The IT industry generates more CO2 than the airline industry. Every desktop PC, server, router, switch, storage network and IT peripheral consumes power. Some elements of IT, like server infrastructure, require complex cooling and uninterruptible power supplies, which further increase their carbon footprint.
The green credentials of IT industry are set to come under scrutiny at the Copenhagen conference.
IT firms are trying to address the issue, but as they implement cloud-based services, they are also building larger and larger datacentres. These datacentres will have a massive environmental impact, unless sustainability is built into the design.
To this end, Google has invested in renewable energy sources as part of its Google Green initiative. And Microsoft's state-of-the art Dublin datacentre, which runs server rooms at ambient temperature, taking advantage of the cooler climate in Ireland to reduce cooling requirements.
Similarly, end-user businesses are also tackling the green side of their IT systems. Supermarket Tesco, for instance, has used innovative flywheel technology to store energy, which is then used when the power fails, acting a bit like a UPS, but with a significantly smaller carbon footprint.
Green initiatives are not only for environmentalists. Ken Harvey, global CIO at HSBC, has successfully used video conferencing to cut down on international travel, reducing the number of international flights bank executives take. The bank also uses call-routing to run a virtual call centre, which means staff are not required to drive to a call centre office. Instead, call centre operators can work from home. As a bonus, HSBC incurs no heating, electricity or IT bills.