This article first appeared in our I.T. special issue of of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 16 September 2020. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
In the 1830s, Charles Babbage created the world’s first computer: the Analytical Engine.
The mechanical device included a calculating unit called ‘the mill’, a ‘store’ for pre-processed data and input and output devices called the ‘reader’ and the ‘printer’.
Fundamentally, the construction of modern personal computers has not changed a great deal. The mill has evolved into the central processing unit (CPU), hard drives and memory take care of storage and pre-processing and a combination of keyboards plus screens enable input and output.
There is one thing that has changed dramatically, and that is the quantity of computers being used today – not to mention the fact that they all consume electricity.
Babbage’s Analytical Engine was one computer for a population that was then 1bn. Today it is estimated that there are now 4.6bn active internet users. Considering that each user has to use a computing device to access digital services powered by the internet’s 75m servers, it is fair to suggest that, at very least, there is one computer for every two people in the world.
This exponential digitisation, known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, has simply become part of our working lives.
Now, over two-thirds of job roles in the UK’s largest employment sector require the use of a personal computer such as a desktop, thin client, laptop or tablet.
As a result, over 10 million employees spend over five hours each day in front of a computer screen. While this drives productivity, it also creates high levels of energy consumption.
Almost 1% of all global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are created by personal computers; this suggests that, by selecting a more energy-efficient computer, we can all play a part in helping to ensure a sustainable future.
Specialist Computer Centres (SCC) has supplied a vast array of end-user computing such as desktops, thin clients, laptops and tablets to commercial and public sectors for over 45 years. It understands that reducing I.T. energy consumption also reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and focuses on making I.T. work for its customers to improve the way they do business.
This involves supporting long-term profitable business operations; looking ahead, it also includes a focus on the environment. Add the two together and sustainability becomes both feasible and practical.
‘The opportunity, both for the ICT sector as well as the sectors and organisations at the forefront of deploying impactful digital technologies, is enormous. Given the slow pace of progress against the Sustainable Development Goals, it is also non-negotiable. In our Digital with Purpose: Delivering a SMARTer 2030 report, we present very specific commitments for all who are on this journey – the first commitment: to share a common purpose. For us, achieving the SDGs is the central framework to unlock transformative action.’
CEO, Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI)
Desktops to mobile devices
The human love of convenience is already pushing personal computer choice organically towards devices with a lower impact.
In 2000, the desktop computer was predominantly the device of choice in UK offices, representing over 90% of all commercial devices. Now, some 20 years later, the balance has shifted in favour of mobile devices such as laptops and tablets, which now account for almost half of all business computers.
Desktops continue to have a practical use in some instances, but they consume on average three times as much energy as laptops. At the same time, some laptop models consume in the region of 50% less energy than equivalently specified models.
We still have a way to go if we want to achieve the perfect balance of energy-efficient end-user computing – and we could still be making better choices when refreshing our personal computers.