An introduction to computers and computer systems
An introduction to computers and computer systems

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2.2 Home working

Please note that this course was written before sufficient research was published on the effects of homeworking due to the COVID-19 pandemic and enforced lockdowns.

An argument can be made that if your businesses’ computer systems have been moved to the cloud then the individual workers can access those computer systems as easily from home as they can from the office, and that will reduce the businesses’ carbon footprint.

Activity 3

While working from home can reduce a business’ carbon footprint, does it really reduce the overall amount of carbon emissions? What do you think? What are the effects of working from home on carbon emissions?

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Discussion

The Carbon Trust (2014) points out that it is not always true that working on the cloud from home reduces overall carbon emissions. Although the carbon footprint of the business may decrease, overall carbon emissions might increase because individuals working at home use more total energy in lighting and heating than the same number of people working in an office. This increase in emissions may be compensated for by the fact that these individuals are not travelling to the office, but as the graph in Figure 3 shows, the ‘tipping point’ depends on how a person commutes to the office, and how far.

A bar chart entitled “Tipping points” with a subtitle: “Home working is only green for commuters who travel this far daily”. There are three horizontal bars, labelled on the vertical axis (from the bottom upwards) “By car”, “By bus” and “By train”. The bars increase in length in this same order. The horizontal axis is labelled “miles” and runs between 0 and 35, at intervals of 5. The bar representing “By car” extends to a value that is approximately 8. The bar representing “By bus” extends to a value that is approximately 14. The bar representing “By train” extends to a value that is approximately 32.
Figure 3 Home working does not always reduce carbon emissions according to the Carbon Trust.

Box 2

There is more to say on green computing and the changing nature of the services delivered by data centres in which more of their work is directed at storage and internet traffic than in computing power, and on the improving efficiency of all technology in data centres and its effects on power usage in the future. However, the latter paper was published in February 2020, just as COVID-19 spread around the world. With the dramatic changes in working practices and demands on data centres, previous assumptions about future trends are no longer valid. We await with interest future research that will follow up articles such as ‘Microsoft, Google, Slack, Zoom et al struggling to deal with a spike in remote tools thanks to coronavirus’ and ‘We analysed electricity demand and found coronavirus has turned weekdays into weekends’. Until we are able to revise the course to include this future research, you may want to search for more articles on ‘green computing’ to bring yourself up to date with this important topic.

Resources

  1. Cisco, ‘Cisco Global Cloud Index: Forecast and methodology, 2016–2021 white paper’ (Cisco, document 1513879861264127, 2018).
  2. Masanet, E., Shehabi, A., Lei, N., Smith, S. and Koomey, J. ‘Recalibrating global data center energy-use estimates’, Science, 367 (6481), pp. 984–6.
  3. Microsoft, Google, Slack, Zoom et al struggling to deal with a spike in remote tools thanks to coronavirus [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]
  4. We analysed electricity demand and found coronavirus has turned weekdays into weekends

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