Six drivers for the development of Green IT

1. Dirty Data

Earlier this year Greenpeace released a report titled "How Dirty is Your Data?" which highlighted the issue of where companies source the power for their data centres. In particular it focused on where tech giants such as Google and Microsoft have been getting their energy from, and in what proportions, looking at whether it was coming from renewables or coal.

There is a trend for these technology companies to commit to take action on their carbon footprints by looking at powering their data centres. Of course this ultimately has a knock-on effect to their users, ensuring that when they use their products and services they will have a smaller footprint.

Microsoft has a plan to be carbon neutral by 2013 and has put in place internal carbon pricing. Facebook released its carbon footprint publicly for the first time, and has committed to building a data centre in Sweden, taking advantage of their low carbon grid electricity, and using the cold climate to naturally cool the servers. Google have been one of the industry leaders, with a stated aim to generate 100% of their energy needs from renewables.

2. EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres

This voluntary initiative was created by the EU in response to the prediction that European electricity consumption in data centres would almost double between 2007 and 2020 to a huge 104TWh a year. The Code of Conduct creates a common set of principles and metrics for the industry. It is intended to encourage participating data centre owners and operators to measure and implement energy efficient technology and practices.

The Code also enables other organisations, such as suppliers of equipment and services for energy efficiency, utilities, government, trade associations and academic institutions to become endorsers of the scheme. This is designed to help create a greener supply chain, and a greener industry.

3. EU Broadband Equipment Code of Conduct

As broadband access becomes more widespread, and as it put into more and more homes, then it is expected to considerably increase European electricity consumption.  In fact it has been estimated that this could be up to 50TWh a year by 2015, depending on penetration levels, equipment specifications and service providers.

The Broadband Equipment Code of Conduct contains principles and actions designed to limit the electricity consumption to just 25TWh a year, which would save about €7.5bn a year. This tries to ensure that a minimum of power is consumed while also not harming technological advancements or consumer use of broadband.

In fact there is a consortium of organisations set up by Alcatel Lucent called GreenTouch with the aim to deliver the architecture, specifications and roadmap to increase network energy efficiency by a factor of 1,000 from current level.

4. Corporate Carbon Footprints

Businesses are paying a lot more attention to measuring and reporting their carbon footprints, particularly among larger organisations. Organisations such as the Carbon Disclosure Project have publicly been rating corporate carbon performance for investors for some years now. For many organisations their IT use, including their outsourced IT use, will contribute significantly to this footprint.

International Standards have been developed such as ISO 14064-1 and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol which allows for consistent and comparable reporting of emissions, helping drive a race towards efficiency. Following on from this mandatory carbon reporting is being introduced by the UK government for companies listed on the Main Market of the London Stock Exchange, with an expansion being discussed from 2015.

5. Greener Products

As well as promoting their own carbon credentials, there is a move for companies to point to the fact that their products are green. This includes reporting their carbon footprints with general international standards such as PAS 2050, the GHG Protocol Product Standard and the soon to be published ISO 14067. It also includes some ICT industry specific standards, which are memorably called the GHG Protocol ICT Sector Guidance, ITU-T L.1410, ETSI TS 103 199 and IEC TR 62725.

There are some catchier names involved when it comes to the European regulations, known as RoHS, REACH, and WEEE. These ensure that hazardous materials or chemicals that can be included in devices are disposed of properly, and that electronics are effectively reused, recycled and recovered. Since 2009 there has also been a European directive requiring the eco-design of energy using products.

Perhaps the most prominent feature for the average consumer is the EU energy labelling that appears on most consumer white goods now, ranking their energy consumption from A to G. Thanks to advancements in energy efficiency throughout the industry new categories of A+, A++ and A+++ had to be introduced in 2010. The American Energy Star rating system is also being used on computer equipment.

 6. Procurement Trends

The final driver towards green IT is the way that purchasing decisions have been influenced. This is particularly pronounced with public procurement, with European and government policies requiring public sector organisations to purchase more energy efficient products and services. There is a similar trend with companies concerned about their carbon impact, and also with the cost of their energy use following steep price rises in recent years.

This article was originally published in the Sunday Telegraph on 14 October 2012.