a set of ten principles covering human rights, labor standards, and the environment. Companies which join must submit a "Code of Practice"(COP) stating what they will do to follow the 10 principles.

You can find the resolutions from the meeting and related information at the global compact's website.

The Global Compact is a good example of a good idea in theory, but not in practice. It is good for companies to get involve, but is very possible that companies use their COP as a public relations exercise to say "see how 'responsible' we are" -- without doing anything concrete.

I did have a laugh (albeit a sarchastic laugh) at a statement before the conference, which stated that US companies are reluctant to sign up to the compact because it was "not binding". Are these not the same people who say that environmental regulations should be voluntary? It shows how hollow their agrument opposed to environmental regulations really is.

Of the about two thousand companies worldwide that signed the compact only about 30 are in the Fortune 500. That shows the big problem.

One of the companies signed up to the compact is Nestle. That was the same company whose CEO said at the World Economic Forum a few years ago that businesses should forget about social responsibility and instead should be making profit because that what it shareholders want.

In conclusion, it appears that the global compact is being joined by few big businesses, and many of those that have signed are using it as "green propaganda".