Growing by Gigabits: Green IT

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It’s no secret that the United States has come up lame in the global race for dominance in the renewable energy market. The total U.S. investment in renewable energy projects was measured last year at roughly $19 billion, less than half of the investment made by China, the current world leader in the field.

In fact, there may be only one alternative energy-related sector left to give Americans an opportunity to crow “We’re Number One!”—the emerging market for carbon accounting software, also known as Enterprise Carbon Accounting (ECA) or Green IT.

A study by Groom Energy found that in 2009 more than $46 million was invested in ECA start-ups with tools to help businesses manage, analyze and report on their carbon footprints. Last year, Walmart announced it would begin requiring suppliers to report statistics on resource consumption, forcing vendors to develop calculations that will conform to the retail giant’s forthcoming Sustainability Index.

Industry analysts now are projecting the global market for carbon accounting tools and related Green IT consulting will top $9 billion by 2012. According to reports, software titans SAP and Microsoft are making acquisitions to position themselves as leaders in carbon management products.

The rubric of Green IT is not limited to the measurement of carbon footprints; it also encompasses everything from the management of smart grids to the processing of consumer waste.

Much of the interest in carbon accounting tools was spurred by the assumption that the U.S. would enact some form of a carbon trading system this year as part of a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s energy strategy. However, Congress dropped consideration of an energy bill from its agenda this year. California, which pioneered the concept of a carbon market, is poised to vote on a referendum that may postpone a statewide mandate on carbon trading that was supposed to take effect next year.

So the widespread embrace of carbon footprint measurement methodology is peaking at the same time that the political will to place a cost on carbon emissions appears to be waning.

Perhaps we need a tool to measure the environmental impact of cold feet in the halls of government.

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