IT sector CO2 emissions equal to airline industry

27 Apr 2007

The ICT industry worldwide accounts for 2pc of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions – equal to that of the aviation industry – which analyst firm Gartner warns is unsustainable.

The 2pc of CO2 emissions that the ICT industry is responsible for includes the in-use phase of PCs, servers, cooling, fixed and mobile telephony, local area networks, office telecoms and printers.

As well as a social responsibility issue for the global ICT sector, its environmental impact will also become a business issue due to intense media coverage making environmentalists out of millions of people and this could affect buying decisions.

Gartner says that the issue is no longer about whether the enterprise needs to care, and more about the risks associated with doing nothing.

“During the next five years, increasing financial, environmental, legislative and risk-related pressures will force IT organizations to get ‘greener’; that is to say, more environmentally sustainable,” said Simon Mingay, research vice president, Gartner.

“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.”

According to Gartner, the ICT industry needs to gain a better understanding of the full life cycle of ICT products and services, and innovate to reduce environmental impact.

It says this does not currently happen because of the lack of a commercial or legislative need to do so. However, Gartner anticipates that buyers will ask more detailed questions about life cycle assessments during the next three years.

“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,” said Mingay.

“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.”

Gartner recommends IT organisations develop a strategy to address the current negative effects of using ICT and says the growth in power requirements and levels of waste that it produces renders the current state unsustainable.

A typical strategy would involve firms measuring their power consumption, consume fewer servers and printers by adopting virtualisation, turn equipment off after-hours, extend the life of assets by resusing within the enterprise, properly dispose of old equipment and analyse all waste.

Another strategy it recommends is for firms to implement travel substitution applications, possibly through use of video conferencing technology.

Gartner estimates that 50pc of IT organisations will declare an environmental imperative by 2010, and more than one third of organisations will have one or more environmental criteria in their top six buying criteria.

“Going green is no longer the reserve of a minority ‘doing the right thing’; it’s becoming an essential activity for all IT leaders,” said Mingay.

By John Kennedy