What is CiCS doing?

Here in CiCS we are conscious that not only do we need to reduce our own carbon footprint, but that our actions affect the ability of the other departments to reduce theirs. The University is no different from the rest of society in that it has become highly IT dependent and with such developments as the Internet of Things this dependency is only likely to grow. However, while all IT uses energy, there is also the opportunity to control our overall energy use with IT.

Thus, while the fridge that was recently caught sending spam shows us the downside of this technology, there is also the potential, long heralded, for us to tell our house that we’re on the way home so please turn the heating on, detect when there’s no-one in the room so power down all our devices – we already have motion sensors running many of the lighting systems in the University of course –  adjust the blinds and windows to ensure we are making the most of natural light and heat, and so forth. Not only that,but the power needed to run these devices is gradually decreasing  – Intel recently demonstrated a laptop that would run on wine for example.

So much is happening, and sometimes we find ourselves having to run hard to keep up. But what is CiCS doing to reduce the University’s carbon footprint? One of our flagship projects at the moment is My Sustainable Print. We are reducing the number of printers on the campus from around 3,000 to more like 600,  saving 19 tonnes of carbon emissions and about £1 million in cash. (A reminder: The University’s Carbon Footprint is currently around 35,000 tonnes, so this might seem like a drop in the ocean, but every little helps, as they say. Our commitment is to reduce the footprint by 43% by 2020)

This is a massive change for the University, moving from departmentally managed printing to central management and we are very grateful to everyone for their patience and understanding during implementation. Once we have the basic service in place we will be able to bring in enhancements that will make it even better for staff, while retaining the environmental and financial advantages.

Another area where we have been able to make big savings on behalf of you all is in the data centres. These are used by just everyone in the University, whether you are aware of them or not, because they enable us run the entire range of services we provide, from the student system to telephones, the basic network that provides access to the Internet, and so on. Even outsourced systems like Google Apps still require us to run some services locally to make it possible for us to use them. By virtualising our server fleet we have reduced it from 130 small physical servers t to 4 large servers configured as 130 virtual servers. So we are pleased to announce that we are now running approximately 5 times more services at a 20% lower cost. But we’re not stopping there – over the next year we will be moving to new technology that should be even cheaper and more environmentally friendly to run. We can pass these savings on to departments as well, since we can provide more energy-efficient server space for your projects including High Performance Computing.

Google can steal a march on us in this area of course since their economies of scale coupled with a positive attitude to greening IT can lead to much greater savings. We are actively looking at moving other services into the Cloud where it is appropriate.

We’re also moving forwards in the field of telecommunications. The new Avaya phones running over IP (Internet Protocols) are more efficient than the old analogue phones. They have a screen saver feature that turns them off after 60 minutes, set centrally. With softphones coming in, the energy savings are even greater

Our Text Messaging service can reduce unnecessary travel by letting people know when there is an incident at the University such as snow, or a lecture has been cancelled. If you’d like to use this service please contact Rob Needham in the first instance.

Another area where we can help reduce the carbon footprint is in Space Management. This is an area where I feel that continuous service improvement, rather than the ‘Big Bang’ approach, is the way to go. We brought in computerised timetabling about fifteen years ago and have gradually increased its reach to enable departmental staff to make more efficient use of our teaching space. So instead of knocking up a new building every time that we feel that space is getting tight, we can schedule intelligently to make sure we are getting the best use from the Estate. This has knock-ons in terms of heating and lighting costs. Some Universities are talking about ‘Green Timetabling’ focusing on the environmental aspects of curriculum scheduling – however, to make the most of this we would have to teach during the summer, which might not be popular with everyone.

We don’t have much responsibility for transport, although we try to ensure that our own fleet of vehicles are as eco-friendly as possible. When it comes to personal transport choices, IT professionals are logical people, and is driving to work in the centre of a congested city really the best use of our time and money? Many of us don’t think so, and levels of walking, cycling and using public transport  are high in the department.

We also have some keen gardeners and have started a small kitchen garden at the back of 10-12 Brunswick St. Some of us are twitchers as well and bird feeders abound – plus we had a lot to do with the Peregrine Falcon web-cam at St Georges.

So we’re doing a lot, but there is always more to do. That’s why I’ve asked our Green Impact Project Assistant, Kaspar Eric Haasman, to interview our team leaders and ask them what they see as the strengths and weakness of our environmental approach. Hopefully we will get some new ideas out of this that we can take forward into Green Impact 2015!

Good luck everyone and looking forward to seeing you at the awards.

Simon Geller

17th Feb 2014.

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