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Keeping IT green

Technology in the classroom can have a huge impact on energy bills. Steve Smith shows us how to manage the costs

Posted by Stephanie Broad | December 01, 2015 | Sustainability

Many schools are rightly proud of the investment they’ve made in technology over the last ten years, including their ratios of one device to every couple of pupils – or even better. The overhead projector is almost extinct, and nearly every classroom has an LED projector or an interactive whiteboard. 

This means that the paperless school is often said to be just round the corner, but even the use of printers has risen hugely, with millions in use in UK schools. There are countless devices available for video, control, data capture, display – the list is endless. All this new technology has also come with a dramatic expansion in back-end infrastructure: servers, switches, telephony, wireless networks and so on. 

The use of new types of technology has transformed teaching in every type of school, but it has come with a cost. The introduction of this technology means that schools are paying more for their energy and having a greater impact on the environment. 

Our research shows that the impact of new technology could be costing schools over £10,000 in energy bills every 12 months – and that just 150 desktop PCs could generate over 13 tonnes of CO2 in a year. Projectors are the worst offenders, with each one producing 321kg of CO2, and clocking in with an annual cost of over £85 in energy costs. The older equipment is, the worse it gets – add an old style CRT monitor to a desktop and its energy cost increases by six times. 

These estimates don’t even take into account some of the hidden costs of this equipment. As more and more technology is added to small rooms in schools, the energy required to mechanically cool them in summer increases. Many independent schools operate in older, listed buildings which are particularly unsuited for the cooling requirements of modern technology. This can significantly increase energy bills. 

Steve Smith gives advice on keeping energy bills low

Many schools haven’t got to grips with this impact yet. This means they haven’t understood what they can do to keep costs down and run their technology more sustainably. We would never suggest that you don’t equip your school with the right kit for the needs of your students – but we would recommend a number of simple steps that you can take to significantly improve the sustainability and cost of your ICT. 

● If you haven’t already, the key first activity is to undertake a comprehensive ICT energy benchmarking activity. Every institution will be different, and until you understand what’s actually happening in your school it’s impossible to produce a business case for policy changes. For independent schools, an obvious key differentiator will be whether you have boarders – living quarters will obviously have a significantly altered energy-use profile. 

● Once you’ve established what you’re dealing with, there are a number of simple changes that can radically improve your school’s ICT energy use. Intelligent use of power management technology is a good starting point. Many schools use this but limit it to laptops – but these policies should be extended to all technology, from digital signage to projectors and printers. 

● Moving technology services off-site is another easy win. At Capita we’ve seen fantastic results using Microsoft Office 365, Google for Education and other cloud-based tools. This immediately takes a weight off your servers, as well as opening up a host of new applications and teaching styles. 

● Carefully review your planned expenditure for the next financial year. There are a number of exciting new low power use PCs on the market – as low as 20Ws. Swapping a couple of machines in a heavy use area could substantially drop power usage and energy costs. 

● Changing to a ‘print on demand’ service will radically reduce print volumes – and moving to a completely managed print service could save you a substantial sum while ensuring that your printers are refreshed on a regular basis. 

While there are many other ways to reduce the impact of your technology on both the school’s account and the environment, it is also important to ensure that any changes you make are carried out carefully – it’s vital that your ICT staff are still able to manage the network effectively whilst not making life too difficult for teaching staff. You also need to ensure that end-user experience is not compromised too heavily – extremely stringent power management and printing policies may be more trouble than they are worth. 

Steve Smith is director of learning at Capita Managed IT Solutions W: 

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