IT can lead the way in making your organisation greener, as Hannah Rudman explains.
The UK's cultural sector is being encouraged to put environmental sustainability at the heart of what it does. Following the Kyoto Protocol, the UK Government set a goal to reduce CO2 emissions to 20% below the 1990 level, by 2010. With the impending Climate Change Bill setting UK businesses the target of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050, all businesses are being asked to play their part. The DCMS has recommended that there are three core elements of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental. It published a Sustainable Development Action Plan 2008–11, which proposes actions that the sector should take (see AP180). These include beginning to measure and reduce the carbon footprint of the cultural sector, and beginning to measure the impact of climate change on the sector's cultural and sporting assets. Arts Council England (ACE) has recently provided a toolkit to help organisations to calculate and build benchmarks on how much energy they use, and how much this is costing. Obviously energy consumption has a direct correlation and contribution to organisational costs, but also to an organisation’s carbon footprint.
Organisations can use IT and digital channels to ensure that carbon, waste and water outputs are reduced. Being greener is key to twenty-first century sustainability. IT accounts for 2% of global CO2 emissions, and can help significantly reduce the other 98%. It has the potential to play a pivotal role in reducing energy costs and developing a cultural organisation’s green strategy. In a world that is increasingly connected, building smart systems around assets, processes and infrastructures can be the key to reducing energy demand. Where can cultural organisations start in relation to IT? ‘Thin client computing’ could be considered: instead of each worker running a central processing unit (or CPU, the big computer tower that sits under the desk) and separate screen, let each individual securely run a laptop as a ‘thin client’, which then uses the central processing power of the organisation’s in-house server. This practice will maximise the use of the bandwidth which the organisation already has. This reduces energy consumption because the digital devices each worker has are fewer and less power-hungry.[[Being greener is key to twenty-first century sustainability]]
Cloud computing (a metaphor for Internet-based computing) is even more environmentally sustainable because it reduces the need for any powerful local computer processors, and makes redundant local servers that use a lot of energy and make a lot of heat (and so often use further energy by needing air conditioned environments). Cloud computing basically allows an organisation to operate its IT processes and office systems via the Internet. All applications and processing power are provided to a thin client via a virtual server, accessed via the Internet, hosted at a virtual data centre. Software is now available to measure energy consumption of devices and activities. This helps to maximise performance and reduce energy usage as well as provide benchmarks to improve upon year by year. Cloud computing facilitates the automatic completion of many IT management tasks (e.g. back-up processes). Also, connectivity (bandwidth usage), software and processing power are only charged for on a usage basis, meaning that you only pay for maximum computing power on the days when you need it, and for software licenses on the days when they are used by individual users.
IT is also becoming more energy efficient itself. The latest hardware is significantly more energy efficient and produces less heat. Green data centres are being developed where the carbon impact is zero, so choose a green server farm or data centre to be your host. Energy providers also offer green tariffs, and there are some specialist green providers. Emerging cloud-based collaboration software encourages effective virtual working. Many arts organisations are successfully using online project management tools such as Basecamp; diary and filesharing services such as Scribd, BackPack and Google Docs; and online event management tools such as Eventbrite.com. Pilot Theatre and other performing arts companies use the 3D virtual reality world Second Life for set design discussions and early rehearsals, reducing the need for actors and designers to travel until later in the creation process.
Increasingly, festivals and venues with newer online ticketing systems are moving towards offering customers print-at-home tickets, meaning less paper waste and energy usage by the organisation; some systems, such as Amiando, are beginning to scan barcodes or DataMatrix (2D matrix barcodes) codes from mobile phone screens, eliminating the need for any printing at all. Implementing intelligent, cloud-based digital solutions; making green choices around hosting and energy providers; encouraging your people to use common sense to reduce the energy consumption of your IT networks (e.g. turning your computers, screens and wifi modems off, rather than leaving them on stand-by overnight), are serious steps towards becoming more environmentally sustainable.