The report on global warming issued in February by the United \n\nNations\u2019 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes unequivocally that our planet is getting hotter. And, as we approach Earth Day April 22, the evidence that it\u2019s all our fault is stronger than ever.As we go about our busy lives, running our ever more powerful, ever more ubiquitous computers, we are effectively turning up the planet\u2019s thermostat. Gartner estimates that carbon dioxide emissions related to the operation of servers and PCs account for 0.75 percent of the annual global total, and that\u2019s before factoring in emissions generated by cooling the boxes. Add to that the emissions generated by telecommunications networks, and IT\u2019s contribution to the atmosphere\u2019s greenhouse gas load is \u201cprobably in excess of 2 percent,\u201d says Simon Mingay, research vice president with Gartner, adding that that\u2019s \u201ca big number for what is essentially a single device.\u201d In fact, emissions tied to that device, the computer, are comparable to the level of greenhouse gasses being produced by all the world\u2019s airplanes as they crisscross the skies above us.Now what are CIOs doing about that?\n\nGreen Goes Mainstream\nCompanies today face a panoply of environmental issues, from how much electricity they consume (produced by power plants that run on fossil fuels) to how they deal with toxic wastes. But in most enterprises the CIO has played a minimal role in decisions that affect the environment. For the most part, no one has asked them to do anything more.But sooner rather than later, someone\u2014your boss, a big customer or a government agency\u2014is going to want to know what you\u2019re doing to comply with, support or advance your company\u2019s efforts to become more environmentally responsible. This demand will not stem merely from an altruistic desire to behave responsibly (although that\u2019s a fine reason); rather, corporate sustainability (as being cognizant of your impact on the planet is now called) has become a cost of doing business. Global regulations that put limits on toxic chemicals and emissions now reach from the manufacturing floor into the data center.And having an understanding of and an appreciation for one\u2019s effect on the environment increasingly is proving to be good for the bottom line. A recent report concluded that there\u2019s a direct correlation between good environmental practices and sound overall management. The report\u2019s authors\u2014Marc Orlitzky, a lecturer with the Australian Graduate School of Management, and Frank L. Schmidt and Sara L. Rynes, both professors with the University of Iowa\u2014say good corporate citizenship can help companies build the skills and infrastructure they need to cope in turbulent times, as well as improve efficiency.Daniel Esty, director of the Center of Business and Environment at Yale University, points to a multitude of examples in which employing IT that attends to the planet helps companies cut costs or raise revenue. \u201cOne of the key tools that companies have used to develop an eco-advantage is good data collection,\u201d says Esty, coauthor, with Andrew Winston, of Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value and Build Competitive Advantage. \u201cHaving a strong set of metrics and indicators allows companies to manage inputs better, reduce waste and achieve higher productivity,\u201d Esty maintains.\n\nThe Cost-Benefit Analysis\nCharity begins at home, and the CIO\u2019s responsibilities start with the IT department. According to Gartner, the pervasiveness of computing equipment in most companies makes the IT department a major source of negative environmental impact.Mitigating that impact will have its cost. All your hardware contains toxic materials that in many places must be recycled. The European Union recently toughened regulations for disposing of old computers; other nations and many U.S. states also have rules for recycling electronics. Meanwhile, new equipment, designed to be energy efficient and comply with regulations for use of toxic substances, may become more expensive if vendors decide to charge a premium for green products.But the good news is that every company with a data center has a vein of green waiting to be mined. \u201cAny organization that wants to improve its environmental footprint is going to look at power consumption,\u201d notes Mingay. \u201cIf the company is a professional services, banking or insurance kind of business, IT will probably be the biggest consumer of power by a long way.\u201d\n\nFixing the Data Center\nAs Senior Editor Stephanie Overby writes in \u201cClean, Green Machines,\u201d data centers consume between 1.5 percent and 3 percent of all the power generated annually in the United States\u2014at the high end, that\u2019s equivalent to the electricity needed to power the state of Michigan for one year. But most IT departments don\u2019t have a good grasp of their electricity bills because they don\u2019t control the facilities their data centers occupy. One company, VistaPrint, where the IT department does manage its data center facilities, discovered that its electric bill was projected to skyrocket if the company, which sells custom printed products online, grew as predicted.When Cable & Wireless, which hosts one of VistaPrint\u2019s data centers, threatened to charge the company extra to cover the cooling costs for its blade servers, then-CIO Wendy Cebula (now the company\u2019s COO) asked her IT operations director to improve energy efficiency. The project eventually led to the construction of a second, more energy-conscious data center in Canada, where hydropower provides a renewable, lower-emissions source of electricity. The company now projects savings of 70 percent on its electricity bills. It will also save $450,000 annually by replacing its blade servers with virtual machines that use more server capacity and consume less power. Within a year, VistaPrint will be reducing the emissions from its data centers to a degree equivalent to taking more than 100 cars off the road for a year.VistaPrint has benefited in part from the increasingly heated competition among chip makers and server vendors to out-green each other. But which server provides the greatest power consumption savings for the buck depends on how you plan to use it. Existing benchmarks that measure application performance or CPU utilization aren\u2019t much help because they don\u2019t measure power consumption, notes Brent Kirby, a product manager with AMD. Groups including the Standard Performance Evaluation Corp. and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are researching a new generation of benchmarks that address server electricity usage, while an effort among computer manufacturers known as The Green Grid aims to identify best practices for data center power management.Meanwhile, using more efficient cooling systems, or simply sealing holes in your data center\u2019s floor, can reduce energy consumption and, ultimately, greenhouse gas emissions. Your company wins by lowering its energy costs, and the planet wins too.\n\nThe Green Advantage\nIT\u2019s contribution to corporate sustainability doesn\u2019t stop at the data center door. New and anticipated environmental regulations are prompting companies to reexamine everything from their business processes to their product lines.As Associate Staff Writer Katherine Walsh writes in \u201cCan IT Make Your Company Green?\u201d, companies are beginning to pay more attention not only to what goes into their products but how those products are made. And whether they\u2019re tracking systems for monitoring plant emissions, using databases to analyze material use or implementing operational controls, they need IT to do it. These systems can pay dividends beyond keeping companies out of legal trouble, or having their noncompliant products barred from global markets. At Dow Chemical, CIO David Kepler says technology investments that monitor energy use have saved Dow billions.Other systems are expected to generate top-line revenue growth by helping companies make better products. Both furniture maker Herman Miller and Timberland, which makes outdoor apparel, cater to environmentally conscious customers (and satisfy regulators) by developing products using recycled materials and eliminating toxics from their production processes. IT integrates the databases that track the use of materials with those that manage the production processes in order to optimize the efficiencies the companies reap from these green initiatives.You have an advantage if your company has already made environmentally sound practices a priority. In Chicago, the law firm Kirkland & Ellis is constructing a green building, with design parameters that include lower power consumption and more efficient air conditioning. (To see the specs for the building, read \u201cDesigned for IT,\u201d www.cio.com\/inprint.)\u201cThere are regulations, there are savings to the firm and there\u2019s just being a good citizen,\u201d says Kirkland & Ellis CIO Steve Novak. \u201cIf there\u2019s any way you can reduce consumption, it\u2019s good for all.\u201dIf your company has not embraced its environmental responsibilities, it\u2019s only a matter of time before it will be forced to or suffer the consequences. \u201cGreen issues are going to be climbing up the consumer and investor and media agenda,\u201d notes Gartner\u2019s Mingay. \u201cAt some point in time, this increased focus is going to affect the enterprise.\u201dThe question CIOs have to answer is, Will you be ready?Executive Editor Elana Varon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.