As the old saying goes, out of great crisis comes great opportunity. This couldn't be more true of green IT. As the world becomes increasingly aware of the potential perils of pollution, the case for green IT couldn’t be stronger. And it doesn't hurt that the hallmark of green IT - greater efficiency - is something that jives with business as well. That's why many major tech firms, Apple among them, have already committed to improving operations. As companies increasingly face pressure from the public to "go green," it will be interesting to see how IT firms choose to respond. What may be even more interesting are the unique solutions they come up with.

Over the past decade there has been a tremendous shift toward energy efficiency and conservation. But as the cost of energy continues to rise, green solutions are becoming increasingly attractive to companies. As a result, what was once a growing fad is increasingly becoming a business imperative. Not convinced? Here are five key reasons why IT everywhere needs to go green.

  1. It Saves Energy
    The U.S. Energy Information Administration (USEIA) estimates that 72 percent of electricity consumption came from buildings in 2006, a number that's expected to rise to 75 percent by 2025. The administration also estimated that building electricity accounts for nearly 40 percent of all energy use. Simply put, large buildings currently present one of the largest drags on our electricity usage. In IT, energy consumption is a major concern, especially in data centers, where a lot of equipment is running and energy must be used both to operate it and keep it cool. By reducing the amount of energy that is consumed in corporate buildings, IT can take a tremendous step toward reducing its carbon footprint - and slashing utility expenses. (To learn more, read The Carbon Footprint of a Web Search: Who's Green?)

  2. It Preserves IT Resources
    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that about 2.37 tons of e-waste was disposed of in 2009. And, although 25 percent of this waste was collected for recycling, a figure of this size represents a loss of resources that we can’t afford. Recycling electronics allows for the extraction of resources such as aluminum, copper, gold and plastics that can be reused, often by the IT industry. These can be obtained less expensively - and at a lower environmental impact - through recycling.

  3. It Reduces Carbon Emissions
    For businesses, reducing their carbon footprint is important not only in the sense that it cuts energy costs and reduces pollution, but because carbon emissions may one day have a cost of their own - at least potentially - in the form of a carbon tax. Although there is no nationwide carbon tax in the United States, it does exist in a number of European companies and has been adopted by a few U.S. states.

  4. It Can Cut Costs and Boost the Bottom Line
    Not only is e-waste harmful to the environment and a mismanagement of resources, it is also costly. For big IT firms, absorbing this cost can be a huge financial burden that can impact customers. By avoiding this cost, companies can free up tremendous amounts of capital that can be used to improve services or apply to product development. A great example of this is mobile giant Sprint, which was able save $1 billion annually by creating a customer buyback program that allows consumers to return old devices to the firm for cash. Not only did Sprint save a tremendous amount of money, but customers received a combined $50 million for their devices. Sprint plans to double down on this strategy with a commitment to retrieve 100 percent of its e-waste by the year 2017. This represents one of the many ways that recycling can be beneficial to both customers and businesses.

    Investing in technology that will make IT operations more efficient and less harmful to the environment is not simply good practice, it is good business. A study released in April 2012 by management professors Edward Conlon and Ante Glavas at the University of Notre Dame found that that corporations whose buildings met LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards actually performed better. This comes as no surprise because making investments that reduce energy consumption is indicative of a corporation that is conscious of its financial future.

  5. It's Great Public Relations
    A 2007 survey across nine countries found that 85 percent of consumers would change the brands they buy to make the world a better place. What that means for companies is that better environmental practices - at least in the eyes of consumers - can boost sales. In the same survey, 55 percent of respondents also said that they would help promote brands that supported a good cause. When something's important to consumers, it must become important to businesses too. That's why green initiatives - and green PR - are becoming increasingly essential for tech companies.
Green IT isn't just a trend - it's a reality, and one that holds benefits for companies, consumers and the environment. This may be especially true for tech companies, which often rely on large quantities of energy and whose operations and products can have major environmental impact. But these days, the doom-and-gloom talk of potential environmental destruction is largely being replaced by the notion that green practices represent an opportunity, and one that tech companies will find increasingly hard to pass up.