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The Public sector’s green Champions
Tuesday, 05 January 2010 00:00

FutureGov Research revealed that Asia’s education sector has taken the lead in going green. Kelly Ng exposes the reasons behind its success and profile lessons from the educators

169 education executives participated in a FutureGov Research survey on the future trends transforming teaching and learning in June. The results, from 13 countries across Asia Pacific, will have put a smile on the faces of tree huggers.

The research, commissioned by Fuji Xerox, revealed that 95 per cent of schools have implemented or are considering some form of green initiatives. The respondents came from a mix of student population sizes – less than 500 to over 10,000 – and academic levels – from primary, secondary to tertiary and universities. Much of the growth in green acceptance came from developed countries, particularly Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and South Korea.

Close to 50 per cent of campuses which have dipped their toes in green projects reported concrete benefits. In Singapore, approximately 60 per cent of respondents say they had experienced success in their environmental projects, which contrasted with six per cent who did not discover real gains. Australian institutions on the other hand, with 67 per cent who have not discovered benefits, revealed the need to focus efforts on evaluating the merits of their green projects. Moving ahead, results could get better if institutions from all countries track and measure their green progress, suggested the report.

The study showed slight differences based on the size of organisation in the way green initiatives are approached. Larger education institutions tend to have a clear green strategy with measurement tools in place, while smaller institutions take a conservative view and require more time to evaluate the benefits. The few respondents – five per cent – who have yet to consider adopting any green initiative came from middle-sized schools of 501 to 5000 students.

As it stands, the education sector is ahead in the green race compared to government and healthcare organisations. So why is green IT picking up speed within campuses and not elsewhere?

Much of education’s lead, ironically, was a result of a push from government. Governments, responsible for ensuring the sustainability of its populace, see the importance of educating the future generation. In Pakistan, “the government has been pouring a lot of money into primary schools to create awareness about climate change,” notes Maliha Kabani, President & Education Specialist, International Sustainable Development Resource Centre, Geneva. “The Ministry of Environmental Protection works with schools to create events, including those for green IT. These efforts pale in comparison to those focused on internal campaigns for government officials.” Kabani, who is currently based in Pakistan, partners government schools in setting up Green Learning Resource Centres around the country.

Students – idealistic and hopeful for the future – do not need much coaxing to embrace all things green. “The younger people of our world are very conscious of the environment and they want to do what is right. I don’t think it is the faculty or IT administrators who are pushing green within schools because they are overwhelmed and don’t have time to think about it. I believe green initiatives are often student-driven. They have time to think about it and they are more tuned in,” says Marci Powell, Global Director for Higher Education and Corporate Training, Polycom.

Since March this year, Queensland schools have guidelines from government on sustainability, called ‘enough for all forever’, to help them reduce their ecological footprint. “I would not say my school is more advanced in green IT compared to any government departments in Queensland. But schools are definitely exciting places – we have so many kids who are excited about making a difference for the environment,” says Clayton Carnes, Principal, Hermit Park State School, an Australian school.

Being an educational institution, staff and teachers naturally feel the need to lead by example and practise what they preach. Among the array of green initiatives at Hermit Park State School is a ‘paper reuse and reduce’ project. A thousand sheets of paper is shredded per week and repurposed as bedding in the school’s worm farm, vegetable patches and hen coop. “Our six resident hens love laying eggs on the recycled paper,” Carnes adds. And once the school launches its e-newsletter and goes completely digital in its communication with the community, Carnes predicts saving 4500 sheets of paper a week.

Paul Gandel, CIO, Singapore Management University agrees that universities tend to be more aware of the long-range implications. He puts it simply: it is the right thing to do. “As technologists, we have the responsibility to think about how we can reduce the impact IT has on the environment, especially when we know how much energy IT consumes. Clearly, it is an important issue.”

Tightening education budgets have emerged as a new driving force behind green IT initiatives. Powell has witnessed a gradual shift from ‘it was good to go green’ to ‘this is what we need to do to face the economic situation’.

New Zealand schools’ initial green efforts in reusing old computers was spurred by the lack of budget for new IT equipment among many campuses and communities in the late 1990s. The average PC to student ratio in schools was one to 30. Since 1999, the Ministry of Education has been supporting an initiative that provides refurbished used computers donated by government and companies. The initiative, Computer Access NZ Trust (CANZ), has contributed close to 20,000 refurbished computers to schools and lower-income homes. As cost of hardware decreases, schools are now open to other options, such as netbooks and leasing desktops. “In the past, a refurbished computer which costs around NZ$300 (US$220) could be ten times cheaper than a new desktop. Today, you can get a netbook for NZ$800 (US$580). The lease scheme has became a popular option because the total cost of ownership is lower,” explains Laurence Zwimpfer, Chairperson, CANZ.

While there is less incentive to take the ecological route of reused computers, New Zealand schools today have new reasons to go green by consolidating IT resources and services. Although computers are getting cheaper, schools need a lot more of them. The average PC to student ratio has improved to four students in primary schools and three students in secondary schools. The burden is worsened by escalating software, maintenance, upgrade, and other IT costs. According to Zwimpfer, “a survey published in November revealed that close to 75 per cent of schools favoured the centralised procurement of computers and other ICT equipment, server infrastructure, technical support, software licensing and broadband access”. This jarred with how schools have traditionally been run independently. Not only will centralisation lower costs, it often reduces energy consumption by increasing efficiency, most evidently in the consolidation of data centres.

The lower requirement for processing power allows schools to opt for low-voltage computing. Two years ago, Carnes rolled out 60 netbooks to grade three to six students. “We realised that the kids were powering up desktops to do simple calculations, create a Word document, or browse the web. We want to teach them to choose appropriate devices for their needs. For example, if they are doing basic calculation, a calculator or PDA is sufficient,” comments Carnes. Netbooks use an average of 5 watts, compared to laptops that use 30 watts and desktops 126 watts. “The children love using netbooks. They do not mind the ten-inch screens and smaller keyboards. This year, we are expanding the netbook program by doubling the number of netbooks,” he says.

 

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