2007: How was it for green IT?

It's official, 2007 was the year in which green IT became important to the IT industry, with corporate giants like Google, Intel, HP, Dell, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems all willing to get their hands dirty.

It's official: 2007 was the year in which green IT became important to the industry, with corporate giants like Google, Intel, HP, Dell, Microsoft and Sun all willing to get their hands dirty.

The advance of green IT started as a trickle and ended as an avalanche: one which looks like it will continue to gain momentum through 2008. Energy efficiency and the important economic incentive that goes with it, topped the list of green IT issues, with an increasing focus on hardware that was both recyclable and non-toxic following close behind.

In February, IT titans combined to try and tackle the problem of even more power-hungry datacentres, forming a group called "The Green Grid" a non-profit organisation designed to improve energy efficiency for datacentres and corporate computing with big names Intel, Dell, HP, IBM, Microsoft and Sun getting involved.

Big ideas continued in March with IBM announcing its program, "Big Green Innovations", designed to seek out new ways to help the environment using computing technology. Sharon Nunes, the vice president in charge of developing the Big Green Innovations business, said she expects IBM's Big Green Innovations business to grow larger than its life sciences program and become a US$1 billion business in three years.

Meanwhile Microsoft, keen to see its latest child Vista impress on all fronts, released a report claiming the new power-management features in Vista can help companies "massively" reduce carbon emissions. Windows Vista product marketing manager, Paul Stoddart, explained how in XP drivers and applications could veto hibernate mode as they were written in at the kernel level; "if you want us to change that, it means completely re-writing the operating system," he said. Green groups responded, pointing out that in many instances Vista required a hardware upgrade, producing additional waste.

However Microsoft's push to be greener did not just include its latest technology. It also released a plan to support PC refurbishment businesses by giving away special versions of XP at a reduced cost for second-hand computers: no doubt providing a boost to the refurbishment industry by reducing costs, but also meaning Microsoft will be selling two copies of Windows for a single PC, allowing it to profit from recycling.

In another recycling development in April, Apple, Dell and HP became part of a Victorian government initiative called Byteback to recycle computer parts. Since 2005, Byteback had been able to recycle 300 tonnes of electronic and electrical waste. According to industry body the AIIA, over 90 percent of most computers can be recycled. The AIIA also claimed that every tonne of waste recycled prevents 5.5 tonnes of potential carbon dioxide emissions.

However, it represents only a tiny fraction of total e-waste. The Australian Department of Environment and Heritage estimated that 1.6 million PCs -- containing lead, barium, hexavalent chromium, beryllium, mercury, cadmium and brominated fire retardants -- are destined for landfill in Australia in 2007. In order to deal with this waste, Byteback said Australia may have to consider sending its e-waste to the developing world.

In response, companies in 2007 were making strong movements towards less toxic production materials. April saw Lenovo managing to top the rankings in Greenpeace's guide to greener electronics -- interesting considering it had come last in the August 2006 list, when the guide began.

In the same rankings, Apple continued to be ranked rotten, coming last in the guide in March while its position fluctuated over the following months, its overall position remained low on the rankings. Apple bit back at Greenpeace in April, stating the company had scored well on the US Environmental Protection Agency ratings. However, these rankings use less strict criteria than Greenpeace have applied.

In May, in the financial sector, environmental sentiments were stirring Down Under with the "green" bank, ANZ, hoping to remove many of its power-hungry servers.

ANZ CIO Peter Dalton told a Gartner summit in May he was on a mission to remove as many as 400 servers from the bank's infrastructure, in a hope to reduce the 176,410 tonnes of carbon dioxide the company produced in 2006. It came as part of a larger plan to make the bank carbon neutral by 2009. While ANZ's moves were ahead of the market, they were by no means visionary, with research by the Forrester Group reporting in June that one-third of European organisations and a quarter of US firms are now taking "green" factors into account when evaluating and selecting IT suppliers.

In the same month, Google jumped on the bandwagon, declaring it would be carbon neutral by 2008. The Climate Group, an international organisation helping Google with its plans, commented on the most obvious implication of Google joining the green cause: "The exciting thing about Google is its high profile -- everyone who switches on a computer knows them," said Rupert Posner, the director of the Climate Group.

In August, more heavyweights stepped in the ring, with Sun going on a green offensive. Sun chief executive Jonathan Schwartz announced the company's intention to move to tape for long term data storage, in a bid to save power. Schwartz's comments at the time about Sun's datacentres were to become prophesies for the future: "For the datacentres we serve, many are seeing the cost of electricity threatening to eclipse their hardware budgets (yes, I'm serious)," he blogged. Later that month, Sun co-founder Bill Joy has said that he thought green tech was a far more worthy investment than Internet companies.

Bill Joy's claim may not have been based on the rising value of green companies, but rather that datacentres were becoming an increasingly poor investment. A study published by BroadGroup consultants in the UK in October concluded that the annual cost of running a datacentre was to double in the next five years, from 5.3 million pounds to 11 million pounds, based largely on rising energy costs.

In Australia, research group Gartner also made similar claims, saying that the government was behind the times on green issues and that this lag would "hit IT like a ton of bricks," as "business demand ramps up" for energy efficient technology. Even if government was behind the times businesses certainly weren't, with Gartner soon claiming that green IT was the firm's number one rating industry issue.

In the US in November, Google was once again powering ahead with its renewable energy plans, having managed to build the largest corporate installation of solar power. However, Google's renewable energy plans may not all be tree hugging and PR: renewable energy projects like solar, wind or biomass can be financially interesting to businesses because they can allow companies to get a contract with fixed energy prices; acting as a useful hedge against unpredictable and rapidly rising energy costs, especially for a company with extensive datacentres like Google.

With energy concerns making a mark on the corporate consciousness, perhaps then it wasn't surprising that in late November Kevin Rudd's Labor government was able to win by a landslide with an election platform including tougher environmental legislation and ratification of the Kyoto protocol. While the business ramifications of this political shake-up are yet to come, in the meantime, global scientific studies confirmed that Australia was one of the sunniest nations in the world, making it shine for solar power.