Executive Report

Going Green with IT: Your Responsibility Toward Environmental Sustainability

Posted July 31, 2007 | Leadership |
Green IT

Read the Executive Summary

Science is always wrong. It never solves a problem without creating ten more.

— George Bernard Shaw

Though controversy still surrounds the scientific, political, and social aspects of global warming, there is growing acceptance regarding the dangerous consequences of not taking action now to address this and other environmental problems. Tackling environmental issues and the adoption of environmentally sound practices have become the new important agenda items for enterprises, governments, and society at large.

As the world's climate heats up, causing potentially disastrous consequences, and as environmental problems become global and serious, a new spotlight is turned on IT.

As discussed in this Executive Report, IT is a significant and growing part of the environmental problem and therefore must be part of the solution. The IT sector, businesses, and computer users must tackle "an inconvenient truth": use of IT has exploded at work, in the home, in cars, and in other areas, and we continue to gain immense benefits from it. But computers and other IT infrastructure consume significant amounts of electrical energy, which is increasing day by day, placing a heavy burden on our electric grid and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, computers pose severe environmental problems both during manufacture and at disposal.

We find ourselves in the unusual position of being both passionate about advances in and widespread adoption of IT and passionate about the environment. As business and governments try to balance growth with environmental risks, we are legally, ethically, and/or socially required to "green" our IT products, applications, services, and practices (see more on what exactly "green IT" means shortly). Green IT benefits the environment by improving energy efficiency, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, using less harmful materials, and encouraging reuse and recycling. Though green IT may seem somewhat a contradiction of goals, this is something we can resolve.

Green IT is a hot topic today and will continue to be one for several years to come. Multiple factors -- environmental legislation, rising cost of waste disposal, and corporate image and public perception -- are pushing businesses to go green.

We are called upon to make our IT systems and work practices greener and to find both short- and long-term solutions to IT's environmental problems. So CIOs, IT managers, and developers as well as businesses and individuals that use IT must ask the following questions: What are the key environmental impacts arising from information technology? What are the major environmental IT issues that we must address? How can we make our IT infrastructure, products, services, operations, applications, and practices environmentally sound? How do we measure the green effectiveness of our efforts? What are the regulations or standards with which we need to comply? What benefits can an organization gain by adopting greener IT practices? How can IT assist other businesses and society at large in their efforts to improve our environmental sustainability?

This Executive Report addresses these questions and examines related issues. It shows you specific ways to minimize the environmental impact of your IT. The report presents ideas and insights to help you make smart green IT decisions that minimize your environmental impact, save you money, and help brand your organization as a good corporate citizen. The report begins by detailing the current environmental problems, including IT's role in them. It next explains what exactly we mean by "greening" IT and how you can benefit from going green. It then looks specifically at how IT can impact environmental sustainability. This discussion touches on developing a green strategy, recycling, and green awareness before concluding with an evaluation of the ethics involved in green IT.


Numerous scientific studies and reports offer evidence of climate change and its potential harmful effects. Specifically, the growing accumulation of greenhouse gases is changing the world's climate and weather patterns, creating droughts in some countries and floods in others, and pushing global temperatures slowly higher, posing serious problems to the world [34, 35]. For instance, the year 2005 was the warmest on record, and the 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1980 [18]. Global data shows that storms, droughts, and other weather-related disasters are growing more severe and more frequent. In order to stop the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, global emissions would have to stop growing and be reduced by an astonishing 60% from today's levels by 2050 [18].

Electricity is a major source of climate change as it is generated by burning coal or oil, which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Reducing electric power consumption, among other things, is key to reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

The Inconvenient Truth

Climate change presents a new kind of risk; the impact is global, the problem is long-term, and the harm is essentially irreversible. The imminent dangers of climate change and the state of global warming were presented by former US Vice President and environment activist Al Gore in his PowerPoint presentation [10], which he showed around the world for years, and subsequently in the documentary film An Inconvenient Truth [14] and the book bearing the same name [9]. Sir Nicholas Stern, head of the UK Government Economic Service and advisor to the government on the economics of climate change and development, in his landmark report, discussed the economics of global warming and warned, "It was not action, but inaction, on climate change that would devastate global economies" [29].

Not everyone agrees, however, with these predictions regarding global warming and its impacts. For instance, controversies exist concerning causes of global warming, whether this warming trend is unprecedented or within normal climatic variations, predictions of additional warming, what the consequences are, and what actions should be taken. These controversies are primarily scientific, political, and/or social in nature (for a good overview on global warming controversies, see Wikipedia's "Global Warming Controversy" entry [36]). While environmental groups, numerous governmental reports, and many in the media are in agreement with the scientific community in support of human-caused warming, critics say global warming is "unproved," dismiss it altogether, or decry the dangers of consensus science. More than 30 scientific societies and academies of science, including all of the national academies of science of the major industrialized countries, endorse that global warming is mainly caused by human activity and will continue if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced [36].

Driven by several studies and reports, major global campaigns, and passionate debates on global warming and its dangerous consequences, many of us have begun to think seriously about global warming and its impacts and to do whatever we can to address this problem. The highlighted awareness drives us to ask: What can each of us -- business and industry, IT departments, CEOs, CIOs, CTOs, IT professionals, and employees -- individually and collectively, do to stop global warming and create a sustainable environment?

Governments, enterprises, and people have roles to play in combating global warming and building a sustainable environment. Never has an issue been so amenable to individual and business action as climate change. There is now greater awareness and a growing commitment to address the environmental problems. It's all about the future, not the past.

The Environmental Impact of IT

IT affects the environment in several different ways. In terms of the computer, each stage of its life -- from manufacture to use to disposal -- presents environmental problems. For instance, the typical manufacturing process for a PC requires two tons of raw materials and lot of water and generates 25 tons of carbon dioxide [21].

Servers, computers, monitors, data communications equipment, and cooling systems that cool the data centers consume electrical energy, and the total energy consumption is increasing. The increase in energy consumption results in increased greenhouse gas emissions as most of the electricity used for powering IT systems is generated by burning coal, oil, or gas. Burning fossil fuels emits pollutants, sulfur, and carbon dioxide into the air, and these emissions can cause respiratory disease, smog, acid rain, and global climate change [4]. Each PC in use generates a ton of carbon dioxide every year [21].

In addition, computer components contain toxic materials, which usually just get thrown out in the end. Increasingly, a large number of old computers, monitors, and other electronic equipment is discarded only two to three years after purchase, and most of this ends up in landfills, polluting the earth and contaminating water [21].

The increased amount of computers and their use, along with frequent replacement, makes the environmental impact of IT a major concern. As a consequence, there is increasing pressure on us -- the IT industry, businesses, and individuals -- to make IT environmentally friendly throughout its lifecycle -- from birth to death to rebirth. As many believe, it is our social and corporate responsibility to safeguard our environment.


To different lexicons, "green" means different things. Traditionally, in business terms, green implies profits. In day-to-day life, green often means "positive" or "proceed." The term "green computing" is occasionally used to refer to a secure, safe computing environment, while "red computing" refers to an insecure, risky computing environment [17].

In environmental terms, green means sustainability. Environmental sustainability, once little more than a moral incentive for companies, is now an imperative to doing business. And it's an imperative for IT as well.

Green IT refers to environmentally sound IT. It is the study and practice of designing, manufacturing, and using computers, servers, monitors, printers, storage devices, and networking and communications systems efficiently and effectively with no or minimal impact on the environment. It also focuses on achieving economic viability and improved system performance and utilization and highlights our social and ethical responsibilities.

Thus, green IT does not sacrifice performance metrics; rather, it adds the dimensions of environmental sustainability, the economics of energy efficiency, and the total cost of ownership, which includes the cost of disposal and recycling.

Green IT spans a number of focus areas and activities including:

  • Energy-efficient computing

  • Power management

  • Data center design, layout, and location

  • Responsible recycling

  • Carbon neutrality

  • Sustainability

  • Regulatory compliance

  • Green metrics for evaluation

  • Assessment tools and methodology

  • Alternative energy sources

  • Environment-related risk mitigation

In addition to dealing with the economic or technical viability of a computing solution, green IT focuses on a range of areas such as maximized energy efficiency during the product's term of use, reduction of the use of hazardous materials such as lead at the manufacturing stage, and the ability to recycle or the degree of biodegradability of both a defunct product and of any factory waste.

IT is part of the environmental problems contributing to global warming, and it must be part of the solution. As IT professionals and users, we too must be part of the solution. The good news is that a growing number of information and communications technology (ICT) vendors and users are moving toward green IT and thereby assisting in building a green society and a green economy. Triggered by the release of a major report on the economic impact of climate change that recommended the introduction of more green taxes and regulations [22], there will be a major increase in demand for so-called green IT solutions.

However, to build a greener environment, we must, modify or end many old and familiar ways of doing things and discover new methods.


For many enterprises, green issues assume greater priority at the board level. The reasons for this are manifold: increasing energy consumption and energy prices, growing consumer interest in green solutions, higher expectations by the public on enterprises' environmental responsibilities, and stricter compliance requirements. As a result, environmental considerations are becoming an increasingly important part of the IT director's job, and there are no signs that the factors driving the green movement are going to abate. Therefore, CIOs and IT directors are now under more pressure than ever before to limit their department's environmental footprint.

"Companies that manage and mitigate their exposure to climate-change risks while seeking new opportunities for profit will generate a competitive advantage over rivals in a carbon-constrained future," Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank in Washington, DC, and his colleague Fred Wellington advise businesses in their recent Harvard Business Review article [18]. It's not enough to do something; companies have to do it better -- and more quickly -- than their competitors. Enterprises are now increasingly interested in creating strategies that will help them to handle environmental issues and pursue new opportunities.

Lash and Wellington explain that your enterprise will increasingly feel the effects of environmental issues that impact your competitive landscape in ways you might not realize [18]. For instance, investors have started discounting share prices of companies that poorly address the environmental problems they create. When making purchasing, leasing, or outsourcing decisions, many customers are now taking into consideration the company's environmental records and initiatives. Businesses also face higher raw material and energy costs; they may also incur additional levies by governments if they don't address the environmental implications of what they do or if they pollute the environment. Investors are increasingly placing their money on initiatives that are green or that develop and promote green products and services. Big investors are beginning to demand more disclosures from companies with regard to their carbon footprint and their environmental initiatives and achievements.

Enterprises face different kinds of risks: regulatory, supply chain, product and technology, litigation, reputation, and physical risks. Lash and Wellington offer more information on these risks and how they can affect the value of a company [18]. You also need to map the environmental risks to your enterprise as well as your environmental opportunities.

Environment-related risk mitigation and product strategies can create competitive advantage. Companies with the technology and vision to provide products and services that address environmental issues will enjoy a competitive edge.

"Some corporations joining the movement to go green are doing so because they see a market trend and don't want to miss the wave. Others see a public relations opportunity, while still others have leadership who genuinely see corporate responsibility and sustainability as integral to the corporate strategy," says Mindy S. Lubber, president of Ceres, a national network of investors, environmental organizations, and other public interest groups working with companies and investors to address sustainability challenges such as global climate change [19].

As more and more regulatory constraints that help to create a sustainable environment are put on businesses, executives need to do far more than propose a "ride your bike to work" day to address green issues.

Benefits of Going Green

As indicated above, adopting green IT practices offers enterprises and individuals financial and other benefits. Better energy efficiency of IT operations achieved through green initiatives is an apparent financial benefit particularly when availability of electrical energy is at a premium and energy prices are rising. Energy is not going to get any cheaper in the future.

Further, investors increasingly want to know what the carbon footprint of their investment is. Many businesses are keen to prove their environmental credentials through the Carbon Disclosure Project (www.cdproject.net), a recent initiative to petition global companies to disclose their carbon emissions. The project is backed by 250 investors, including New York-based financial giants Citibank and Merrill Lynch & Co., with more than US $41 trillion in assets under its management.

In a survey by Sun Microsystems Australia involving 1,500 responses from 758 organizations, both large and small in Australia and New Zealand, respondents said reducing power consumption and lowering cost are the major reasons for using eco-responsible practices, followed by lower environmental impact and improved system use (see Figure 1) [30].

Figure 1

Figure 1 -- Green IT benefits. (Source: [30].)

The clean technology era we are entering is comparable in scale to the rise of the telecommunications industry in the early 1980s. It offers everyone a huge opportunity; it is the next wave of innovation, of investment opportunity, of business creativity. For many enterprises, big or small, greening their IT is becoming a mandatory requirement.

For further discussion on why green efforts are important, what benefits they present to businesses, and whether the campaign toward greening IT is a fad, see the sidebar "The Power of Being Green."


All types of media worldwide have put an increased focus, and call for immediate action, on combating greenhouse gas emissions by the greening of business, IT systems, and our personal activities. News, feature articles, opinion pieces, and magazine stories have extensive coverage on this topic. However, are there real benefits to businesses in greening their IT systems and business operations? Is all of this focus on going green merely hype? If and when will the green bubble burst? Let us try to address these questions, keeping an open mind.

"Given our society's microscopic attention span, and the apparent need of the media to deflate trends they've helped pump up, coverage of green business would seem likely headed for a fall. And that might happen, for any number of reasons. From the public's perspective, this would make it seem like the greening of business was yet another cynical fad," notes blogger Joel Makower [20]. But the issue of greening isn't going away any time soon. The reasons are many and they are, in no particular order (summarized from Makower):

  • The environmental problems won't go away. Until the climate problem is under control, addressing environmental issues is bound to be a priority -- from environmental, energy-efficiency, and cost-control imperatives -- for most companies. And, as concerns, regulations, and market-based mechanisms to address climate change ramp up, this will be a key business focus for a long time.

  • Environmental concerns will drive political agenda. Politicians worldwide are realizing that environmental issues are causing concerns among the voters, and this isn't a topic that will go away. As public concern over climate change mounts, addressing environmental problems has become a key election and political issue.

  • Growing demand for green products. Consumers -- businesses, government agencies, and individuals -- favor choosing greener products and/or products from companies perceived to follow environmentally sound processes and practices.

  • The supply chain is forcing green practices. Corporate and institutional buyers are looking upstream for solutions, asking suppliers to, variously, reduce packaging, eliminate hazardous materials, use more organic or bio-based ingredients, and take other measures to "green up" their products and operations. For instance, Wal-Mart is pushing its 60,000 suppliers to perform all sorts of sustainability measures. Dell plans to adopt an initiative that will force its suppliers to adhere to environmentally sound practices.

  • The environment has become a fiduciary issue. Large financial institutions -- banks, insurance companies, and investment houses -- are talking about the risks of climate change, toxins, and other environmental issues to shareholders. And shareholders, especially pension funds and large faith-based institutional investors, are starting to force companies to acknowledge, reduce, and report on their risk profiles in these areas.

  • The bar keeps rising. "How good is good enough?" There is a lack of standards or general agreement on what constitutes a good "green business." The bar drifts continually higher. And as the bar rises, laggard companies, even if fully compliant on the regulatory front, will find themselves behind, from a reputation or competitive perspective.

  • Companies will move beyond "sustainability." Given the rising bar, it would follow that companies would continually be innovating and would like to gain leading positions. Being a "sustainable" company may no longer be seen as a leadership goal; companies may have to be restorative; for example, not being merely carbon neutral, but being carbon negative (taking more carbon out of the atmosphere than they put in).

  • More companies have to tell their stories. Doing the right thing and keeping quiet is less of an option for companies. Expect green advertising and marketing campaigns to mushroom to avoid companies being perceived by customers and the public as laggard.

  • Clean technology is changing the game. There will be a wide range of new green products, services, and business opportunities.

  • New opportunities to exploit and make money. The environment is now increasingly being seen as a potential value-add, not merely a cost to be minimized. Hence, green leaders are emerging throughout companies, not just in the environmental departments, as forward-thinking entrepreneurs (and intrapreneurs) identify and exploit new ways to leverage green thinking into new products, services, and markets.

The green business bubble will continue to get stronger; there is little sign of an upcoming burst. Of course, over the years, it will become a regular, mandatory feature.


IT can play a major role in building environmental sustainability in three different areas (see Figure 2):

  1. Greening IT systems and usage. On its own, IT can become more green and environmentally sound.

  2. Using IT to support environmental sustainability. By offering innovative modeling, simulation, and decision support tools, IT can support, assist, and leverage other environmental initiatives.

  3. Using IT to create green awareness. As an effective information dissemination medium and as a collaborative platform, IT can assist in creating awareness of environmental sustainability and in learning about sustainable development as well as promoting best practices.

Figure 2

Figure 2 -- How IT can help in achieving environmental sustainability.

The following sections take a look at these three areas.


To go green with your enterprise IT, you can take any one, or a combination, of the following three approaches:

  1. Tactical incremental approach. In this approach, you tend to preserve existing IT infrastructure and policies and incorporate simple measures to achieve your moderate green goals such as reducing energy consumption. For example, you may adopt policies and practices such as power management, switching off computers when not in use, using compact energy-efficient light bulbs, and maintaining an optimal room temperature. These measures are generally easy to implement and don't cost much. They should be taken only as short-term, ad hoc solutions. You may gradually adopt other measures over the years.

  2. Strategic approach. In this approach, you conduct an audit of your IT infrastructure and its use from an environmental perspective, develop a comprehensive plan addressing broader aspects of greening your IT, and implement distinctive new initiatives. For example, you may deploy new energy-efficient, environmentally friendly computing systems and develop and implement new policies on procurement, operation, and disposal of computing resources. The IT department may be held accountable for the IT system's energy bills. You may replace desktops with thin-client computers. While the primary rationale is still cost efficiency and a reduced carbon footprint, other factors such as branding, image creation, and marketing are also considered.

  3. Deep green approach. In this approach, in addition to measures highlighted in the strategic approach, you adopt additional measures such as implementing a carbon offset policy to neutralize the greenhouse gas emissions -- including planting trees and buying carbon credits from one of many carbon exchanges or use of green electrical power generated from solar or wind energy. You may also encourage your employees to go green with their home computers by offering incentives such as planting a tree, buying carbon credits, supplying them with free power management software such as Surveyor (www.verdiem.com), and offering computer recycling/trade-in provisions to those who sign up for a home green computer initiative.

To start with, you may adopt the measures highlighted in the incremental approach and then move progressively by implementing other initiatives to reach a full green IT status.

You can make IT greener throughout its entire lifecycle -- from birth to death and then rebirth, also called cradle to cradle -- as highlighted in Figure 3.

Figure 3

Figure 3 -- Green your computer's entire lifecycle.

The IT world should address environmental impacts and sustainability in the following three areas:

  1. Use of computers and other information and communications systems in an environmentally sound manner

  2. Disposal, reuse, and recycling of computers and other electronic equipment

  3. Green design and manufacture of computers and other electronic equipment

By focusing efforts on these three fronts, as applicable, we together, as an IT community, can achieve what I call total environmental sustainability. Let's look at each of these areas in more depth.

Using IT: Environmentally Sound Practices

As the energy needs of enterprise computing continue to grow, so do the energy bills. It's not just the number of computers but the way that we use them that is driving energy consumption upward. The electricity used is often generated by burning fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels emits pollutants, sulfur, and carbon dioxide into the air, and these emissions can cause respiratory disease, smog, acid rain, and global climate change [4]. So there is a need to reduce IT's energy consumption and to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

A key green objective in using computer systems and operating data centers is to reduce their energy consumption and thereby minimize the greenhouse gas emissions.

Reducing Energy Consumption by PCs

Though it may seem we can't do much individually to reduce the energy needs of an enterprise IT system, small changes to the way we use computers collectively can have positive impact on energy consumption. Most personal desktop computers are not being used all the time they are running, and many personal computers are needlessly left on continuously. By leaving computers on when not in use, we waste electricity. Furthermore, computers generate heat and require additional cooling, which adds to total power consumption of the enterprise and energy costs.

A typical desktop computer may require approximately 100 watts of electrical power; a 15-17-inch monitor requires 50-150 watts, proportionately more for larger monitors. The power requirements of conventional laser printers can be as much as 100 watts or more when printing though much less if idling in a "sleep mode." Ink-jet printers use as little as 12 watts while printing and 5 watts while idling [4].

Assuming you operate a 200-watt PC system day and night every day, direct annual energy consumption would be 1,666 kWh. In contrast, if you operate your system just during normal business hours, say 40 hours per week, the direct energy consumption would only be 400 kWh. You need to add to these figures the cost of providing additional cooling.

While the savings in energy costs per PC may not seem like much, if you combine the savings for hundreds of computers in an enterprise, it is considerable. Besides savings in energy costs, there will also be a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and in the load on the electric supply.

To reduce your computer energy consumption while still retaining most or all of the productivity and other benefits of your computer system, you should do all of the following [4]:

  • Enable power management features. Computers can be programmed to automatically "power down" to a low-power state when they are not being used. These efficiency gains can be achieved without sacrificing performance. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that providing computers with a "sleep mode" reduces their energy use by 60%-70% and ultimately could save enough electricity each year to power a major town, cut electric bills by US $2 billion, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of 5 million cars [4].

  • Use a blank screen saver. A screen saver that displays moving images causes your monitor to consume as much electricity as it does when in active use. These screen saver programs interact with your CPU, which results in additional energy consumption. A blank screen saver is slightly better, but even that only reduces the monitor's energy consumption by a small percent. Screen saver programs may save the phosphors in your CRT monitor screen, but this is not really a concern with LCD screens.

  • When not in use, turn off. This is the most basic energy conservation strategy for most systems. You can do the following:

    • Turn off your computer and/or peripherals when they are not in use. Turning on and off will not harm the equipment.

    • Turn off at night and on weekends.

    • Look for ways to reduce the amount of time your computer is on without adversely affecting your productivity.

With regard to the above recommendation, the misconception that a computer's life is shortened by turning it on and off has led many people to leave computers on all the time. Desktop computers are designed to protect the internal circuitry from power damage from on/off switching. Turning PCs off at night, or on and off a few times a day, will not appreciably affect their useful life. Electronic equipment life is a function of operating hours and heat, and both these factors are reduced when equipment is switched off. Modern hard drives are designed and tested to operate reliably for thousands of on/off cycles.

Some people are reluctant to switch their computers on and off a couple of times during their workday despite only using this equipment for a fraction of that time because they don't want to wait a minute or two until the system is ready for use. The inconvenience of waiting a short time for a computer to reboot or a peripheral to come online may be trivial compared to the energy savings achieved by keeping computer equipment off when not in use.

For example, ANZ Bank in Australia launched a program of banning screen savers from 33,000 PCs and forcing them to switch off or go into sleep mode; in sleep mode, power consumption drops by about 50%.

You can also adopt the following practices, as appropriate:

  • Unless you require immediate access to e-mail or other Internet services, break the habit of turning on your computer system(s) as soon as you enter the office each day.

  • If practical, informally group your computer activities and try to do them during one or two parts of the day, leaving the computer off at other times.

  • If you use a laser printer, don't turn your printer on until you are ready to print.

  • For "computer servers," which must be on to serve network functions, explore ways to turn servers off at night. If monitors are not needed for servers to operate, keep server monitors off. If the server monitor is needed during the day, at least turn it off at night and on weekends.

  • In enterprise applications involving a large number of PCs, use thin clients that consume less power rather than PCs.

Though the above guidelines are easy to adopt, these initiatives will not work without employees' wholehearted willingness and active participation. To make these initiatives a success, educate your employees to save energy by changing their computer habits. Set up brief meetings to discuss why it is necessary to save energy and how employees can implement energy-saving strategies; seek their feedback, address their concerns (if any), and encourage them to join you in these efforts.

Nevertheless, the task of management of power consumption of desktop PCs in an enterprise can be difficult, since desktops are spread throughout the organization. A pragmatic way to make your PCs more energy-efficient is to use software such as Surveyor that offers network-level control over PC and monitor power settings. Surveyor monitors a user's habits and places the PC into lower-energy settings, such as hibernation and standby, when it's not being used. An alternative may be to use thin-client computers, which draw about a fifth of the power of a desktop PC.

While the above energy-saving suggestions are appropriate for many PC users, some of the suggestions may be inappropriate for certain computer applications or work situations; use only those that don't harm productivity.

Data Centers

Regardless of the environmental impact, data center efficiency is a major issue facing IT departments.

Enterprise data centers, the modern engine rooms that power the Internet and corporate computing, are growing in their number, capacity, and power consumption. For instance, according to an IBM estimate, the power demanded worldwide by computing data centers currently stands at 100 billion kWh a year, and data centers are one of the fastest-growing users of power [25].

A study by Jonathan Koomey, consulting professor at Stanford University, reveals that total power used by servers represented 0.6% of total US electricity consumption in 2005 [25]. With the power needed for cooling and other auxiliary services added on, the electricity use rises to 1.2%, equivalent to the power used by all the country's color televisions. Aggregate electricity use for servers doubled between 2000 and 2005, and most of this came from businesses installing large numbers of new servers [25].

The continued rise of Internet and Web applications is driving the rapid growth of data centers and the increase in energy use. To handle more transactions in less time, to process and store more data, and to automate more business processes, enterprises are installing more servers or expanding their capacity, all of which demands more computing power. With energy prices increasing worldwide, the operational cost of data centers increases. As a result, as highlighted earlier, IT is increasingly coming under scrutiny, not just from corporate social responsibility advocates, but also from the board for its power use.

The number of server computers in data centers has increased sixfold, to 30 million, in the last decade, and each server draws far more electricity than earlier models. Besides the cost, availability of electrical power is becoming a critical issue for many companies whose data centers have expanded steadily. Energy suppliers need time to design, build, and supply huge additional electrical power (a few megawatts) demanded by data centers. The social, financial, and practical constraints force businesses and IT departments to consider how they can reduce energy consumption by data centers or at least rein in its growth.

State of Practice

In a recent SearchDataCenter.com's purchasing survey, respondents said significant limiting factors for their company's data center growth were lack of space, power capacity, network bandwidth, and cooling capacity [28]. While lack of space was ranked the most critical limiting factor, the others were cited as roughly the same in importance.

Regarding who pays for the power bill, more than half of the respondents said that their business unit does not pay the power bill. And despite server virtualization and server hardware improvements throughout the industry, nearly 80% of respondents whose department pays for power experienced a price increase since 2006 [28].

Data center professionals have implemented a few measures to save energy in their data centers. According to the survey [28]:

  • More than 50% said they have saved energy through server virtualization.

  • 32% have made efforts to improve under-floor air-conditioning efficiency.

  • 17.5% have implemented power-down features on servers not in use.

  • 11% have tried direct current (DC) power in the data center.

  • Only a meager 7.7% have tried liquid cooling for increased data center cooling efficiency.

  • 27% haven't taken any measures to minimize their data center power usage.

In the survey by Sun Microsystems Australia, 80% of respondents said they would use energy-efficient technologies, 63% said they would use power and cooling solutions, and 60% said they would use system virtualization (see Figure 4) [30].

Figure 4

Figure 4 -- Green IT strategies that companies would adopt. (Source: [30].)

Liquid cooling of data centers is not on the agenda of most data center managers: 65% of respondents said they would never use liquid cooling in their data centers, a finding that experts say is unsurprising [30]. For cooling hot servers, liquid is several hundred times more efficient than air, but customers are nonetheless unwilling to make the leap perhaps because of complexities involved with liquid cooling. Though most data center managers aren't enthusiastic now about liquid cooling, they may have to adapt to it -- and deal with the complexity involved -- if the high-density computing infrastructure requires liquid cooling.

Data center professionals can do a variety of things to improve their data center efficiency, including buying new energy-efficient equipment, improving airflow management to reduce cooling requirements, and investing in energy management software. More and more firms are now adopting environmentally friendly designs for their data centers as well as new measures to curb data centers' energy consumption. This section looks at the following practices data centers can employ: energy conservation, eco-friendly design, virtualization, and carbon neutrality.

Energy Conservation

An energy crisis is looming in data centers. According to Keith Breed, research director at BroadGroup, energy costs now account for nearly 30% of a data center's operating costs. He asserts, "As most companies have long-term contracts for energy, they have not had to face up to the costs. But as those contracts come up for renewal, they can find themselves faced with up to a 50 percent increase" [3].

A big part of the problem is the need to cool data centers, and the IT industry is inventing new ways to help address this issue. Companies like IBM, HP, SprayCool, and Cooligy are doing innovative things with cooling technology, such as liquid cooling, nanofluid-cooling systems, and in-server, in-rack, and in-row cooling. Other innovative ways of making a data center more environmentally friendly include application of virtualization technologies, which reduces the total power consumption of servers and lowers the heat generated (more on this later); use of new ultra-thin, high-density servers; and utlilization of hydrogen fuel cells as alternative green power sources.

The mainframe is one part of the wider problem facing data center managers, as mainframes are bulky and demand plenty of cooling and air conditioning. Recently, HP, Oracle, and Intel set out a detailed program to help customers reduce costs by migrating applications from mainframes to servers.

Eco-Friendly Design

Eco-friendly data center designs use a synthetic white rubber roof to help reduce the "heat island effect," paint and carpet that contain low-VOC (volatile organic compound), countertops made of recycled products, and energy-efficient mechanical and electrical systems at optimal efficiency.

Eco-designs make use of natural light, which not only cuts energy costs but gives employees a nicer workspace. They use solar or wind power to run the data center. Enterprises may also get tax incentives for eco-friendly design and gain competitive advantage as more and more customers like to do business with eco-friendly firms.

In building a new data center, you have complete control over the design. Even for existing data centers, you can take measures to reduce heat, add light, and discard materials that contain toxic chemicals. For instance, you can use energy-efficient windows, skylights, and skytubes, and change your paint and carpet to a low-VOC variety.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), maintained by the US Green Building Council (www.usgbc.org), is a benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings [33]. It promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability focusing on five key areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. Many enterprises in the US are adopting the LEED standards for building new data centers.


Virtualization is a key strategy to reducing data center power consumption. With virtualization, one physical server is used to host multiple virtual servers. Virtualization allows a company to get better utilization of its hardware and enables data centers to consolidate their physical server infrastructure by hosting multiple virtual servers on a smaller number of more powerful servers. Besides getting better hardware utilization, virtualization reduces data center floor space, makes better use of computing power, and reduces the data center's energy demands. Virtualization simplifies the data center and drives up utilization by running the same tasks on fewer servers, using less electricity.

IBM is beginning a US $1 billion per year investment program intended to double the energy efficiency of its computer data centers and those of its corporate customers [13]. It plans to deploy a range of new systems and technologies across IBM's data centers, including improved energy monitoring, advanced 3-D power management and thermal modeling capabilities, better design techniques, cutting-edge virtualization technologies, enhanced power management systems, and new energy-efficient liquid cooling infrastructures.

IBM estimates that deploying these new systems and techniques will allow it to slash energy use by 42% in its average 25,000-square-foot data center, reducing carbon emissions by almost 7,500 tons a year [13]. By 2010, IBM plans to double the computing capacity of its hundreds of data centers worldwide without increasing power consumption. Many other enterprises are trying to curb the runaway energy consumption of data centers.

Technology companies, collectively, have also begun to promote energy-efficient computing. The Green Grid (www.thegreengrid.org), a consortium whose members include IBM, HP, Dell, Sun Microsystems, Intel, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), VMware, and others, was created in 2007 to work on energy consumption standards for equipment in data centers. For details on the Green Grid, see the sidebar "The Green Grid: Crusader of Energy-Efficient Data Centers."


Energy demand from IT is growing exponentially, and the supply of reliable power isn't keeping pace. Therefore, companies are not only facing swelling utility bills, but are also running out of power to keep the data centers running.

To tackle this issue, 11 leading IT enterprises, including Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Sun, and VMware (many of which are otherwise competitors) joined forces in February 2007 to form a nonprofit group called the Green Grid (www.thegreengrid.org). This growing industry organization seeks to define and propagate the best energy-efficient practices in data center operation, construction, and design.

The Green Grid's aim is to take a holistic view of the computing ecosystem in order to address what it describes as an impending power crisis. The group's charter drives new user-centric metrics, technology standards, and best practices for curbing power consumption. The group will, among other things, be working on energy efficiency metrics, standards, and architectural specifications for the long term. By working together, these companies expect to develop ways for their respective greener technologies to "hook into one another," thus increasing their overall effectiveness.

To start with, the Green Grid has offered the following three white papers (www.thegreengrid.org/gg_content):

  1. "The Green Grid Opportunity: Decreasing Data Center and Other IT Energy Usage Patterns." This white paper spells out the case for developing energy-efficient standards and practices for the industry and details the group's goals.

  2. "Guidelines for Energy Efficient Data Centers." This paper outlines best practices for building a greener, more energy-efficient data center. It deals with topics such as system design and the physical placement of servers and other support systems in the data center, which in and of itself can have a tremendous impact on energy consumption. System design is even more important than the selection of power and cooling devices in determining the efficiency of a data center. It also covers topics such as cooling and virtualization.

  3. "Green Grid Metrics: Describing Data Center Power Efficiency." This report presents two metrics for data center efficiency: Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), which is the ratio of "total facility power" to "IT equipment power"; and Data Center Efficiency (DCE), which is the ratio of "IT equipment power" to "total facility power" -- the reverse of PUE. The PUE and DCE help you determine "opportunities to improve a data center's operational efficiency; how a data center compares with competitive data centers; if the data center operators are improving the designs and processes over time; and opportunities to repurpose energy for additional IT equipment" [26].

1Much of this information is summarized from a blog posting by Ted Samson [26].

Server virtualization is the masking of server resources, including the number and identity of individual physical servers, processors, and operating systems, from server users. The server administrator uses software to divide one physical server into multiple isolated virtual environments. The three popular approaches to server virtualization are the virtual machine model, the paravirtual machine model, and virtualization at the operating system layer [15].

Server virtualization can be viewed as part of an overall virtualization trend in enterprise IT that includes storage virtualization, network virtualization, application virtualization, and workload management. Server virtualization can be used to eliminate server sprawl; to make more efficient use of server resources; to improve server availability; to assist in disaster recovery, testing, and development; and to centralize server administration. A special report by InfoWorld offers more details on virtualization [15].

The challenge, however, is to sufficiently reduce the data center's energy footprint while continuing to cope with the never-ending data growth.

Carbon Neutrality

Enterprises can take other measures, such as becoming carbon neutral by buying carbon credits and reducing travel:

  • Carbon neutral. Put simply, going carbon neutral means calculating the amount of greenhouse gas emissions you emit and paying to reduce the equivalent emissions from entering the atmosphere somewhere else. You can buy carbon offset credits. For instance, EDS plans to buy carbon offset credits from CO2 Australia and establish a voluntary program for employees to offset their private emissions from their homes or cars, with their contributions matched dollar for dollar by EDS.

  • Travel reduction. Replace travel for meetings with videoconferencing where possible and use wikis, virtual whiteboards, and other online collaboration tools for interaction and training.

Greening Old, Unwanted Computers: The Three R's

You shouldn't throw away your old, no-longer-needed computers; you should give life to them in environmentally sound ways by reusing, refurbishing, or recycling them as follows:

  • Reusing -- using the computer for a different purpose, giving it to someone who needs it, or using functional components from a retired product

  • Refurbishing -- making an existing product almost new again by reusing, reconditioning, and replacing computer parts

  • Recycling -- taking component material and reprocessing it into the same material or breaking it down into constituent materials

Every time a part is reused, all the energy and emissions that were produced in its manufacturing and the processing of its materials are salvaged. See the sidebar "Want to Get Rid of Your Computer? Do The Right Things."


You shouldn't put your computers, monitors, keyboards, hard drives, or other electronic equipment in the trash. You should do the right thing by adopting environmentally friendly options. Before you do anything else, remove data, information, and documents from your computer's hard drive. Otherwise, your data can be stolen. Deleting files isn't enough, as they can be recovered; therefore, you need to overwrite the disk's files using a special program such as Eraser for Windows, which is free from Heidi Computers (www.heidi.ie/eraser), or SuperScrubber for Macs (www.jiiva.com). Other programs to erase your data include KillDisk (www.killdisk.com) and DiskDeleter (www.bluestsoft.com). Once you've cleaned the hard drive, you're ready to dispose of your computer.

Your first step should be to ask around. Someone you know may want your old computer; give it to that person if he or she can use it.

Next, if that doesn't work out, you can donate to charities or schools or trade in your computer. Charities can refurbish your computer and give it to someone in need. Charities, however, won't take any old computer; the machine should be able to run currently common software. Working machines are obviously preferred, but some charities may accept a broken machine.

Lastly, if all these options fail, give your computer to a recycler who will properly recycle it. As the materials in the computer aren't worth a great deal, most recyclers often charge a fee, but the hazardous materials will be disposed of properly.

The following places may be of assistance in helping you properly dispose of your computer (many of these cater to those in the US; others are advised to contact local organizations or dealers):


  • National Cristina Foundation (www.cristina.org) has affiliates in all 50 states. It accepts Macs and PCs.

  • Share the Technology (www.sharetechnology.org) allows you to list computers for donation. You can find an organization in your area and make the arrangements to donate your computer.

  • UsedComputer.com (www.usedcomputer.com) is a site dedicated to donations. It also lists companies that will recycle old computers and electronics.


  • With the HP Trade-In Program (www.hp.com/united-states/tradein), if your machine isn't obsolete, you can trade it in. HP will give you a free quote for your old computer online through this program.

  • Toshiba (http://toshiba.eztradein.com) and other computer manufacturers and dealers offer similar trade-in programs. You can also trade in other electronic gadgets.


  • Electronics Recycling (www.electronicsrecycling.net) lists, state-wise, a number of firms that do this work.

  • Dell (www.dell.com/recycling) doesn't charge to recycle its own machines; it will recycle other manufacturers' machines free with the purchase of a new Dell.

  • HP (www.hp.com/hpinfo/globalcitizenship/environment/recycle) will also recycle all brands of computers. It may charge you a small fee, but if you buy a new HP machine, you'll qualify for a credit.

  • Apple (www.apple.com/environment/recycling/program/index.html) also offers free recycling of all brands of computers with the purchase of a new machine.

  • For more recycling solutions, visit the National Safety Council (www.nsc.org/ehc/epr2/Cntctlst.htm).

1The information is summarized from an article in USA Today [16].


Why do we need to buy new computers for each and every project? More than 50% of a piece of hardware's carbon footprint is created while manufacturing. By using the hardware for a longer period of time, you minimize that footprint getting any bigger. One straightforward option is to make use of an older computer if it meets the requirements.


You can refurbish and upgrade your old computers and servers to meet your current requirements. Or, you can buy refurbished computers, servers, and other IT hardware. The market for refurbished IT equipment (servers, PCs, and networking hardware) is growing, and more CIOs are open to this way of purchasing. Actually, a lot more refurbishing goes on than you might think, though it's not a structured process yet.

Ptak, Noel & Associates (www.ptaknoelassociates.com) is an analyst organization that has recently started tracking the refurbished market in depth.

Few companies specialize in just sourcing and reselling refurbished IT hardware. One of the most prominent in the US is World Data Products (www.wdpi.com) whose sales from refurbished hardware are around US $700 million. World Data Products is a US General Services Administration (GSA) contractor for federal, state, and local government agencies, under FSS Schedule 70. Refurbished IT equipment can offer up to 60% savings on equivalent new hardware, the company claims.

There is a quiet revolution in attitudes toward the use of refurbished equipment. For instance, in a 2006 World Data Products survey of 200 UK IT directors and managers, 40% of the respondents reported having a formal policy in place for reusing existing IT and networking equipment, while 25% said they were using refurbished IT or networking equipment; 54% said they can see value in sourcing secondhand hardware to ease the cost of equipping noncore tasks [27].

Software licenses are not transferable from one customer to another. So the suppliers of refurbished hardware must ensure that they erase any software it might contain before putting it on the market.

It's also vital that refurbishers don't give someone else the used computer as it is. They are required to dismantle the systems and reconfigure them for their customers' needs, just like a brand-new, build-to-order system; they must also ensure that the system is fully tested and under warranty.

IT directors have now started looking at the refurbished route, given the potential for savings in cash flow, capital expenditure, and support. From the green angle, reusing what they have is a better long-term way of managing resources.


When it is not possible to reuse (even after considering the prospects of refurbishing) computers and other electronic hardware, you must discard them properly in environmentally friendly ways. As we frequently buy new computers, MP3 players, or mobile phones and discard the old ones after two to three years, there is a growing stock of unused computers and electronic goods.

Electronic waste or e-waste -- discarded computers and electronic goods -- is one of the fastest-growing waste types, and the problem of e-waste is global. Analysts predict that two-thirds of the estimated 870 million PCs made worldwide in the next five years will end up in landfills. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP -- www.unep.org) estimates that 20-50 million tons of e-waste are generated worldwide each year, and this is increasing [31]. For instance, in Australia, it is expanding at three times the rate of green waste from households and street bins, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics [2].

Many people are unsure of what to do with their old electronic hardware; most of the unwanted computers and electronic goods end up in landfills. Computer components contain poisonous, toxic materials like lead, chromium, cadmium, and mercury. For instance, lead is in solder as well as in CRT monitors; arsenic is in older CRT monitors; antimony trioxide is used as a flame retardant; selenium is in circuit boards as a power supply rectifier; cadmium is in circuit boards and semiconductors; chromium is in steel as corrosion protection; cobalt is in steel for structure and magnets; and mercury is in switches and housing.

If computers are buried in landfills, they can leach harmful chemicals into waterways and the environment; if burned, they release toxic gases into the air we breathe. So if e-waste is not discarded properly, it can harm the environment and people.

In addition, e-waste can be valuable as a source for secondary raw material. For instance, one ton of mobile phone circuit cards can yield about the same amount of precious metals as 110 tons of gold ore, according to Mobile Muster recycling network (www.mobilemuster.com.au/default.asp?page=1265).

Recycling is a growing option, with certain caveats. This has led to regulations such as Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) [24]. The WEEE regulations aim to reduce the amount of this waste going to landfills and increase recovery and recycling rates. The requirements of WEEE relate to: separate collection, disposal, and recycling; standards for its treatment at authorized facilities; and collection, recycling, and recovery targets. WEEE regulations are also applicable to electrical and electronic manufacturing.

Preparing Your Computer for Recycling

Used computers often have data on them, and you don't want that data to be accessed by others. So before you recycle a computer, no matter how old it is or who used it, use programs such as KillDisk (www.killdisk.com) and DiskDeleter (www.bluestsoft.com) to erase your data. (Again, see the sidebar "Want to Get Rid of Your Computer? Do the Right Things" for more on recycling.)

Use a recycler to recycle computers and their accessories. HP offers a global service for recycled items such as ink-jet supplies and high-end servers of any brand (https://warp1.external.hp.com/recycle). Companies such as PC Disposal (www.pcdisposal.com) even offer special options such as HIPAA-compliant equipment removal. There may also be a local firm in your area that will pick up equipment and dispose of it properly. If you want to recycle on a budget, donate your old machines to an eco-friendly charity such as Oxfam (www.oxfam.com), which even offers a data-erasure service.

Regardless of which recycler is used to dispose of hardware, firms and individuals should ensure the recycler follows best practices for disposal. They should be asking their recycler, be it a vendor or a broker, where the waste ends up, how it is handled, and whether they have relevant certificates.

In Australia, there has been much debate over whether we need a green levy on PCs and notebooks to make sure their eventual disposal is environmentally sound. The Australian government is considering plans to hit consumers with the cost of recycling computers. A levy and advance disposal fee are among a range of measures the authorities would consider to recover the cost of recycling.

Views on how to handle recycling vary widely. Some argue manufacturers should take responsibility for recycling on an individual basis. Others argue that the amount of equipment sold far outstrips the amount of equipment that is returned for recycling, and therefore a large amount of surplus accumulates and has to be managed by bureaucracy.

Designing Green Computers

Green engineering is an approach to product development that balances environmental compatibility with economic viability or profitability and performance. Green engineering is fast becoming a necessary business practice in computer, electronic, and communications systems manufacturing.

Hardware makers such as Sun and Intel are working to reduce the power consumption of their microprocessors. For instance, Sun is employing more energy-efficient ways of processing information. Intel's move from single-core to dual- and quad-core processors has resulted in power savings while increasing processing performance. This is in contrast to the old method of improving performance of microprocessors by increasing the speed (frequency of operations) of the chip, which has a huge impact on power consumption and heat generation. In its multi-core chips, Intel reduced the speed while still providing increased processing performance. A 15% reduction in frequency could save up to 50% [12].

Other new initiatives, such as dividing the cache into segments that are only powered when required and the move to 45 nanometer architecture, will also drive down power consumption.

On the data storage front, companies can easily save upward of 50% of the power consumed by their storage units by migrating to a smaller number of higher-capacity units, according to Clive Gold, director of product marketing at storage equipment maker EMC [12].

Vendors like HP, IBM, Dell, Intel, and Sun are investing significant resources in their green initiatives such as energy-efficient servers, data center and cooling solutions, cleaner manufacturing, and device recycling programs. Intel has long researched power-reduction techniques for laptops -- screens that darken the backlight and lighten the display palette, flash memory caches for hard disks -- and is now migrating those to desktops and servers.

Recently, Dell announced an environmental strategy designed to make the computer maker the greenest technology company for the long term [5]. Its new Zero Carbon Initiative will continue to maximize the energy efficiency of Dell products and over time will offset its carbon impact. The most far-reaching aspect of this initiative is a requirement that its suppliers publicly report their greenhouse gas emissions. Suppliers risk having their overall scores reduced during Dell quarterly business reviews for not identifying and publicly reporting greenhouse gas emissions, according to the company. Mandatory requirements on such disclosures will encourage manufacturers of computer components to compete to reduce their contribution toward global warming. Dell proposed rating companies on their "carbon intensity": greenhouse gas emissions per dollar of annual revenue. The Texas computer maker promised to reduce its carbon intensity by 15% by 2012 [5]. Giving a Web 2.0 twist to its environmental campaign, Dell is soliciting its customers' ideas on how to green up the company's operations at its IdeaStorm Web site (www.ideastorm.com).

Apple has said it will reduce or eliminate toxic chemicals present in its new products and more aggressively recycle its old products [1]. HP and Sun are also undertaking various green computing initiatives.

These and other similar moves by computer manufacturers increase the pressure on the computer industry to go green. In fact, many computer manufacturers are in the process of making green PCs that are made from nontoxic materials, can run on low energy, and are built to be easily reassembled. These new machines are highly upgradeable, thereby extending their useful lifetime.

To assist customers in assessing the environmental attributes of PCs, notebooks, servers, and other hardware, new tools, standards, and product registration have been launched. In the next sections, we outline three of these: EPEAT, Energy Star 4.0 Standard, and RoHS Directive.


Prompted by a growing demand from institutional purchasers for an easy-to-use evaluation tool that allows the selection of electronic products based on environmental performance, the Green Electronics Council (www.greenelectronicscouncil.org) has launched the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, or EPEAT (www.epeat.net). EPEAT assists institutional buyers in the public and private sectors as well as individuals to evaluate, compare, and select desktop computers, notebooks, and monitors based on their environmental attributes. It also helps manufacturers promote their products as environmentally sound.

EPEAT evaluates electronic products on 23 required criteria and 28 optional criteria, which are grouped into eight performance categories [11]:

  1. Reduction and elimination of environmentally sensitive materials

  2. Materials selection

  3. Design for end of life (i.e., recycling)

  4. Product longevity

  5. Energy conservation

  6. End-of-life management

  7. Corporate performance

  8. Packaging

EPEAT-registered products are identified as bronze, silver, or gold. While all three categories must meet the 23 required criteria, the number of optional environmental criteria each of them meets varies as outlined below:

  • Bronze products meet all 23 required criteria.

  • Silver products meet all the 23 required criteria plus at least 14 optional criteria.

  • Gold products meet all the 23 required criteria plus at least 21 optional criteria.

Manufacturers can pick and choose among the optional criteria to boost their EPEAT score to achieve a higher level of registration.

All EPEAT-registered computers have reduced levels of cadmium, lead, and mercury to better protect human health. They are more energy-efficient and easier to upgrade and recycle. In fact, manufacturers of EPEAT products must offer safe recycling options for the products when they are no longer useable.

Several desktop computers, laptops, and monitors from leading manufacturers have been recognized as green products. You can search for products that meet a selected rating -- bronze, silver, or gold -- at EPEAT's product search page (www.epeat.net/Search.aspx).

EPEAT-registered products have quickly gained customer acceptance. EPEAT has also already been referenced in computer contracts worth US $5 billion and more, including contracts issued by the US Department of Defense; the US Department of Homeland Security; NASA; the US state of Minnesota; the US Commonwealth of Massachusetts; the city of San Jose, California; Kaiser Permanente; and Premiere, a healthcare purchasing alliance with more than 1,500 hospitals and more than 41,000 other healthcare units [6].

Energy Star 4.0 Standard

The new Energy Star 4.0 standard, which became effective in July 2007, regulates energy performance of external and internal power supplies and gives power consumption specifications for idle, sleep, and standby modes for a number of different devices, including PCs, desktops, and gaming consoles. Computers meeting the new requirements will save energy in all modes of operation. Regulations for computers in idle mode are new; previous standards addressed only sleep and standby modes. Computers spend the majority of their time in the idle state; about 90% of energy used by desktops occurs during the idle mode.

In an attempt to reduce instances of IT administrators disabling power-management features, the new specifications will require OEMs to educate users about power management. According to the US EPA, businesses and consumers can save more than US $1.8 million in energy costs over the next five years, with the new Energy Star specifications for computers and related equipment. These new modifications are also expected to prevent greenhouse gas emissions equal to the annual emissions of 2.7 million cars [32].

RoHS Directive

The RoHS Directive (www.rohs.gov.uk) stands for "the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment" [23]. This directive bans the placing on the European Union (EU) market of new electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) containing more than agreed-upon levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, and flame retardants. Manufacturers need to understand the requirements of the RoHS Directive to ensure that their products, and their components, comply. RoHS regulations affect all the manufacturers and recyclers of EEE in the EU as well as the importers of EEE into the EU [23].

Enterprise Green Strategy

Each enterprise must develop a holistic, comprehensive green IT strategy, which should be a component of and aligned with an overall enterprise green strategy. It should then develop a green IT policy outlining aims and objectives, goals, an action plan, and a schedule. Enterprises should also appoint an environmental sustainability officer to implement their green policy and to monitor the progress and achievements. A few major enterprises -- IT and non-IT -- have taken the lead and have appointed environmental sustainability officers at senior levels.

While green IT initiatives benefit the enterprise, the cost of these initiatives is typically absorbed by IT. Thus, IT departments should build a relationship with business leaders and establish budgetary incentives prior to moving ahead with green IT initiatives.

Seven Steps to a Green Policy

No one green strategy fits all enterprises, though there are many common elements. Develop and implement your own near-term and long-term green strategy, considering your business requirements. Modify your business processes and practices, if required. The following seven-step approach is suggested for developing and implementing your green strategy:

  1. Engage with your key stakeholders and create awareness of environmental issues and their impact on your enterprise.

  2. Conduct energy audits and review equipment purchases and disposal policies and practices; assess their environmental and cost impact and identify areas to be "greened."

  3. Set internal targets to reduce your carbon footprint, along with timelines.

  4. Develop and implement a green IT policy that aims to achieve high utilization of your IT systems while reducing energy use and lessening your other environmental impact.

  5. Encourage, motivate, and energize your workforce to follow the green path you set; also encourage your workers to come up with and implement their own ideas. Encourage your clients, suppliers, and outsourcers to adopt green practices.

  6. Monitor your progress regularly; watch industry trends and new developments (see the sidebar "Visit Green IT Resources in Cyberspace"). Revise your green policy as required.

  7. Publicize your environmental policy, actions, and achievements and thereby get credits and accolades you deserve from customers, peers, industry groups, environmental advocates, government agencies, and society at large.


You can gather a lot of helpful information and insights on greening IT as well as on environmental issues and trends from cyberspace. On blogs that focus on IT environmental sustainability, people and enterprises share their viewpoints, experiences, and insights. You can also discuss your issues and concerns and comment on the viewpoints and opinions of other bloggers. The following are some useful blogs -- as well as newsletters -- to visit:

  • Green IT (http://advice.cio.com/taxonomy/term/27/0) -- discusses how to stay out of the red with an environmental approach, covers news, comments on new development and initiatives, and offers opinions and advice

  • Sustainable IT (http://weblog.infoworld.com/sustainableit) -- tracks trends toward a greener, more energy-efficient IT

  • Green Wombat (http://blogs.business2.com/greenwombat) -- focuses on environment and technology and covers energy efficiency, green computing, carbon credits, and other areas

  • Data Center Knowledge (www.datacenterknowledge.com) -- presents news and analysis about data centers, managed hosting, and disaster recovery

  • Green Tech Newsletter (http://subscribe.infoworld.com/cgi-win/ifwd.cgi?m=newsletter) -- presents how businesses are examining how they use their resources and exploring ways to save energy, materials, and money with green IT

  • GreenBiz (www.greenbiz.com) -- is the leading information resource on how to align environmental responsibility with business success

You can use RSS feeds to subscribe to blogs of your interest. In this way, rather than visiting individual blogs regularly to check for new entries, programs known as feed readers or aggregators can check a list of feeds you subscribe to and provide you with "home-delivered" information whenever there is a new blog entry or comments.

Marketing Green IT and Gaining Green Image

It is generally expected that consumers prefer to choose a green product over others that are less friendly to the environment when all other things are equal. Those "other things" are, however, rarely equal in the minds of consumers [8]. When consumers are forced

to make tradeoffs between product attributes or helping the environment, the environment almost never wins. And hopes for green products can also be hurt by the perception that such products are of lower quality or don't really deliver on their environmental promises. But, prompted by greater awareness of global warming and environmental issues, a growing number of people and businesses are willing to pay a premium for green products.

To gain a good name among the public, clients, and business partners, and to gain some competitive advantage, enterprises need to publicize their green initiatives and achievements through marketing and publicity campaigns.


Besides IT itself being green, it can also be an enabler and a very helpful aid to create a better environment. Some of the opportunities are:

  • Software tools for analyzing, modeling, and simulating environmental impacts and for environmental risk management

  • Platforms for eco-management, emission trading, and ethical investing

  • Tools for auditing and reporting energy consumption and savings and for monitoring greenhouse gas emissions

  • Environmental knowledge management systems, meaning the acquisition and transfer of environmental knowledge, decision support systems, and collaborative environments; environmental ontologies

  • Environmental information systems engineering, including geographic information systems and environmental (meta-)data standards

  • Urban environment planning tools and systems

  • Technologies and standards for interoperable environmental monitoring networks; smart in situ sensors networks

  • Integration and optimization of existing environmental monitoring networks, easy plug-in new sensors, sensor cooperation, networks customization, and centralized and decentralized approaches

  • Tools and systems for optimizing organizational workflows

Renewed Interest in e-X

There is newfound interest in the effective use of IT from an environmental perspective. Pollution from transportation -- road, sea, or air -- is causing major concern. Now there is a renewed call to reduce our transportation needs. One way of achieving this is by increasing the use of information and communications technologies for telecommuting, "teleshopping," e-conferencing, e-tourism, and e-leisure. This opens up new opportunities for IT.

Green ICT Startups

Many new startups focusing on IT applications aimed at improving and supporting environmental sustainability are emerging. Some examples are:

  • Windlab Systems. This Australian startup has created software tools to improve the efficiency of wind farms (www.windlabsystems.com). The company's virtual wind farm is a software tool for finding and modeling prime wind-generation sites around the world. The software allows clients to calculate energy yields and turbine layouts, as well as see how they will appear, before full-scale planning commences. Its software tools can yield millions of dollars in efficiency gains for wind-farm operators, claims the company.

  • Carbon Energy. This Australian company has developed a software system that improves the efficiency of a form of energy production called underground coal gasification (www.carbonenergy.com.au). The Carbon Energy software, a robust design prediction tool that helps take the guesswork out of site planning, uses knowledge gained from existing global gasification projects to optimize energy production from coal.

  • Solar rechargers. A range of solar rechargers for mobile phones and notebook computers are available from eco-friendly retailers (e.g., Todae [http://todae.com.au]). While many solar rechargers need direct sunlight to work, third-generation solar-panel technology being developed will generate electricity in indirect light -- even from fluorescent lights.


IT can offer new platforms and applications for building communities, engaging groups in participatory decisions, and supporting education and green advocacy campaigns. These may include environmental Web portals, blogs, wikis, and interactive simulations of the environmental impact of an activity. For instance, NaturNet-Redime -- New Education and Decision Support Model for Active Behavior in Sustainable Development Based on Innovative Web Services and Qualitative Reasoning -- is one such application. This project, cofunded by the European Commission within the Sixth Framework Programme, provides a Web portal for environmental knowledge and for learning all aspects of sustainable development. It presents an interoperable Internet architecture that supports innovative presentation and visualization of data and tools for learning about sustainability.


Early victims of global warming are called "climate canaries," and they signal to the rest of us that disaster is really at hand. It is everyone's ethical responsibility to do their part in arresting global warming and its disastrous consequences.

Nowadays, in trying to cash in on the environment sustainability movement, fictitious claims by corporations about products that are carbon neutral, energy- or fuel-efficient, or environmentally sound are increasing. This practice of companies claiming to be environmentally friendly when in fact their product and processes are environmentally unsound and unsustainable is called "greenwashing" -- an amalgam of "green" and "whitewash." We shouldn't greenwash.

The environmental issues and impacts are global. Enterprises -- big and small, IT and non-IT -- have an ethical and social responsibility to address the environmental impacts of the rapid, continual advances in and the growing use of IT on the global community.

Green IT is socially responsible IT. Greening IT is corporate social responsibility.


As the climate debate heats up, IT finds itself part of the problem -- and part of the solution. Environmentalism and economic growth can go hand in hand in the battle against global warming.

A vigorous green IT plan is an economic -- as well as an environmental -- imperative. Companies can outcompete their peers by tackling sustainability head on, engaging stakeholders, developing partnerships, and folding environmental stewardship into their corporate culture. Every business, big or small, faces environmental risks and opportunities. Companies have benefited from taking these challenges as strategic opportunities [7].

Businesses must develop a positive attitude toward addressing environmental concerns and adopt forward-looking, green-friendly policies and practices. Greening IT is, and will continue to be, a necessity, not an option. The challenges are immense; however, some of the recent developments indicate that the IT industry has the will and conviction to tackle the environmental issues head-on.

The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.

— Albert Einstein


1. Apple, Inc. "A Greener Apple," 2007 (www.apple.com/hotnews/agreenerapple).

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5. Dell. " Dell Sets Goal of Becoming Greenest Technology Company." Press release, 5 June 2007 (www.dell.com/content/topics/global.aspx/corp/pressoffice/ en/2007/2007_06_05_lon_000?c=us&l=en&s=corp).

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13. IBM. " IBM Unveils Plan to Combat Data Center Energy Crisis; Allocates $1 Billion to Advance 'Green' Technology and Services." Press release, 10 May 2007 (www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/21524.wss).

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25. Pritchard, Stephen. "IT Going Green: Forces Pulling in Different Directions." Financial Times, 30 May 2007.

26. Samson, Ted. " IT Heavyweights Plot The Green Grid." Sustainable IT blog, 23 February 2007 (http://weblog.infoworld.com/sustainableit/archives/ 2007/02/it_heavyweights.html?source=searchresult).

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28. Stansberry, Matt, and Mark Schlack. " Data Center Infrastructure: Too Soon for Liquid Cooling." SearchDataCenter.com, 13 July 2007 (http://searchdatacenter.techtarget.com/originalContent/ 0,289142,sid80_gci1264212,00.html).

29. Stern, Nicholas. " Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change." Cambridge University Press, 2007 (www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/independent_reviews/ stern_review_economics_climate_change/stern_review_report.cfm).

30. Sun Microsystems Australia. "Businesses Are Committed to Eco but IT Lags Behind." Press release, July 2007 (http://au.sun.com/edge/2007-07/eco.jsp?cid=920710).

31. United Nations Environment Programme. " Basel Conference Addresses Electronic Wastes Challenge." Press release, 27 November 2006 (www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp? DocumentID=485&ArticleID=5431&l=en).

32. US Environmental Protection Agency. " EPA Announces New Computer Efficiency Requirements." Press release, 23 October 2006 (http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/a8f952395381d3968525701c005e65b5/ 113b0c0647fee41585257210006474f1!OpenDocument).

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About The Author
San Murugesan
San Murugesan (BE [Hons], MTech, PhD; FACS) is a Cutter Expert and a member of Arthur D. Little's AMP open consulting network. He is also Director of BRITE Professional Services and former Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE's IT Professional. Dr. Murugesan has four decades of experience in both industry and academia, and his expertise and interests include artificial intelligence, quantum computing, the Internet of Everything, cloud computing, green… Read More