The place for nonprofits, charities, and libraries

Is Your Nonprofit a Hummer?

  • When it comes to energy consumption, is your nonprofit operating like a giant SUV? Discover ways to expend less energy on the job in TechSoup's article Is Your Nonprofit a Hummer?

    What are some other ways to save energy on the job? Tell us here.
    senior editor, TechSoup
  • I learned some new things from this article--for one thing, I had no idea that a monitor uses twice the electricity as the computer--yikes! I'll be much more diligent about making sure my monitor is turned off when not needed. Another thing I do to conserve is print materials on recycled paper or do 2-sided printing to cut down on the amount of paper from my computer.

    I think one thing to keep in mind while going green is that it's a process. Sometimes the money isn't there to upgrade all of your nonprofit's equipment w/ greener alternatives, but if you have a long-term plan in place, you can focus on greening gradually as you replace old equipment w/ greener choices, etc. In the meantime, you can focus on easy low or no cost changes that can be made right away.


    Megan Keane

    Follow me on Twitter: @penguinasana or connect with me on my website.

  • Interesting that the article recommends turning all the computers off every night. While in principle I agree, I find that the evening/weekend hours are good times to schedule any routine stuff that shouldn't bother the users during work time. So I have Windows Update, AV updates and scans, and some other stuff running overnight.

    This might be a function of the size of the network (around 70 computers), if there are fewer computers it may not be a big deal to update during the day.
  • A fair number of our users have remote access, so leaving the PC on is a requirement for those people. Also, updates and virus checks, not to mention backups over the network, are all done overnight.

    When we rolled out Windows Service Pack 2, our biggest problem was with people who turned their computer off at night. When they came in and turned on the PC, the one hour update process would start. Even though instructions were perfectly clear not the interupt the process, people would routinely do a hard reset of the machine because they "had to send a quick email". Needless to say these peope cost a lot more in time, energy and effort than those who leave the machine on overnight.

    The bottom line is that there is no single correct answer to any of our power consumption situations.

    Tim Claremont
    Systems Administrator
    Rochester, NY

  • It is a pain to have the machines bogged down during the day doing updates but on the other hand electricity is getting expensive. With 70 computers running 24X7 wouldn't it cost a few thousand per year to run them. Perhaps the computers could be left on once a month or something for updates. We have 40 and I schedule the virus scans during lunch instead of at night. Many windows updates seem to happen anyway as I see the message at night when logging off that says "installing updates and shutting down". I like being green when possible :-)
  • I will recommend turning off the displays which I also was not aware uses more energy than the CPU, however because of updates, patches and backups plus remote RWW users, we have to leave the CPUs on.
  • Re updates, I set each user to update at a different time throughout the day, so our network doesn't slow down.

    But that doesn't solve the problem of updates which require a reboot, as people have noted. I wish there were some way to know beforehand which updates would require a reboot and which ones would not. I guess you are already supposed to screen updates to see which ones you should install.

    If you have an update management tool as that article suggests, you could schedule updates for one day a week, tell the users to leave their computers on that evening, push the updates out, then reboot the computers. Then power them off for the evening.

    But the biggest power waster for us is our building heating and cooling. The air circulation is so poor that certain rooms are barely tolerable, while others become iceboxes or ovens. All the windows are single-pane, and insulation is minimal. We just got a grant to do a major building upgrade, but till now we couldn't afford to have the work done, even though it would have saved us money in the long run.

    I have a few suggestions for the article.

    - Printers, especially laser printers, should be powered off entirely when not in use, not just allowed to go to sleep. There is no issue with updating a printer, so why not just shut the thing down? On mine, the power switch is hard to reach, so I plugged it into a power strip which I operate with my foot.

    - The risks of mercury in compact fluorescent bulbs is probably overstated a bit. The amount of mercury in a CFL is quite small, less than a pinhead. In fact, if your electricity comes from coal-fired power plants, you release less mercury into the environment if you use a CFL and then break it, than if you use regular incandescents. Various websites recommend just putting the burnt out bulb in a plastic bag and tossing in the trash. If you break one, sweep the bits into a plastic bag and tie it shut, then toss it out.

    If you are allergic to mercury however, then the health risks can be high, and you should be very careful. Don't break one, and don't go near a broken one.

    I am not sure whether using a dimmer will save much electricity, because you need a certain level of light to work, and anyway they only work with incandescents (and halogens). They don't work with fluorescent bulbs, whether compact or traditional. You would almost certainly save more electricity by switching to CFL's than by installing a dimmer, and you can't do both.

    Other ways to save electricity:

    - Use LCD panel monitors instead of CRT's. The energy savings vary with the particular models.

    - Use laptops instead of desktops. They use LCD's, plus energy-saving CPUs too. Plus, they have built in UPS's (but not surge protection.) There are cons to this idea too, but it is something to consider.

    - Consider letting people work at home, or moving to a 4 day, 10 hour a day work week. They would save gasoline, CO2 emissions would be reduced, and possibly the office's HVAC and lighting demands would go down.

    - Consider a fundraising project to install photovoltaic solar panels on the roof. These are expensive, and they generally pay for themselves only after 20 years or so (at current prices.) But they do reduce operating costs, and they do help reduce greenhouse gas emission. So you could pitch it as helping the agency run better and more efficiently (because overhead costs would go down.) IIRC, PV panels are about $5 per kilowatt, less if your state has incentives.