CAD Insider Roopinder Tara attended last week’s Bentley bonanza in Baltimore (see my post) and, in a post Greener than Thou, has been wondering about how green a CAD company can be when, after all, its design software will be used to create edifices consuming large amounts of natural resources.
Bentley’s Joe Croser told him it’s about sustainable infrastructure:
“A green building can take the place of a not-so-green building . A roadway can be created using more environmentally friendly materials. Energy analysis can reduce thermal load and lower dependence on air conditioning. And so on.”
But, like Roopinder, I still wonder about just how green any technology can be. He talks about the Toyota Prius, for example, and all the efforts we can make to be “good green citizens”, but asks “are we doing as much as is needed?”
I take a similar view to Bentley in that I regard AEC ICT as a potential enabler of greener projects, but I think we have to recognise the significant impacts that ICT itself has on the environment.
BIW [my employer] recently contributed an article, ICT input critical in drive for greener economy, to the first issue of Eco-Executive magazine in which we outlined some of the issues.* For example, we highlighted ICT’s poor green credentials: its high demands on energy and natural resources to manufacture hardware, its high levels of energy consumption during operation, the frequent over-specification and under-utilisation of hardware, and the polluting impacts of ICT hardware disposal.
Nonetheless, we went on to argue that ICT also offers companies great opportunities to green their operations through process improvements (eg: greater re-use of information and better knowledge management), through designing buildings for sustainability, through support for home working, and – from a Software-as-a-Service (saaS) perspective – through reducing in-house ICT hosting and infrastructure costs.
Externally-hosted, web-based solutions mean no (or low) in-house IT hosting, support and storage requirements – widespread use of SaaS applications could dramatically reduce the scale of in-house ICT resources, with a corresponding reduction in hardware, personnel, energy use and other overheads.
The SaaS approach also concentrates all the hardware and software in facilities that makes optimum use of energy to power the hardware, provide cooling, etc – ‘economies of scale’. Thus, while such server-farm facilities are very demanding in their own use of power, they will still consume less energy than customers trying to maintain their own separate ICT infrastructures.
It is also worth considering the potential impact of web-delivered applications and data on what type of devices are used by end-users. With software and associated data sitting ‘in the cloud’ (ie: hosted on a remote server and accessed via the internet), there is less requirement for users to have large numbers of processor-hungry applications and related files sitting on their hard-drives. Assuming the availability and capacity of broadband connections – especially wireless (3G, GPRS, WiMax) – continues to grow, then users may start to employ simpler, smaller, lighter and more portable devices requiring less power, less maintenance and which become obsolete less quickly. Moreover, such simpler devices are also more likely to be available for home users – making regular remote or home-working more economically viable.
And, yes, this could even extend to CAD. Earlier this year, I wrote a series of articles about the potential for CADaaS (see posts here, here and here); there are already companies (eg: Onuma) offering SaaS-based BIM (building information modelling); and just last week, I wrote about architect John Tobin’s “BIM 3.0” vision: “a net-centric database … where BIM models … are constructed and populated collaboratively in a web-hosted 3D environment accessed from anywhere.”
One final thought: When I viewed Roopinder’s post, there was an advertisement alongside it for Hewlett Packard featuring Kung Fu Panda. Ironic that a panda, one of the world’s most threatened and endangered species, its natural habitat ravaged by mankind, should appear next to a post about green technology!
(* The text is also available on BIW’s website here; the article was based on a longer paper submitted as a response to the UK government’s 2007 consultation paper on sustainable construction – see post. This paper will hopefully be developed further as part of a Wiki project organised by my friend Sarah Bowden of Arup; I will post news of this when it gets under way.)