Are Vampires & Zombies a Genuine Threat to the Planet?

OK – let’s be clear, we’re not talking mythical monsters here, but two largely unseen and often unmeasured consumers of power and resources.  Even if they don’t live up to the ravenous reputations of their movie counterparts, in this post we look at why zombies and vampires are serious considerations for IT sustainability and climate change.

Vampires have been around in film for almost exactly one hundred years (Nosferatu was released in 1922), with the first zombie film (White Zombie) appearing 10 years later.  Yes, no apologies, if I had a mastermind topic it would be early horror films.  But how do these mythical creatures relate to IT and sustainability?  Let’s look at them in turn.

What Exactly are the Vampires Sucking?

A “Vampire device” is one which draws power from the grid even when it is in standby or powered down.  And by device we don’t just mean a computer or datacentre “server”.  Phone chargers, power adapters, battery packs, basically anything that is plugged into sockets may be draining valuable energy.

How big an issue is this? 

Some estimates put power loss to vampire devices as high as 20% of total consumption.  EU legislation (Regulation No 1275/2008) came into force in January 2010 ensuring that electrical products have a standby mode and restricting their power “draw” to 1 watt.  This was subsequently halved to 0.5 Watts in 2013.  The EU estimates that these measures have saved 35.5 TWh per year, equivalent to the annual energy consumption of Romania. This has saved EU consumers €25 billion per year and more importantly removed 39 Mt of CO2 emissions.

So is the problem sorted?

Not quite.  The legislation is different for “networked” devices, i.e. those connected by wires or Wi-Fi to a network, including the internet.   These still have to go into standby mode, but can consume significantly higher amounts of energy. Networked devices include computers (tablets, laptops and PCs) televisions and decoders, printers, game consoles and modems.

The scope also includes devices which are connected together, so an external monitor or a printer are networked devices, even if only connected to a device via a cable.

Since January 2017 networked devices in standby mode must not consume more than 3 to 12 Watts depending on the product, reduced from 20 to 80 Watts previously. The upper power range is reserved for devices with “High Network Availability” (HiNA) functionality, typically networking equipment such as routers and switches. 

This legislative decrease is estimated to have saved an additional 36-38 TWh, but the fact is that businesses and homes contain an ever-increasing number of networked  devices which are still consuming significant amounts of power.

What to do about the Vampires?

We need to consider “standby” features (time to enter standby and passive power consumption) as well as “active” power draw when making personal and business purchasing decisions, particularly for our end user computing (PCs, laptops and tablets) and networking devices.

While the legislation sets out the upper limits of what is acceptable, it is the purchaser who determines the direction of travel for manufacturers.

We also need to get in the habit of unplugging those devices that don’t need to be in standby (including chargers and adapters), or else ensuring that they are connected to the mains via “smart” power strips that cut the power completely when not in use.

Powering down devices if they are not going to be used for more a few hours (e.g. overnight) makes good environmental and economic sense – and can help prolong the life of components, improve performance and ensure that system updates are regularly applied.  The boot up time of most devices is now so quick that the inconvenience of lost time is really very minor.

Checking that individual devices have the optimal power settings is also good practice and many infrastructure management tools can provide reports on the power profiles of individual devices to identify and target those with excessive consumption.

Px3 can help through our sustainability reports that identify these issues, profile devices and put their environmental impact into a context and format that people can easily understand.

Killing Zombies for Planet and Productivity

While Vampires are quietly drawing power from the grid in small amounts, zombies are a bit more aggressive.  They are physical or virtual devices which are switched on and consuming energy, but serving no useful purpose and providing no accessible resources. (Note that these are very different from the other type of zombies which are PCs and servers infected with malware used by criminals in spam and denial of service attacks).

How big an issue is this? 

Very significant.  One recent US study indicated that 25% of all physical and 30% of all virtual servers were “comatose” (not used for at least 6 months).  That equates  to over 10 million zombie servers worldwide, drawing 4 Gigawatts of power, wasting enough energy to power over a million homes, with obvious environmental and cost implications.

They are also a security risk, not to mention wasting valuable space, resources and licensing in enterprise data centres.

Even when they have been detected, removal is not as simple as a quick “head-shot”.  Just because a server has had no in-bound or out-bound connections for 11 months does not mean it isn’t used annually for a business-critical task. 

Why Do Zombies Exist?

It’s a simple fact that it is easier to purchase and install something than to manage it over a long period of time.  Servers which are associated with legacy applications or long-forgotten projects can simply become “part of the furniture”.  Normally they are only exposed during a major datacentre refresh or a move to the cloud, when the function of every physical and virtual device is being questioned.

Many older servers are also retained for specific tasks such as back up, for contingency or seasonal, peak workload tasks.

Do Zombies Exist in the Cloud?

Absolutely.  Zombies can exist and consume your resources just as easily in “someone else’s datacentre” as your own.

What to do about the Zombies?

Firstly, put the problem into business context. Remember that these devices, whether virtual or physical, are consuming energy, space and resources such as software licenses.  All of these have a cost to your organisation and the energy consumption in particular has a cost for the planet.

Somewhere within your toolset there should be a way to identify the scale of the problem by using:

  • Cloud workload management software
  • Server Analytics
  • Data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) tools
  • Configuration management database (CMDB)
  • Intelligent Power Distribution Units (PDUs)

Depending where you are on the on-premises / cloud spectrum there should be sufficient information from these sources to profile every server and determine whether it is fulfilling a useful function.  Remember that it as much about identifying connections and user access to data and resources (which may be very light touch) as it is about actual activity.

Zombie hunting is all about finding those resources that are seriously underutilised and either removing them entirely or consolidating them onto more efficient infrastructure, which may well be in the cloud.

When it is time to eradicate the menace, communication and change management processes will be needed to avoid business disruption and recriminations.

This is where Px3 can assist.  Putting your clean-up operation into your sustainability project means this is not just an IT housekeeping project, it’s also a corporate and environmental one.

Conclusion

While the names are the stuff of legend, the issues are ones of practicality.  We need to be more efficient and careful with our resources in order to improve the sustainability of IT.

That means making sustainability part of our purchasing decisions, operational and management practices and housekeeping.

The fact that these changes also typically reduce costs and improve efficiency means that there should be little resistance to an initiative from IT that benefits Planet, People and Productivity.

Px3 includes awareness workshops and sustainability webinars in our client engagement options.

Want to find out more? – join us for our upcoming webinar with Citrix, Royal Borough of Kingston & Sutton and Google on the 10th Feb – register here

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

Ewen is CIO of Px3, a company on a mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050. With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity.

Ewen (LinkedIn Profile) can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

What’s the Plan for Net Zero in 2050?

The UK’s Climate Change Committee has issued advice on the changes needed to meet the government’s 2050 target of reducing net carbon emissions to zero – but what does that mean for individuals and organisations?

Changes for the Citizen

In it’s Sixth Carbon Budget Report “The UK’s Path to Net Zero” the Climate Change Committee (CCC) identified some significant changes that all of us are likely to have to make if we want to live in a carbon neutral country. The committee identified that more than 50% of the planned emissions savings involve people and the choices they make.

Travel will become low-carbon by phasing out the internal combustion engine, at least in new cars and vans by the early 2030s. The amount we will fly remains contentious, particularly as there are no expectations in the report of reaching zero emissions for aviation by 2050.

Home Energy will be partly tackled by increasingly efficient devices, but we will need to shift away from natural gas to electricity and heat pumps for heating, a move that will require a massive investment (around £10k per older household) in much needed improvements in home insulation.

Diet and Food were always going to be controversial areas. The CCC has suggested a 20% cut in the consumption of red meat and dairy produce by 2030, increasing to 35% by 2050. It has also suggested a cut of 50% in food waste could be achieved.

Whether it’s flying less (if at all), changing our vehicles (new registrations this year are expected to be 10% electric including hybrid), wasting less or changing our diets, our personal journeys towards 2050 and Net-Zero have already started and are going to accelerate.

Changes for Organisations

Surface travel, buildings and energy supply have a significant share of of UK emissions (22%, 17% and 10% respectively). All private, public and third sector organisations will need to consider how emissions in these areas can be measured and reduced.

For most organisations reporting on energy consumption and progress on emissions reduction is now mandatory across Scope 1 (Direct emissions on site such as gas boilers and fleet vehicles), Scope 2 (Indirect emissions from electricity purchased and used) and Scope 3 (Indirect emissions from activities such as business travel and supply chain).

There are positive signs. We’ve seen from recent news how the impacts of Covid-19 have led to dramatic falls in emissions worldwide, but most significantly in the UK and France, where annual emissions are down 13% and 15% respectively. While some of this can be attributed to shut-down of industry, reductions in travel and work-based travel in particular would seem to be a major cause of the UK reduction.

Continuing the trend towards more flexible working arrangements is critical to meeting our 2050 targets as carefully consider how to balance the new world of work between pre and post Covid-19 worlds. This clearly has implications for the size and configuration of offices, as the use of these shifts from “every day” to “as required”. It’s likely that we will see greater emphasis on shared spaces, hot-desking and collaboration spaces and the technology to support this flexibility both in and away from the office becomes essential.

Despite the increasing use of sustainable energy we still need to consider the energy used by our works devices and datacentres. While we transition from our current mix to one largely free of fossil fuels (the CCC plan assumes fossil fuel supply emissions to be reduced by 75% by 2035 from 2018 levels) we will still be generating energy from fossil fuel for the foreseeable future.

That means we need to take steps to reduce power consumption wherever possible – with the added benefit of cost savings.

It’s these areas where Px3 focusses assessments – to measure the carbon footprint of ways of working, devices and datacentres and provide guidance on what can be changed, and what the benefits would be.

Conclusion

The CCC considered three likely scenarios: Headwinds (limited societal/behavioural change and innovation), Widespread Engagement (People and businesses are willing to make more changes to their behaviour, reducing the demand for the most high-carbon activities) and Widespread Innovation (Greater success in
reducing costs of low-carbon technologies, allowing more widespread electrification and a more resource and energy-efficient economy).

For those of us who can’t directly drive the innovation agenda, we need to focus on shifting from Headwinds to Widespread Engagement and making best use of resources. With the right data we can drive informed choices and all play our part in meeting these important and ambitious targets.

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

Ewen is CIO of Px3, a company on a mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050. With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity.

Ewen (LinkedIn Profile) can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

And the “Word of the Year” for 2021 is….

Words are important indicators of what we are thinking and how we are feeling.  Recent Oxford English Dictionary “words of the year” suggest a growing public anxiety about the environment and the need for change, but do we need to change our way of thinking to actually drive different outcomes?

2020: Too Complex for a Single Word

In November 2020 the Oxford English Dictionary officially gave up on having just one “Word of the Year“, citing the unprecedented changes in attitudes and circumstances. Read more here

With some words (notably “pandemic”) increasing in usage by more than 57,000% over previous years you could be forgiven for hoping that 2021 might lead us into calmer waters.  That would be a mistake. There are significant trends in those lists of words that have not gone away.

As an example, the 2019 OED word of the year was “climate-change”.  In 2018 it was “toxic”.  “Carbon-neutral” and “carbon-footprint” featured in 2007 (UK) and 2006 (US) respectively.  In fact after the seemingly trivial early years commencing in 2004 with “chav”, followed by “sudoku” and “bovvered”, words relating to the environment, government, protest, society and economics have dominated the list.

What’s notable though is that the words typically relate to issues, not solutions.  They are what concerns us, not what we are doing about it.

Customer-Led Thinking

Our response to these issues and concerns can be orthodox (assume that a combination of policy, economics, society and science will sort everything out) or heterodox (decide that some of those institutions are built on flawed, self-interested or even destructive principals, so require more radical change and re-alignment).  

This latter mode is associated with disruptive economic theories and their implications for ecology and society, which will be covered in later blogs, but for now let’s consider where heterodox thinking might take us, starting with some assumptions:

  1. Changing individual behaviour is critical to becoming more sustainable – in particular our direct and indirect consumption of raw materials and our attitude to waste.
  2. People are social and their behaviour, driven by a complex interaction of things that change rapidly (influences and opinions) and those that change slowly if at all (habits, culture, traditions and beliefs), is not entirely rational or predictable.
  3. Socio-economic factors which affect behaviour are complex, evolving and heavily influenced by policy, media and by highly visible brands or individuals perceived to have particular knowledge or resonance.
  4. Our current focus on having “more”, “new”, “latest” and “best” is accelerating already unsustainable resource use, emissions and e-waste to landfill

While orthodox thinking on sustainability might lead us towards socio-economic factors (such as taxation or celebrity green ambassadors) to drive change, heterodox thinking suggests that this will be ineffective because of embedded self-interests in the systems. Instead it inclines us towards giving the individual direct feedback on their personal impact and encouraging “flood up” from the consumer rather than “trickle down” from the influencer.

Breaking the Habit

It’s not by chance that businesses often refer to the public as either “customers” (those who purchase from habit, i.e. by custom) or as “consumers”.

If we can build on the undoubted concern with a very real illustration of what an individual’s footprint is like, how it can be reduced and what it means for the planet  we can begin to drive more positive engagement at the heart of the problem – the person making the decision on whether and what to buy.

This is exactly the model we use at Px3 with our carbon footprint assessments for organisations; measure, inform through illustration, then use real, contextualised information to identify and encourage change.

And crucially when people’s decisions change, then their purchasing and voting powers flow upwards to influence those who govern them, supply them and market to them.  If we increase knowledge and accountability we cut through the greenwash and self-interest to something that needs to be proved in order to be true. And the media have become increasingly willing to expose forces that seek to undermine change in their own self interest, such as the recent dubiously-sourced report on electric vehicles.

Reducing raw materials use, packaging, distribution and waste, while also increasing longevity, options for repair, upgrade and re-purposing should all become the default, simply because an informed buyer (whether personal or corporate procurement) will demand those as a minimum.

Conclusion

In 2021 we need alternative, heterodox thinking to turn the existing influencer model on its head. 

No longer should brands determine what is on-trend and encourage us to want ever increasing output through endorsement and advertising.  Instead an increasingly sceptical public should be encouraged to ask why something needs to be replaced rather than repaired and to hold those disposable elements of the market in contempt as no longer fit for purpose.

Maybe “heterodox” is unlikely to top the list in 2021, but if we can reverse the influence then the compound word of the year could be “customer-led”.

And even if we can’t achieve that milestone, if you want to be a leading brand in 2021, your green credentials had better stand up to external audit because there’s going to be a lot more questions and scrutiny from an increasingly sceptical public.

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

Ewen is CIO of Px3, a company on a mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050. With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity.

Ewen (LinkedIn Profile) can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

“They” is the Problem – The Psychology of Climate Change

While climate change is often presented as a scientific, political or even economic issue, there are some elements of it that are mostly about people.  Indeed the middle “P” of Px3 (Planet, People & Productivity) is there for precisely this reason.  If we want to make positive changes we need to consider the factors that drive change or cause inertia.

In this post I want to consider three aspects of human “cognitive” and sociological behaviour that go some way to explain how we got ourselves into this situation and what we need to change to resolve it.  I’ve presented these as simple statements, all open to challenge and debate, which I believe underlie our current threat to the environment.

Out / In Grouping – We tend to feel less positively about people when we assign them groups to which we don’t belong and vice versa (also known as “othering”)

Dissonance / Consonance – We are able to hold two or more contradictory ideas at the same time, but suffer some mental discomfort as a result and may make choices that seem illogical to ease this feeling

External / Internal Attribution – We vary in our perception of how much each of us is actually in control and therefore able to achieve or affect particular outcomes

The Issue

The Venn diagram below shows the interactions of the negative aspects of the three behaviours.  At this end of the spectrum we hold an expectation that someone else (politicians or scientists) will be responsible for resolving all the problems, that someone else (other nations or cultures) is causing them and that despite our concerns we have no actual role to play or potential to change the situation.

James Lovelock in his excellent 2019 work Novacene describes humans as “fissiparous”, meaning prone to dividing, fracturing and splitting apart.  For me this is the corner stone of the problem.  If I perceive that They are not changing, then neither will I.  If They have the authority and power when I do not, then clearly They have the responsibility for change.  And why should I be inconvenienced or go without when They are not and do not.  

It doesn’t take much to bring out this aspect of our natures.  We naturally identify as a group by identifying another group who are not like us or we imagine oppose or threaten us.  We see this demonstrated in distrust of scientists and politicians, often aggravated by social media that thrives on instant gratification and closed, self-reinforcing feedback loops.

This “othering” is particularly damaging as it allows us to think and behave in ways which otherwise we and our society would consider totally unacceptable.  From a climate change perspective this is highly concerning.  If we cannot have a truly common cause because THEY are part of it, or are actively working against it, we will not succeed.  Like the pandemic, the problem is global and unless the cure is global, it will not go away.

At best this promotes inertia and inactivity.  As climate related stress increases, however, we are likely to see this “othering” and dissociation leading to negative, even aggressive behaviours.  At the same time the increasing dissonance between our concern for the environment and our unwillingness to change key aspects of our own behaviour has serious impacts on mental health and wellbeing.

Like many psychological and societal issues we find source of the problems lie in learned behaviour, reinforcement and short-term gratification.  Our immediate pleasure from buying exceeds our guilt at both the cost and the environmental impacts of manufacture, distribution, use and disposal, mostly because they are never quantified.

The Resolution

If we were continually advised of these facts, updated on options and their impact and guided to make better choices, our position on these key metrics is more likely to change.  There are moves to do this around ethical shopping sites and initiatives to develop lower-impact and more circular economies which provide us with not just more information and feedback but also with practical ways to “green” our behaviours.

So if we are going to follow a more sustainable path then we need regular information and positive responses, either from others or ourselves, in order to persevere.  We need sufficient stimulus to overcome the inertia, followed by continual reinforcement to maintain the behaviours.

There are possibilities to expose some of the hidden environmental costs of our purchasing and activities through new technology such as blockchain that is able to track the impact of every element of a product or service through its digital footprint, but this has yet to become established in mainstream transactions.

While this article is largely about the individual, this is exactly the approach we at Px3 take to driving change at a corporate level.  Only by measuring and visualising the actual carbon footprint of various areas and activities can we inform and make positive adjustments. While this is relatively easy to do at a building or site level, it’s much harder to analyse at a granular level, particularly when staff are mobile and the workforce is dispersed.

Critical to this is Agency, where the individual feels empowered to drive change not just at in their own behaviour but in a wider context through challenge, advocacy, social and political engagement.

The second Venn diagram presents the situation where the individual accepts responsibility for their own actions and for participation in the wider change process.  Removing the “THEY” element allows not only for the individual to become an agent of their own changes, it encourages active participation in the wider “WE”.

This is perhaps best illustrated by a typical customer engagement in which we measure the Scope 2 and 3 emissions associated with an IT service.  This involves looking at the clients embodied carbon of their existing devices, the power consumed in their day to day operation, their eventual disposal and the operation of their cloud or on-premises data centres.

After making recommendations around emissions reduction we are left with a “balance” that needs to be offset.  It’s no surprise that the most effective offsetting is in protecting and replanting in the most environmentally sensitive areas like the Amazon, but equally clients want to see action and impacts closer to home.  We share a planet, and we also share a country, a region and even a neighbourhood. Change is best delivered and accelerated by building resonance (making things matter) and developing consonance (common voice and purpose).

Balancing global and local is critical to motivating change and encouraging positive activities.  The more we can reduce the concept of THEY and encourage the positivity of WE, the better.   The more we can use science-based measurements to inform and encourage, the better able we are to encourage agency and common purpose, and thereby achieve positive outcomes.

Conclusion

 One thing that the study of psychology tells us is that when we change our thoughts and attitudes we change our relationship with ourselves and the world around us.  While we are certainly capable of being divisive and destructive we are also equally capable of being inclusive and creative.

We need to recognise and reject our temptations to identify THEY and encourage the I and WE.  Through the current pandemic we have the greatest shock to the system and opportunity to reset things for the better in the last half century. Arming ourselves with real data and encouraging positive change in every aspect of our work and personal lives has to be the answer.

How we respond to the challenge of defining our post-Covid-19 world in a more sustainable and inclusive manner will literally define our place in history and how WE are judged by future generations.

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

Ewen is CIO of Px3, a company on a self-assigned mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050. With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity.

Ewen (LinkedIn Profile) can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk