Leaders in the information technology (IT) industry are quickly developing environmentally friendly practices because it is now an important 'social issue'. This was addressed last month at the Global Green IT Conference 2008 in Singapore. High-profile personnel from several of the world's leading IT providers gathered to share cutting-edge methods and practices among IT providers and vendors in the greening of their products and processes. For an industry that produces 2 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases, the importance of greener IT solutions are becoming an environmental imperative and an act of corporate social responsibility. 'This is a social issue,' said Eric Lauzon, chief information officer of Nortel Asia and one of the speakers at the conference. 'We all have to change the way we live. Businesses especially have to re-evaluate the way they do things. There is a growing energy requirement and companies have to do something about it.' For the IT industry going greener means designing, manufacturing and using computers, servers and related resources with proper environmental awareness. This might mean the installation of more energy efficient central processing units, or the creation of energy saving data centres, or the virtualisation of servers. It may also mean the recycling of IT components and the proper environmentally friendly disposal of electronic waste. Almost all the IT Industry leaders, including Nortel, IBM, Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Microsoft, have implemented greener IT processes and hardware in their respective organisations. This has reduced their own carbon footprint and, through their development of greener IT products, helped clients reduce their carbon footprint. 'We looked at various aspects of our business and decided to take a very drastic approach. For instance, we are building one global data centre, based out of the United States, which will serve all of Nortel worldwide,' Mr Lauzon said. 'We have 11 data centres worldwide but this will decrease with time as the new data centre comes online. To achieve this, the IT team has had to think about how to minimise the servers and virtualise the approach.' It is not just Nortel that is set on rationalising its data centres. A 2007 report from the United States Environmental Protection Agency estimated that data centres consumed 1.5 per cent of the country's total electricity, something that many IT corporations want to change. This year, IBM opened a new green data centre in Boulder, Colorado. The facility features many new technologies, including virtualisation technology, energy efficient power and cooling technologies, and partial powering by alternative energy sources, including wind-powered electricity. The opening of the data centre is linked to IBM's Project Big Green, a large-scale project in which the company has put aside US$1 billion annually to develop new technologies that increase the energy efficiency of data centres. HP is also making big strides to green its processes. Later this year, its first large-scale solar-powered installation at the San Diego facility will go online. The installation will generate more than 10 per cent of the facility's energy requirements. Several HP facilities in Ireland will be supplied with renewable energy from wind farms. These will provide 90 per cent of the corporation's total energy requirements there. IBM, HP and Nortel, in making their long-term commitments to the environment and to sustainable standards and practices in the IT field, are trailblazers for the rest of the industry. Nortel has defined a set of criteria, called the Design for Environment guidelines, which ensure that all its products are as energy efficient as possible, use fewer hazardous materials, and are built to anticipate future regulatory requirements. Adhering to them has resulted in the release of IP phones that consume two-thirds of the power of traditional PABX handsets, servers that reduce power consumption by up to 80 per cent and ethernet routing switches that use half as much power as standard solutions. It has also developed a Supplier Code of Conduct which details standards that suppliers must meet to do business with Nortel. The code requires suppliers to produce products that are manufactured in an environmentally friendly way and to meet emerging global compliance expectations. It also requires developers to take responsibility for the environmental impact of their products. As Nortel has thousands of suppliers, these criteria are transforming the green standards and practices of many other companies worldwide. Sunny Lee Wai-kwong, president of the Hong Kong Computer Society, said: 'Awareness of these issues in Hong Kong has increased over the past 12 to 24 months. Local IT companies want to tackle the environmental issue but they need help to decide what adjustments to make and how to implement them. 'Hong Kong's IT companies are generally SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] and these companies do not have the luxury of long-term planning, unlimited resources, or access to the expertise available to the big IT corporations. 'Local IT vendors are responding to an increased concern for environmental concerns by facilitating equipment that goes some way towards addressing the issues. But you can't fast-track these changes. They require a fundamental re-thinking. To factor them into future technology plans is essential.'