As the U.S. Open of tennis winds down today, it's worthwhile to note that this year marks the event's debut as a green enterprise.
Dodging trainers in warm-up suits and support staff pushing carts full of food and supplies, U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) staff took journalists on a behind-the-scenes tour of the U.S. Open at the gorgeous Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens. Michelle Wilson, a marketing manager for the USTA, said, "This is a global sporting event, so we treat it as important what message we want to send to the world." (Last year 715,000 spectators gathered at the Open, making it the largest sporting event of 2007). "We named our entire facility after a woman, and last year we paid tribute to an African-American woman," said Wilson.
Wilson said the USTA had been researching how to make the Open more sustainable for the past few years, and was finally ready to make an announcement, after getting several concrete initiatives in place. Those include upgrading efficiency in lighting and energy use, recycling of waste and other areas. An environmental consulting firm had been brought in to do a full site and event assessment, and the Natural Resources Defense Council was consulted.
Wilson said Billie Jean King herself has been a big booster of going green. Some 60% of fans at the U.S. Open arrive via subway, and the organizers have worked to boost even that impressive number, by giving out free Metrocards, among other things. The Open's partner, Lexus, provided 20% of the support fleet in the form of hybrid vehicles. Wilson also noted that staff hope to recover 500,000 plastic bottles for recycling. The USTA also bought renewable energy credits to offset the fun.
King, Venus Williams and Bob and Mike Bryan (aka "The Bryan Brothers" or simply "The Bryans") recorded green PSAs, and Open shops offered an organic product line, with Tees designed by Heidi Klum and King. "It was important to us to include some fun in going green, so fans are engaged, and no one thinks it's all 'boring stuff,'" said Wilson.
The centerpiece of the U.S. Open's green push is the event's strategic partnership with IBM, and the company's efforts to radically reduce technology energy use. As green tech writer Preston Gralla puts it, "IBM uses its U.S. Open data centers as a kind of showcase for green IT."
In the U.S. Open's buzzing nerve center for its high traffic website, John Kent showed how IBM has saved the operation energy and money. "In 2006 we were running 60 servers, and now we have six," said Kent. While visitors to the website had surged by 20% since 2006, the cost per visitor had dropped by 38%. Server energy use was cut by 60%.
Kent showed journalists the system's slick energy dashboard, which monitors energy use in real time. "We can change the clock speeds on the different servers, following usage patterns, to reduce energy. We can even power down one or more servers completely," he explained. Similar energy savings were seen after IBM upgraded the Open's sophisticated scoring and bracket-creating systems.
The upbeat Steven Sams, vice president of site and facilities in IBM Global Technology Services, explained that the U.S. Open initiative was one small part of IBM's $1 billion Project Big Green -- as opposed to Big Blue. Sams explained that although IT is currently 2% of toal energy use, that could surge to 8% if current expansion rates continue. (Between 2000 and 2010 server growth has been estimated at 6 times, while storage growth has been pegged at 69 times).
Sams explained that the reason IBM, and the U.S. Open, have started focusing green IT strategies on data centers is because they represent the lowest hanging fruit. He said data centers use 10-40% of the energy of a typical office (30% of IBM's energy use, while only 6% of the floor space). Roughly 75% of the total costs of data centers is simply the energy needed to run them!
As energy prices soar, Project Big Green offers its services to clients. IBM will help do an energy assessment, then optimize a client's technology for efficiency, including reducing the number of servers, installing new water-cooled models and installing management software (like that energy dashboard at the Open). If an average data center uses $2.6 million in energy in a year, Big Green can slash that by 40-50%, resulting in a savings of $1.3 million (not counting a relatively low fee to IBM for the help). That's also like talking 1,300 cars off the road, or not burning 3.5 million pounds of coal.
As an example, Sams mentioned one client who spent $15,000 in energy upgrades, and saves $100,000 a year as a result. "Now that's a quick return, much more than what you'd see with something like solar panels," said Sams.
Before walking through the bowels of the Billie Jean King center, one would hardly give a thought to all the data processing that must go on at a major event like the U.S. Open. (In addition to processing, much of the data is organized, analyzed and prepared for immediate distribution and publication to hundreds of media outlets around the world.) Boosting the efficiency of these systems is a clear win for everybody.
As far as the journalists on the tech tour? Don't worry, we also got to see some tennis. A couple of great matches in fact, as Venus Williams and Roger Federer took commanding wins.
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