IT industry 'as polluting as aviation'

The global IT and communications industry produces as much carbon emissions as aviation, US analysts have said.

The combined emissions from PCs, servers, cooling, local area networks, telephones and mobiles make up 2% of the world's total carbon emissions - equivalent to aviation - according to new data from technology consultants Gartner.

With media coverage of climate change "making environmentalists out of millions of people worldwide" consumer demand for greener IT and communications is growing, and will soon force the global IT industry to take environmental concerns seriously, according to Simon Mingay, Gartner's research vice president:

"During the next five years, increasing financial, environmental, legislative and risk-related pressures will force IT organisations to get 'greener'; that is to say, more environmentally sustainable.

"When enough buyers start demanding it and we get beyond the superficial, being 'less bad' will no longer be anywhere near acceptable enough. That point will be reached in 2007 and 2008 for some geographies, particularly Europe, with other countries and regions taking longer."

The 2% estimate, which the company claims is the first measurement of the global IT industry's carbon footprint, includes embodied energy - energy used in design, manufacture and distribution - for larger devices like computers, but excludes all other consumer electronics.

"Vendors are being forced to gain a better understanding of the life cycle due to new legislation and directives in countries and regions worldwide, as well as an increasing interest from clients in life cycle assessment," Simon Mingay said.

"The areas for innovation to reduce CO2 emissions are in the reduction of the materiality, energy consumption and use of hazardous substances throughout the life cycle, in addition to increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of recycling and the use of recycled materials."

IT organisations also need to be more aware of their own environmental impacts, he said: "Few IT management teams are aware of their enterprise's CSR and environmental policies, and they have not mapped out the implications for their own activities.

"They need to decide whether to take a proactive response, a measured response following the market and legislation, or a passive approach that just meets legal requirements."

To minimise their environmental impact IT organisations should keep a check on power consumption and "virtualise" servers, i.e. use a single server for different operating systems such as Windows and Linux - an approach that saves energy for electricity and cooling.

Other recommendations include:

  • Start measuring power consumption

  • Consume fewer servers and printers by increasing utilisation - virtualise servers

  • Stop over-provisioning; improve capacity planning

  • Improve the efficiency of cooling

  • Turn power management on, use a low power state or turn equipment off after hours

  • Extend the life of assets by reusing within the enterprise and externally

  • Ensure and validate the correct disposition of all electronic equipment

  • Analyze all waste

    Goska Romanowicz

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