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A Real Turn-Off that Makes Sense

Call them green myth-busters, patrolling the cubicles and offices of the Medical School in search of desktop computers and peripherals that lay awake all night wasting energy. 

“A lot of people think that it hurts the computer to turn it off and on every day, but that’s just an old myth,” said Scott Dziewietin, Information Services project manager and Excellence 2012 coordinator. “That may have been true years ago, but not today. With the technology we have now, it’s better to turn them off and save the energy.” 

There are more than 5,000 personal computers on the Medical School network. Yet “the vast majority of our community does not need to access their desktop applications after regular working hours,” said Melissa Lucas, sustainability and energy efficiency manger. “So there is significant potential savings we hope to realize.” 

To capture those savings, the IS and facilities departments are rolling out a program to target some 3,800 of the school’s personal computers for nightly shutdown. “We are not including the research labs, faculty or mission-critical systems with this effort,” Dziewietin said. “We’re reaching out to those areas where most people work a regular day shift and don’t need computer access at night.” 

To develop the best approach, the green computing team ran a pilot shutdown project last year at selected departments at the South Street facility in Shrewsbury. The pilot project covered 300 personal computers. At the outset, the team discovered that 65 percent of the computers, and 74 percent of the monitors, were left on overnight. 

The pilot began with an education program, encouraging people to shut off their computer at the end of the work day, and compliance increased to about 50 percent. “But that really wasn’t enough,” Dziewietin said. “We wanted to see at least 75 percent shutdown.” 

So the green computing team modified the model. Instead of relying on an education campaign and voluntary participation, they used a software tool IS already had available and programmed all the computers in the targeted departments to turn off at a certain time. “We gave the department managers the flexibility to tell us what time would work best for them, and which members of their staff should be exempt, because they need to log in from home,” Dziewietin said. 

With the enthusiastic support of the department managers, and “green ambassadors” among the staff who volunteered to help facilitate the program, IS began the automatic shutdowns last fall. The results were quick and significant. “We’re over 80 percent now, in these departments,” Dziewietin said. “People just turn their PCs on in the morning, and get to work. It’s going very smoothly.” 

Now, the green computing team is reaching out to departments on the Worcester campus, asking them to participate— and the first to volunteer is the Lamar Soutter Library. “The library staff has been great,” Dziewietin said. “They have 60 computers that we’ll be bringing into the program this month.” 

Over time, if 75 percent of the 3,800 administrative PCs are brought into the shutdown program, the team estimates a $100,000 in savings from reduced electricity consumption. 

“This is a great program, and we’ve had strong support from the administrators on campus, so I am hopeful we can see widespread participation this year,” Lucas said. 

For more information about the program or to suggest your department to participate, contact Dziewietin