A recent Boston Globe story says that the state of Massachusetts is asking its employees to turn off their computers when the machines are not in use — a move that could save the state $2-million a year and prevent the release of 5,000 tons of carbon emissions. The story notes that state officials would like to see Massachusetts colleges participate in the program. ($2-million a year in a state like Massachusetts is a small amount to fuss about, but the effort seems honorable.)
The policy will require offices to set computers to shut down after a period of inactivity. It’s difficult to imagine whether a program like this would work if it relied entirely on education and volunteer effort. Sustainability advocates will tell you that changing behaviors is usually the hardest part of their jobs. The “think before you print” campaigns probably had some effect, but paper still seemed to pile up, unread, near printers everywhere. Charging people for paper seems to be more effective.
In any case, there are precedents for managing energy use among office machines. Perhaps some readers have heard of the “traffic-light system:” Green stickers go on items that can be shut off when not in use, like computers; yellow stickers go on items that take time to warm up, like copiers; and red stickers go on items that should never be turned off. —Scott Carlson