More Silicon, Less Carbon – IT use reduces overall Carbon Emissions

The IT industry is starting to justify its carbon footprint by providing information on how IT reduces carbon emissions in other areas. The Economist has an article on this.

How computers can help to cut carbon emissions

HOW much computing can mankind afford? That is a question the computer and telecoms industries hate to hear. They do not see themselves in the same dirty league as airlines or carmakers, sources of huge amounts of carbon dioxide, but instead as part of the solution. In a pre-emptive strike, a group of technology firms calling itself the Global eSustainability Initiative (GeSI) has joined the Climate Group, a non-profit environmental club, to examine how information and communications technologies (ICT) affect climate change. Their research, released on June 20th, confirms that ICT could in fact do much to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions—but not in the way you might think.

When it comes to emissions, ICT is on a par with aviation. In 2007, according to the report, the world's electronic gear (including PCs, their peripherals, telecoms networks and devices, and the warehouses of corporate machines known as data centres) produced 830m tonnes of CO2—about 2% of total emissions from human activity. Even with technology that uses energy more sparingly, this is expected to grow to 1.4 billion tonnes by 2020. Although PCs, mobile phones and networks will account for most (56%) of this, emissions from data centres will grow the fastest.

And provides specifics in the areas where it sees it removing carbon emissions.

Yet these numbers look much less frightening if, in the words of the study, ICT's “enabling effect” is taken into account. The study calculates that ICT could help to reduce emissions in other industries by 7.8 billion tonnes by 2020, or five times ICT's own footprint. Perhaps the best-known of these enabling effects is to replace face-to-face meetings, which require carbon-belching air travel, with low-emission alternatives such as videoconferencing. John Chambers, the boss of Cisco, a big maker of network equipment, says his company has reduced its carbon footprint by 11% by using its own “telepresence” gear. It also means higher productivity and reduced “wear and tear” on executives, he adds.