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Tonight IBM will receive the World Environment Center’s Gold Medal, so this week we asked students at the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise to share their  views on sustainability (we’ve included a video to show what IBM is doing to make the world smarter).  Here’s the final post in the series, from Lawrence Han:

People complain that my generation’s “addiction” to technology will lead us down the path of unsustainability.  I think they are wrong.  While it is true that my generation, Gen Y (those born after 1980) is the quickest demographic to adopt new computing trends, the advances that we are adopting—mobile, cloud, big data—are intrinsically greener.  So, as white-collar Baby Boomers step away from their life in front of a computer, and the new wave of Gen Y workers step forward to take their place, the computing landscape will move to a more energy efficient and sustainable future.

Consider that a decade ago, Baby Boomer households joined the Internet Revolution by purchasing hulking desktop computers. But over the past decade we have seen a shift with laptops overtaking the personal computing market. And that means less energy use—a typical laptop uses 45 watts  while your typical energy guzzling desktop computer uses a whopping 100 to 300 watts of electricity.

Who among my generation wants a desktop?  Very few, if any at all.  As my friends moved out of their family home bound for college or transitioned to a new city for their first job, the laptop perfectly complemented their geographically shifting lifestyles.  That’s not going to change; my generation today lives even more of a life on the move, spending less time at home than ever.  With this, smartphones and tablet computers, which use even less energy, are rapidly becoming the new gadgets that power our lives.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Gen Y also loves cloud computing, an environmentally friendly solution that fully supports our life in motion.  We grew up in a world of free, web-based email and have fully embraced the smartphone revolution.  Now accustomed to the ability to access data “on the fly,” Gen Y houses contact lists, banking tools, homework files, and other personal information in the cloud.

Gen Y doesn’t bother to purchase traditional newspapers or to tune in to the nightly news broadcast.  Instead, it uses social media and Internet news sites that can simultaneously deliver to millions through the cloud. And most importantly for the planet, cloud computing enables servers to fully utilize computing capacity, allowing data centers to save energy by requiring less power and cooling supports.

Finally, we are not alone in our pursuit of these continuous improvements in energy efficient technologies.  Our university IT departments are quick to follow where we are going.  At my school, the University of Michigan, email is moving from university servers to the cloud.  The university also recently released a new storage service, making it easier for students to share and retrieve files seamlessly through the cloud.  In this way, universities reinforce IT trends by first adapting to the computing habits of their students, then mass deploying current computing products to that next generation of workers.

Embrace my generation’s addiction to technology.  The Information Technology industry continues to innovate towards energy efficiency; with Gen Y at the helm of the world economy, the IT industry can rest assured that these green innovations will be adopted with a hungry enthusiasm.

Lawrence Han (Class of 2014) worked as a systems integration consultant prior to graduate school

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