By Mike Walker, President, AlterAction Inc.


Would you leave every light in your school building on when you walked out the door each afternoon?  Probably not, but typically this is what happens with computers.  They sit idle, drawing power and costing your school money – as much as $50 per computer each year, possibly more.


In an ideal world, everyone would simply shut down their computer at the end of the school day.  Wishful thinking!  Busy kids, teachers, and administrators have a lot on their plates, and as result they forget.  As long-time consultants to Energy Star (the program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that helps Americans save money through superior energy efficiency), AlterAction estimates that roughly three-quarters of networked computers in the United States are left on during nights and weekends.  People are often unaware of the problem since a computer can look “off” – with the screen dark – but still be running.


This is precisely the point that resonated with New London Public Schools CIO Tim Wheeler and Business Manager Maria Z. Whalen when their Information Technology (IT) consultant, Michael Mazzariello, brought it to their attention.  Recognizing an opportunity to save money, they assigned Pat Lannon, Technology Manager, to the case.


Like most schools districts, New London Public Schools operates a pretty diverse collection of IT assets.  PCs, iPads, Macs, Chromebooks, and various servers all have important roles to play in an educational setting, but maintaining so many different computing platforms poses challenges for IT administrators like Pat Lannon.  Each machine needs periodic software updates, security patches, antivirus scans, and backups.  At first blush, adding energy management to this long list of system maintenance tasks can seem like an unnecessary complication.


That’s why Michael Mazzariello recommended special software which helps administrators manage their IT assets – including power consumption.  New London Public Schools selected SyAM Software, and once deployed, it provided Pat Lannon with a very easy way to configure each computer — no matter what platform (Microsoft, Apple, Chrome, etc.) — to automatically shut down (or enter a low power sleep mode) at 6 PM every weekday.  It has also made it easy to exclude a handful of computers that needed to stay on for remote access or for other reasons.


“While a few employees leave their computers on because they access their desktop remotely from home, most employees either forget, they decide against shutting it down because it takes too long, or they simply do not feel responsible for electricity bills at work,” says Michael Mazzariello.


But what if you are not a technology professional?  As a green schools advocate, you are used to championing energy efficiency initiatives.  However, it can be daunting for teachers, sustainability leaders, or facility managers – with no background in computer networking – to advocate for changes in IT.  You really need a “Green IT” expert by your side.


Enter the Energy Star Low Carbon IT Campaign, a nationwide effort to assist and recognize organizations for reducing the energy consumed by their IT equipment.  The Campaign provides school districts contemplating IT energy efficiency measures with free phone consultations.  Energy Star’s technical experts answer questions, address concerns, and save your IT colleagues hours of work researching and testing solutions.  Setting up a call between your IT manager and a Green IT expert can transform your initiative from an abstract idea into a concrete implementation plan in as little as an hour.

As it turns out, there are many ways to manage power settings across entire computer networks, in addition to commercial software packages such as SyAM.   Several solutions are free since they utilize public domain software tools and/or tools that you may already have at your disposal.  The University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, for instance, activated computer sleep features using free Windows features.

Small by school district standards, (just 5 school buildings and a central office), New London Public Schools still operates over 2600 computers and tablets.  By scheduling these machines to automatically shut down every night, Pat Lannon is saving nearly 525,000 kilowatt hours over the course of a year, reducing energy costs by approximately $90,000.  For cash strapped schools, that’s meaningful savings.  For students, it’s meaningful in other ways, because saving energy also means reducing pollution.  Thanks to the actions of Pat Lannon and Michael Mazzariello, their school district is eliminating 362 metric tons of CO2 emissions annually.


School districts are also finding “green” in their server rooms and server closets.  If you walk into a server room and it’s colder than the rest of the building, you are in all likelihood over-cooling the room, wasting energy 24/7.  Also, most server rooms can be laid out in a way that more efficiently cools equipment.  Another opportunity: most schools don’t fully utilize their existing computer servers before buying more.  It’s possible to consolidate workloads onto fewer servers, eliminating unnecessary hardware and saving energy in the process.


Thanks to Energy Star, you don’t need to be a computer person to find ways to save money and protect the environment.  The program offers free webinars for non-technical audiences, including “Data Center Energy Efficiency Opportunities: What Managers Should Know” and hosts a website that covers 12 ways to save energy in data centers and server rooms.  The website contains non-technical descriptions of data center energy efficiency measures, and impartial information about costs, savings, and implementation considerations.


Best of all for busy education professionals: Energy Star offers free phone consultations to help you get a handle on potential savings opportunities in server rooms.  After activating sleep settings on 11,000 computers in 2013, Carroll County Public Schools (near Baltimore, Maryland) was inspired to find even more savings.  With assistance from Energy Star, the district began to investigate the energy savings and other benefits of server virtualization, and is paying more attention to the efficiency of new servers and other IT equipment that it purchases.


For more information visit the Energy Star Low Carbon IT Campaign website and/or request a free technical consultation.


About Mike Walker:

Mike Walker is the founder of AlterAction Inc., a marketing consulting firm specializing in strategies for large-scale human behavior change.  Since 2002, the company has helped a wide range of corporate, nonprofit, and government clients understand and re-shape the behavior of customers, employees, and communities.  Mike is a frequent speaker on behavioral marketing and is a recognized expert on energy efficiency programs.

Prior to AlterAction, Mike served as COO of IT services firm Complete Communications, VP of Client Services at Belenos, and Manager at Deloitte Consulting.  Mike graduated from the University of Virginia and holds a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School.