Blog: Bill Wrobleski

Bill Wrobleski thinks it's time we all went green. He also thinks it's easier to make a difference than you think. As the director of U-M's Technical Infrastructure Operations at the school's Administrative Information Services he's charged with balancing the growing tech needs of the U and its desire to be a good environmental citizen.

Bill Wrobleski - Post 1: Why UM Chose IT for Going Green

I'd like to start by assuring all of our loyal alumni out there that while we are committed to "going green," the University of Michigan will always remain maize and blue! Despite our aversion to the color green, Michigan is trying to lead the way in a wide range of sustainability efforts including the efficient use of information technology.   

Technology is ubiquitous. Today every classroom, dorm room, library and even sporting venues are full of technical equipment. Technology brings great value to learning and teaching; but along with this great value comes a negative effect on our environment. With each new device plugged in at the University, our carbon footprint grows a little larger.

Unfortunately, much of the electricity used to power equipment is wasted; the Environmental Protection Agency says the average PC wastes 50% of its power! Many devices have inefficient components or designs and use far more energy than necessary. Additionally, it's common to see equipment sit idle for hours (even days) as it burns power. People faithfully turn off the lights in their office before they head home, but they leave their computer, printer and other equipment running all night long.

We want to change that behavior.

We challenge people to turn on computing equipment only when they need it, not automatically at the start of their day. People have reported surprising results; they didn't use their printer for days.

Adding to this problem is the fact that computer equipment generates a lot of heat; therefore, air conditioning is often required to cool equipment to keep it from breaking. This is particularly a big problem in some of our large data centers where large numbers of computers run.  For example, University researchers need to rely on "clusters" of dozens or even hundreds of computers to process data to solve difficult scientific problems. These computers require plenty of electricity to operate and plenty of electricity to cool.

Standalone servers are problematic too. They can throw a whole building's climate control off. For example, one server that we relocated from the basement of our Fleming building to a climate-controlled data center will reduce the utility bill $97,000 a year.

Electrical usage is not the only problem. The University also prints millions of pages of paper a year; everything from dissertations to accounting statements. Unfortunately, we probably print much more than we need to. 

For example, according to GreenPrint Technologies, every year Americans print enough e-mail messages to build a 10-foot-high paper wall that would stretch from New York to Tokyo and beyond. How much is the University contributing to this wall? We know we store enough scanned images to pave a 9.4 mile long trail.

For these reasons, the University has identified information technology as an important target for our green efforts. We believe we can significantly reduce our impact on the environment (and save money at the same time) by tackling these problems head-on.

Go Blue and live green,