Tech Leadership

It’s Good To Be Green

by LANE B. MILLS

With rising costs in almost every area of school budgets and the economic forecast indicating more financial pain to come, school districts should be looking at how technology can help offset expenses and how “greener” decisions might save some greenbacks.

While a wise and green sage, Kermit the Frog, is credited with the phrase “It ain’t easy being green,” school districts can realize savings and support a more environmentally friendly approach in the area of technology without much effort or cost. Now is a great time for education leaders to make the leap from awareness to action in efficiencies with technology.

Lane MillsLane B. Mills


Why Be Green?

Implementing more energy-efficient practices and sustainable products in technology is no longer just a nice thing to do. Increased energy costs are sapping budgets already weakened by shortages, and there is no doubt that technology accounts for a significant amount of these expenses. From district data centers that require constant heating and cooling to vampire appliances that suck power while idling (laser printers, fax machines, copiers), energy costs for technology need to be managed.

Further, school districts ought to consider smarter and more sustainable purchases and applications for technology. One example is implementing virtualization technology for servers and network storage. Virtualization can take many forms, but it is basically a method for providing technology services or applications in a logical (i.e., virtual) fashion rather than in true physical form. Fewer servers through virtualization can mean less power, heat and space needs.

Getting started with greener practices requires district leadership to set the example and tone for changes. You can provide a good start by developing systemwide guidelines for information technology efficiencies or reviewing existing practices. You’ll want to ensure that staff understand the importance of the effort and have access to tools and reports that provide information to guide their efforts.

School districts also may want to consider conducting an energy audit to get an accurate picture of tech-related energy use. A cost-benefit analysis might be appropriate. Aside from recognizing those departments that support efficiency and sustainability efforts, designating specific roles and responsibilities to staff in this area gives ownership and credence to the tasks.

Questions to Ask
Practical and specific questions to ask when getting started can include:

•  What guidelines do we have in place for purchasing energy-efficient devices?
Developing an awareness of the long-term consequences of purchasing decisions in terms of efficiency is needed. This topic should be given the same consideration as a district’s efforts to ensure compatability with standards and support staff knowledge.

The impact of this question goes beyond computers. For example, do new construction or renovation specifications provide for central control of HVAC systems that would allow for remote management and standards for settings that emphasize savings practices? 

•  Are we using the existing power management options in our equipment?
Most equipment has built-in energy management options that can be used to offset energy costs. Districts could start by determining whether the setup and implementation of equipment include a practice for activating these functions.

Enabling these power management options might be a quick way to provide a measurable impact on the bottom line. These energy management options also might include long-term and more global systems to manage equipment, such as HVAC.

•  Can we implement virtualization to reduce costs (e.g., servers, thin clients and applications)?
Reducing the number of servers and desktop computers via virtualization can reduce energy and space costs as well as software licenses and the need for additional staffing. 

•  Can we consolidate existing equipment or restructure aspects to reduce costs?
Smart design, like data center layouts that reduce heat and thus cooling costs, and consolidation of multiple servers or switches with more efficient equipment can reduce operating and support costs.

School districts can benefit from considering the implications of developing and expanding their district’s efforts to become greener with technology. Given the current economic climate and international focus on environmental matters, making different, greener decisions in implementing and purchasing technology equipment is a great first step for school districts.

Lane Mills is associate professor of educational leadership at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. E-mail: millsl@ecu.edu