Companies of all sizes going green

It has become a routine part of any given week to hear from IT companies about "green" innovations - products or prototypes designed to have less of an effect on the environment.

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"We knew up front that there was an environmental story," Katz says. That's because of the physical characteristics of newsprint, which is lighter than typical office paper, so he and other Xerox engineers knew that when the wood was ground for pulp the capacity of the newsprint would be better than chemically produced fibre. They knew it would cost less to produce and use fewer trees in the process. "That's when we really saw a big, big opportunity on the environmental side."

That's a concern that is always top of mind at Xerox according to Ochs. "We do look at the environmental impact with every product."

'A beautiful mistake'

While most of the movement in green computing tends toward hardware that operates with greater energy efficiency or products whose manufacture takes less of a bite out of the environment, Userful's bailiwick is software. The company's DiscoverStation operating system software enables 10 employees to work from one PC, though the typical configuration used by customers is to have six workstations per computer.

Using a central web portal, the software can be centrally managed and controlled, with locked-down desktop configurations. The idea behind it is that most of the time office workers spend their time typing documents or email or they're reading a document, email or website. Most of the computing power just idles and isn't really needed, so Userful's approach is to attach more users to each desktop PC. Libraries, schools and military installations are primary customers for DiscoverStation.

Sean Rousseau, who is in charge of marketing and public relations for Userful, which is based in Calgary, Alberta, and was founded in 1999, got to thinking about the environmental aspect of that power savings. He counted up the number of PCs that don't have to be used because customers have deployed DiscoverStation and ran a calculation based on how much electricity it takes to produce a typical PC, how much electricity is required to operate it for a year and translated that into carbon dioxide emissions.

What he came up with is that the company's software had saved more than 13,250 tons of such emissions per year, "and, boom, that's like taking 2,300 cars off the road right there, in one year," he says.

"I realised this is a really green technology. ... It blew my mind."

Userful, which has about 30 employees, plans to make that green element of its OS more outright. "We're building into the OS a meter that actually detect how much power your computer is using and converts that into how much CO2 you're using, so it will explain it right there on your computer," he says.

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