The importance of green computing in housing
Housing Technology interviewed a number of exponents of ‘green IT’ from Civica, Node4, Northgate Public Services and Propeller Powered about how and why housing providers might consider adopting environmentally considerate computing practices and the potential benefits of doing so.
What is ‘green IT’?
Node4’s head of sales enablement, Steve Denby, said, “Green IT can mean everything from ensuring that green energy powers your IT infrastructure or using smart devices to minimise energy consumption through to sustainability by recycling IT infrastructure safely.
“As more labour-intensive work is replaced by IT solutions, our demand for compute and storage resources continues to grow so we need to be looking at how we do this with a zero-carbon footprint while maintaining a sustainable cost base.”
Civica’s product director for social housing, Helen Rogers, said, “Green IT includes all types of IT operations that minimise the negative impact on the environment. This is achieved by designing, developing and operating IT systems and software in a sustainable way. One example of this is the proactive maintenance of housing assets using technologies such as IoT for smart homes. This emerging technology facilitates proactive maintenance and helps tenants to be more aware of their energy use through monitoring and tracking usage, as well as ensuring they are safe in their homes.”
Deborah Boden, business development director, Propeller Powered, said, “The concept of green IT for IT hardware is relatively easy to understand, from recycled or recyclable elements in components and energy-efficient production to eco-friendly packaging and zero-emission standby modes – these are all concepts that we are familiar with from other products.
“For software, green IT is a slightly trickier concept. In simple terms, it relates to energy efficiency. Where Propeller Powered is making a difference is by developing cloud-based systems that enable housing providers to work from anywhere; less commuting and travel between sites has an immediate impact in decreasing emissions. What’s more, cloud-based data storage is far more energy-efficient than a room full of churning servers requiring climate-control.”
Why is green IT important from an operational perspective?
Trevor Hampton, director of housing, Northgate Public Services, said, “One option that can have a big impact on improving operational efficiency is virtualisation, where an organisation uses a single computer or server to manage several virtual machines. This cuts down the number of servers and machines to manage, which reduces maintenance costs, lowers energy consumption and results in fewer machines to be disposed of.”
Node4’s Denby said, “The obvious benefits of green IT are that many of these systems not only control consumption but also cost. In recent years, the RoI of the upfront costs of IT has become more apparent as the technology matures and larger manufacturers start to incorporate it into their portfolios.
“Similar to the rise of electric cars, I believe we’ll see a steady increase in the adoption of these technologies, hopefully accelerated by government-backed programs. Organisations will gain more control, lower long-term operational costs and better data analytics.”
Propeller Powered’s Boden said, “While there’s been a shift in attitude within housing to move to off-site data centres, many of the legacy systems, naturally, aren’t available as true cloud-based SaaS offerings and so can’t realise all of the green benefits and efficiencies of modern platforms.
“Under normal circumstances, there’s an immediate benefit in reduced travel time and emissions. Since the start of the lockdown, it’s been a game-changer for many of our customers. Their ability to continue to meet service levels and compliance requirements, despite being off the road and out of the office, was partly to do with their use of our cloud-based systems.”
Does green IT have financial benefits for housing providers?
Node4’s Denby said, “The financial benefits of implementing green IT are mainly around IoT and how, as buildings’ infrastructure is upgraded, smart devices can be introduced that control energy consumption.
“This includes things such as motion detection and machine-learning switches for heating, air- and ground-source heating solutions, battery technology storing green electricity generated on site (solar or wind), and electric car-charging facilities – all of these can save money for tenants and housing providers alike.”
Northgate Public Services’ Hampton said, “In many instances, green IT initiatives aren’t originally adopted for their environmental benefits but for the potential cost savings.
“For housing providers, there are financial benefits to being greener. For example, by using autonomous IoT sensors in a house, housing providers can maintain more sustainable tenancies. Access to this level of information means housing officers can see why a home isn’t energy efficient and can provide advice to residents on how they can run their house more affordably.
“A greener IT strategy could be as simple as adopting power management tools to put devices on standby or using digital channels to reduce the travel costs associated with face-to-face visits.”
Civica’s Rogers said, “There are definitely financial benefits because, for example, ‘smart’ homes make attractive homes, meaning less time between voids. Providers can carry out maintenance proactively, reducing time between tenancies.
“A good example is Flagship Group which fitted a number of properties with smart locks for communal doors, Switchee thermostats and CCTV cameras in communal areas. The pilot scheme was a success, with Flagship taking preventative action on damp and mould when detected by the devices. Switchee estimates that the IoT devices installed during Flagship’s second phase will save £600,000 in energy bills by 2027 plus almost two tonnes of CO2 per year.”
What are the qualitative and intangible benefits of green IT?
Northgate Public Services’ Hampton said, “Mobile working is one green IT strategy that brings intangible benefits because people can work from a location of their choice. This cuts down on energy consumption in offices as well as reducing the time and environmental impact of travel.
“When the introduction of a green IT initiative such as mobile working makes people’s lives easier, the happiness and productivity of the workforce often improves at the same time.”
Civica’s Rogers said, “The reputation of housing providers is paramount. While compliance and health and safety issues are crucial, sustainability is also rising up the agenda. Green organisations will become more attractive to the best employees while tenants will increasingly prefer to rent properties from organisations with proven sustainable credentials.”
Does green IT help or hinder your IT operations?
Hampton said, “Adopting a sustainable approach to IT can bring benefits to all of your IT operations, whether that’s reducing the space needed for servers, limiting the amount of wasted energy through power management or adopting cloud computing to give staff access to information wherever they are and on any mobile device.”
Rogers said, “Green IT helps improve operations. This technology can capture huge amount of data to feed your business intelligence and analytics capabilities in order to drive improved customer service and increase operational efficiency.”
How do you measure the impact/success of green IT initiatives/policies?
Civica’s Rogers said, “In the long term, we’re dedicated to using strategies such as building information modelling to help with proactive asset management tracking and maintenance. For example, by using 3D modelling, housing providers can understand their properties and the assets within those properties better, rather than relying on stock-condition surveys to predict when assets such as kitchens or bathrooms should be replaced.”
Node4’s Denby said, “There can be extra costs and time involved in implementing green IT practices but done correctly, it can really drive quality and efficiency. Replacing your old, power-hungry IT hardware with newer green technologies in the cloud or with lightweight devices lowers your TCO and improves productivity.”
Northgate Public Services’ Hampton said, “KPIs such as measuring employee productivity and reducing travel expenses are great indicators of whether you’re being greener.”
Housing Technology would like to thank Helen Rogers (Civica), Steve Denby (Node4), Trevor Hampton (Northgate Public Services) and Deborah Boden (Propeller Powered) for their editorial contributions to this article.