In the grand scheme of things, the IT industry as a whole doesn't account for a huge amount of the carbon that is spewed daily into the atmosphere.
But the IT industry as a whole stands to benefit greatly if agreements are worked out in Copenhagen next month that would result in not only the need for more systems to count the carbon, but just about the reinvention of every software-driven business process.
As much as this could create a boondoggle for the IT industry in terms of opportunity, it also creates certain public relations problems. Throughout its history, computing has relied on cheap electricity. So we built processors that not only consumed a lot of power, but stacks of inefficient software that require a lot of watts to run. If the IT industry really wants to be a credible advocate for climate change, then a lot of effort needs to be put into rewriting massive amounts of software to make it more energy-efficient.
Microsoft has taken a step in that direction with the release of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008. But the number of systems on which these offerings are deployed is minuscule compared to the number of systems running previously deployed generations of software. In addition, there is still a long way to go in terms of developing energy-efficient software, so it might be years before the IT industry can credibly say that it is doing everything it can to be green.
Meanwhile, progress is being made in other areas. Microsoft, for instance, recently inked a pact with Samsung to develop more energy-efficient computing platforms, and Microsoft reports that as of last year, 39 percent of its volume licenses were being fulfilled online. That means there is no need to produce, ship and store DVDs and CDs to distribute software.
The day is coming when the IT industry can really establish itself as a custodian for the environment. But in the meantime, there's a massive amount of re-education that has to happen in the way software is built and managed before the IT industry can really assume the mantle on green leadership worldwide.