Campuses Getting Greener: IT has a Role to Play
One of the great things about working where I do is that I have an excuse, really
a mandate, to spend a lot of time scanning the higher education environment
to see what kinds of changes are happening and report on those – not just
IT, but student life, campus planning, budget planning, really just about everything.
For some time I’ve been trying to draft up a long article about the relationship
between information technology on campus and sustainability efforts. I know
the relationship is there, even if it’s just as minor as the fact that
(like planners) IT people and sustainability coordinators work across the boundaries
between departments and disciplines a lot!
So, I’ve occasionally written pieces in this column, and here’s
one again. But I am really having difficulty getting that larger piece finished.
If you have some thoughts about that I’d love to hear them: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This past week, in particular, I was struck by how frequently IT in areas relating
to sustainability kept popping up in the news. Note that “sustainability”
d'es not mean just environmental sustainability, in what the leaders in the
field call “the Triple Bottom Line.” That phrase is used to expand,
for businesses, “the traditional company reporting framework to take into
account not just financial outcomes but also environmental and social performance”:see
Too many, the social consequences part of that includes individual health as
So, with that definition in mind, let’s take a look at a string of news
items from this week that, to me, have some sustainability thread running through
them, despite being “IT” news stories.
new School of Computer Science is Pretty Green. In this new Carnegie
Mellon University (PA) building, which is shared by the school’s
Interactive Systems Laboratories and its Institute for Software Research International,
CMU is “walking the walk” and “talking the talk.” And,
as Brad Hochberg, energy manager for the university, says. “This is not
about economics. This is about education. It's about demonstrating to students,
staff and faculty that there are alternatives to fossil fuel energy. But, over
time, with improved technology and application, it will become economical."
IT students got involved with this project to build a digital kiosk which displays
a comparision between the new building and the old one, with regard to how many
tons of greenhouse gases are being emitted. The display also shows how much
electricity, real-time, is being created by the 120 solar panels on the building’s
roof, in contrast to how much energy is being used inside the building.
the World With Cell Phones. At the University of California, Berkeley,
researchers want to “slip a pollution detector into the mix” of
stuff inside your cell phone. These cheap wireless sensors would “sniff
out” environmental pollutants, biological weapons, or radiation; providing
fine granularity with wide scale coverage, giving central servers somewhere
a great deal of valuable information to do good things with.
It’s pretty typical for IT to play important roles, both in discovering
environmental problems and in finding solutions for them.
Then we look at the “social equity” part of that Triple Bottom
on the Web, Women and Men May be from Different Planets. In a medium founded
on information technology, new research is aimed at detecting inequality in
the uses of that technology. At the University of Glamorgan,
a recent study has shown distinct and divergent ways in which men and women
both design and use websites.
Looking at factors such as visuals, language, and navigation, of websites created
by students, researchers found that compared on 23 different factors, men and
women showed differences in their designs. For example: “Where visuals
are concerned, males favour the use of straight lines (as opposed to rounded
forms), few colours in the typeface and background, and formal typography. As
for language, they favour the use of formal or expert language with few abbreviations
and are more likely to promote themselves and their abilities heavily.”
They then showed a selection of university websites were shown to men and women
users, and the same preference for design that was displayed by designers was
matched by users: women overwhelmingly favored websites produced by members
of their own sex, ditto for men.
So then, the researchers looked at the home pages for 32 higher education institution
websites and found that 94 percent of the sites displayed a masculine orientation,
with only 2 percent favoring a typically female bias. The implications for social
performance and equity are clearly there.
Finding the Way at Utah State University
At Utah State University, researchers are working at creating a convergence
of several technologies into a single device for the visually impaired. None
of the technologies is great on its own for an individual’s use, but merging
the capabilities of a wireless network, a pedometer, a Global Positioning System,
and a digital compass” looks to do a much better job.
in the Cotswolds: Gloscat delivers IT on wheels Finally, the Gloucester
College of Art and Technology (UK) has a mission to improve ICT and
Internet skills across its rural county. In today’s society (economy,
environment, whatever) people need to be connected, or to at least learn the
skills they can put to use when they are connected. (That’s inevitable,
right?) Thus the Gloscat Commun-IT van, "a mobile computing centre taking
e-learning and computer access to some of the remotest areas” which travels
the rural areas in the county offering nearly the same amount of courses as
at the campus, and also serving specific learning sessions to very local needs.
At this point I might jump onto my hobbyhorse about how much waste is created
in the manufacture of our equipment, and the dire need to have better systems
of recycling. But we are all pretty aware of that, I think, the problem is how
to deal with it.
If you don’t think of this as a problem, then ask yourself, when you
throw something away: “Where is ‘away’?” When I was
in the Navy (1967-71, including three Vietnam tours) Navy ships just had a 55-gallon
drum welded to the back of the ship, and wh'ever was on trash duty would just
dump everything into that drum, which led to a chute, which put everything right
down into the ocean – I mean everything!
I sure hope they’re not still doing that. In 2005 there is no “away.”
Whatever you send out of manufacturer’s drain pipes or drop into the waste
containers is going “somewhere” but we’re increasingly aware
that it’s not really going away. And IT advancements are leading the way
into that increased awareness, too!