Becoming a carbon neutral company and adopting Green IT solutions is reaching a tipping point for organisations large and small who are realising the economic benefits of using renewable energy, as well as the grander principles of saving the environment. In an article on CIO UK Pat Brans argued that promoting Green IT saved money and improved a company's PR, while Greenpeace Head of IT Andrew Hatton said recently that companies were "investing in green energy solutions because it's ethically right and because it also makes financial sense". [See also: Who are the greenest firms in tech?]

How are companies becoming carbon neutral?

For large technology companies its the data centre which is critical, and Hatton says the tech innovation at the previously energy-sapping megasites is mature enough to mean these can now be powered by renewables.

Apple has two new data centres scheduled to go live in 2017 in Ireland and Denmark which will take advantage of the strong wind to fulfil its commitment to use 100% renewables, while in the US the company is building a 20-megawatt, 100-acre solar power array in North Carolina after coming under fire from Greenpeace for its poor energy efficiency.

But it was Verne Global claiming back in 2012 that its data centre in Keflavik, Iceland was the first to be completely reliant on green resources with its use of hydroelectric and geothermal power.

Going one step further, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in July this year its fifth data centre would not only be one of the most advanced and energy efficient data centres in world using 100% renewable energy, but that it would also add 20MW to the Texas power grid.

The social networking giant is not the only technology company claiming to have gone beyond data centre self-sufficiency, with Swedish data centre startup EcoDataCenter having previously announced it would build the world's first 'carbon negative' facility which would rely on wind and solar power and feed excess heat generated from servers into the municipal energy systems for nearby businesses and homes.

Green IT for startups and SMEs

Of course not every organisation has the same resources as the Apples and Facebooks of this world, but non technology behemoths can also strive to be carbon neutral.

On the east coast of Scotland, St Andrews University has a commitment to become carbon neutral by 2016. Its CIO, Steve Watt, has overseen the deployment of an award-winning green data centre while the 600-year-old university is also planning to install six 2MW wind turbines and a biomass plant to achieve carbon neutrality.

For startups and small business, Greenpeace Head of IT Andrew Hatton suggests putting pressure on technology providers, especially cloud giants like Amazon Web Services, asking them to commit to transparency on energy and environment performance while demanding information on the carbon footprint of cloud providers is published so startups and SMEs can achieve their green goals.

Legal expert Alistair Maughan, a partner at the law firm Morrison & Foerster who leads the firm's UK outsourcing and ICT contracting teams, has also suggested organisations and their IT teams ensure Green IT clauses are implemented across the web of commercial relationships - something increasingly on the agenda as the cost of energy continues to rise making the issue a significant factor in many organisations' budgets.

Open source Green IT

A report from 2013 by JISC, the UK education and research sector technology specialists, found that universities and colleges spend about £147 million a year in IT-related energy costs, and with a requirement for the higher and further education sectors to reduce their carbon footprint by 34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 compared with 1990 levels under the 2008 Climate Change Act, investigating carbon neutral technology solutions has never been more pressing.

While St Andrews University is blazing a trail with its commitment to carbon neutrality, CEO of open source specialists Omnis-Systems Paolo Vecchi believes Linux-based and open source applications and operating systems offer a route for other institutions since they consume significantly less energy.

Vecchi has noted a few instances where email, storage and web services for students have run on Linux systems while the staff and professors used Microsoft products. He said that in one case, 2,000 staff used the same amount of resources required to provide the same services to 12,000 students.

Fundamentally, Green IT thinking and a carbon neutral mentality needs to be embedded as a culture and principle across the entire business, including the supply chain - and according to Bran if an organisation can approach becoming carbon neutral with a selfish mindset and its own interests in mind, it is far more likely to succeed.

[Now read: Who are the greenest firms in tech?]

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