There are five ways to green IT virtue according to environmental charity and campaigning organisation Greenpeace. It has pretty definite ideas about business IT and how it can be made more environmentally friendly. Zeina Alhajj is a Greenpeace campaign co-ordinator, based in Amsterdam, and a spokesperson on IT issues for the organisation.

She says that greening business IT is to do with how you select and operate your IT estate: data centres with servers, storage devices, network boxes and associated air-conditioning and cooling; and the distributed IT estate of desktops and printers and Ethernet and Wi-Fi access arrangements.

1. Avoid hazardous chemicals

IT products have been made with components using hazardous substances, ones that will poison water sources and pollute the ground when disposed of by being put in landfills. Alhajj said: "The first thing is to buy components with the least hazardous chemicals in them. There are no entirely green products, unfortunately, but there are greener products."

The 2006 ROHS regulations have helped here with the EU specifying how lead and chromium cannot be used. "Industry has adopted this way of working worldwide."

2. Avoid all PVC and Brominated flame retardants

"ROHS is definitely a step forward. Greenpeace is campaigning to get the IT industry to go further, to eliminate PVC and all brominated flame retardants.

Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are a group of organic substances that slow or prevent fire catching hold. The electronics industry uses them in printed circuit boards, connectors, plastic covers and cables. Some BFRs are viewed as persistent pollutants that, like mercury, get more concentrated as they rise up the food chain.

Greenpeace points to Nokia as a good example; it has eliminated all PVCS and BFRs in some of its mobile phone products. "Dell, HP, Acer and Apple have pledged to eliminate PVC and BFRs by 2009, Apple by 2008 actually. Our advice to business is to support IT suppliers that do this."

3. Choose recyclable products

"IT products become waste and producers should take them back. The PC lifespan has dropped from five to six years to about three years. Servers have a longer lifespan, up to ten years. This is a key component of any ICT (information and communications technology) purchase."

"In particular with servers there is the issue of upgradability." Greenpeace would prefer that server components are upgraded and not the whole box.

"This is vital for big business. Xerox and HP don't sell you the products. You lease them; they take it back themselves, fix it, re-use it and sell (lease) it again."

"The customer is not responsible for the product when it becomes waste. You lease a product and the producer is responsible."

4. Choose low energy-consumption products

Greenpeace advises business that low energy consumption products should be preferred: "Producers are looking to decrease standby consumption and also active use consumption (of energy). New processors use less energy at the same speed (as previous generation CPU chips). For example, Intel's new chips are lead-free and have half the energy use."

5. Move to thin clients

The bulk of the distributed IT estate is represented by desktop PCs with their own spinning hard drives, RAM and processor all needing power and cooling. It is apparent that thin clients consolidate desktop processor power to the datacentre (in servers) and avoid the need for spinning disks at the desktop. There is an obvious saving of energy costs here with less need for power at the desktop and no needed for PC cooling at all.

Zeina Alhajj says: "Thin clients are definitely a way forward in reducing the component count. It doesn't make sense to have a PC for every desk. This is definitely a step forward in reducing the resources used."

"A PC needs a lot of resources to build. The more we can reduce resource use in the (IT) industry the better. A PC contains lead, copper, heavy metals, gold and silver. That's why the Chinese dismantle IT products piece by piece and smelt them to extract a gram of silver here and a gram of gold there. This should be reduced."

(This view accords with a UK government-sponsored thin client use taskforce.)

Consolidation and virtualisation

Zeina Alhajj did not touch on three detailed topics which will lower an organisation's overall IT energy bill. These are consolidating servers, storage and printing.

Another way of lowering energy consumption is to move to consolidated servers with blade servers and/or virtualisation. Both are more energy-efficient than traditional servers in a chassis or servers in a rack shelf unit. Virtualised blade servers will be the most efficient of all in terms of both energy consumption and data centre space.

Storage can also be consolidated and virtualised to drive up utilisation. A single instance filestore will avoid wasteful duplication of files.

Consolidating printers in the data centre or at a department level will drive up printer utilisation and avoid the energy needed to keep toner drums of distributed laser printers warm.

The Greenpeace view

Regarding the five points above, Alhajj said: "All these elements together need to be considered. The more business customers support them, the faster we will see a shift of the IT industry to the right environmental path."

It is apparent from Zeina Alhajj's views that Greenpeace has a much wider remit than reducing global warming. The Greenpeace fork is a multi-pronged device and focuses on pollution of the environment by hazardous substances, with a current focus on PVCs and Brominated flame retardants. The organisation would like us to have much more IT recycling - total recycling of old kit in fact, and also to use fewer resources in manufacturing IT gear.

Lastly Greenpeace would have business, after it has sent the right signals to suppliers by buying or leasing low-pollution, low resource-use and recyclable products, organise the use of this IT gear in a high-utilisation, energy-efficient manner with consolidated resources in datacentres and thin clients distributed outside the datacentres.

One implication of what Greenpeace-approved IT means for business is the virtual abandonment of desktop PCs, with replacement by thin clients. It also implies saying goodbye generally to desktop printers outside the data centre with replacement by departmental printers.