Carbon footprint of IT the same as aviation

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Concerns are growing as awareness of the carbon footprint of IT equipment grows.

Richard Barrington, an advisor to the Government’s Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) pointed out that worldwide IT infrastructure produces around 1 billion tonnes of CO2 each year, roughly equivalent to the amount produced by global air travel.

The difference between the two industries lies in the fact that IT has the capacity to make very substantial cuts in energy use and subsequent emissions, whereas the technological opportunities for emissions reductions in the aviation sector are limited.

Barrington pointed towards the use of ‘thin-client’ computing, where computer users have low-powered ‘interfaces’ on their desktops which connect to high-powered services elsewhere, which hold all of their programs and information. This would allow desktop computers to consume roughly 4 watts of power, as opposed to today’s average of 120 watts.

Barrington said that ‘few’ companies were aware of the impact made on the environment by their IT equipment.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist November 2007