The green IT myth

Who would have thought that, globally, the IT industry produces about the same volume of greenhouse gases as the world's airlines do - roughly 2 per cent of all CO2 emissions?

Many everyday tasks take a surprising toll on the environment. A Google search can leak between 0.2 and 7.0 grams of CO2, depending on how many attempts are needed to get the "right" answer. At the upper end of the scale, two searches create roughly the same emissions as boiling a kettle.

To deliver results to its users quickly, Google has to maintain vast data centres around the world, packed with powerful computers. As well as producing large quantities of CO2, these computers emit a great deal of heat, so the centres need to be well air-conditioned - which uses even more energy.

However, Google and other big tech providers such as BT, IBM, Microsoft and Amazon monitor their efficiency closely and make improvements. (Google claims to be more efficient than most.) Recently, industry and government agencies from the US, Europe and Japan reached an agreement, orchestrated by the Green Grid, an American industry consortium, on how to benchmark the energy efficiency of data centres. Monitoring is the first step on the road to reduction, but there's much more to be done, and not just by big companies.

Simple things - such as turning devices off when they are not in use - can help to reduce the impact of our love affair with all things digital. Research from the National Energy Foundation in the UK found that nearly 20 per cent of workers don't turn their PCs off at the end of
the day, wasting 1.5 billion kWh of electricity per year - which equates to the annual CO2 produced by 200,000 small family cars.

Technology could have a huge role to play in reducing energy consumption - just think of the number of car and bus journeys saved by something as simple as online banking. But the sector must still work harder to get its own house in order.

Jason Stamper is NS technology correspondent and editor of Computer Business Review

Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review