Tech leaders lobby Prime Minister over sustainable IT

Sun and Cisco are part of a coalition of companies discussing green approaches to technology with Tony Blair ahead of the G8 conference next month

Senior management from two of the IT industry's leading companies are involved in discussions with the UK Prime Minister over how industry and government can work together to tackle the issue of climate change ahead of the G8 conference next month.

The Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change (CLGCC), which includes tech companies such as Sun Microsystems and Cisco systems, will present the initial findings of a working party investigation into what technological and legislative solutions exist to reduce carbon emissions to Tony Blair ahead of the G8 Summit at Gleneagles in Scotland.

In an open letter to the PM, published last week, the CLGCC laid out its argument for how the public and private sectors could cooperate on lowering greenhouse gas emissions during the UK's presidency of the G8 and EU.

In particular the group is calling for a clearer framework of legislation around climate change to help business make the case for investment in cleaner, greener technologies to upper management and shareholders.

"We need a strong policy framework that creates a long-term value for carbon-emission reductions and consistently supports the development of new technologies. Without such policies, our companies are not able to justify to our boards or investors the necessarily high up-front investment in low-carbon R&D, technologies and processes," the group stated.

Speaking at an event outside Glasgow on Tuesday to highlight the issue of sustainable computing and green approaches to IT, Sun's newly appointed UK managing director Trudy Norris-Grey said her company is keen to raise awareness of the huge waste of resources involved in IT.

"We are calling on both industry and business leaders to evaluate all technology – from the sharing of code and best practice to challenging traditional purchasing models – as a way of increasing the value and contribution of IT. Sustainability should not [just] be a long term aspiration - the improvements need to start now," Norris-Grey said.

Sun is taking a proactive stance on the issues surrounding sustainable computing, particularly with respect to comparing the relative efficiency of its thin client technology compared to traditional PCs.

Despite pushing the thin client model since the early nineties Sun has failed to make significant headway with the technology, but extolling the environmental benefits may help as manufacturers and users have to deal with legislation such as the EU Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) directive due to come into force in January next year.

WEEE is intended to make manufacturers and consumers of technology more responsible for its disposal.

Analyst group Gartner claims vendor recycling costs will ultimately be passed on to end-user organisations. In a recent research note, EU's New Recycling Rules could Drive-Up European PC Prices, the analyst group estimated that legal changes could add $60 (£33) to the price of PCs in Europe by 2005.

Sun claims that on average one of its SunRay thin clients requires just 15 watts of power versus 300 watts for the average PC. Heat output and the energy required during manufacturing are also considerably lower, the company claims.

"A single PC uses 640 times its weight in raw materials to build, consumes 10GigaJoules of electricity and generates 0.45 tonnes of carbon dioxide during its lifetime," said Norris-Grey.

Jonathan Steel, director of analyst company The Bathwick Group, also speaking at the Sun event in Scotland, said that the total energy used by PCs in the UK every year was around 3.7GigaWatts per hour or one percent of the total power usage for the entire country.

Steel said that more efficient approaches to IT need to be found as the technology industry could well be the next focus for the kind of environmental activists who have targeted the tobacco or chemical companies.

"We believe that if there is a bus trundling down the road towards you, it is better to get out of the way before it arrives," he said.

To this end, Steel is in the process of setting up an organisation to promote green IT and sustainable computing which is planned to launch at the G8 conference.