Free carbon calculators evolve for business

Though not fully comprehensive, these online calculators may provide a sense of your organizational or IT carbon footprint

"So, what's your carbon footprint?" may never catch on as a pick-up line at the bar down the street (unless, perhaps, it's a juice bar frequented by die-hard eco-enthusiasts), but the question of an organization's carbon footprint is garnering increased attention from within -- from the CXO level on down -- and from the outside, including shareholders, partners in your supply chain, governmental officials, and in some cases, the public at large.

Unfortunately, measuring your organizations' carbon footprint can be tricky and time consuming, what with all the factors to weigh in. How much carbon is used in powering that 2U server in your datacenter, the one that runs at 54 percent utilization. How about the rack of blades running at 65 percent? And the high-end PC and 22-inch LCD monitor in the CEO's office, alongside this staff's low-end laptops? Not to mention carbon emissions associated with flights between Silicon Valley and New York for meetings, powering equipment to build your wares and cool your offices.... The list goes on and on.

[ Do your partner companies really care about your carbon emissions? Many do, including HP, IBM, Dell, Xerox, and Wal-Mart. ]

A couple of companies out there are trying to make it a bit easier to come up with a rough idea of what your carbon footprint is. It may not be precise, but it can at least provide a starting point from which you can work to lower the number.

On such organization is hosting company Rackspace. The company offers a free carbon calculator, developed by Native Energy, aimed at SMBs. It guides you through a series of questions about your facilities, your servers, travel figures, commute figures, and shipping and waste figures for your company. Filling out the questions requires that you provide accurate or fairly accurate information about, for example, the number of kWh your company uses per year, how much heat you use, what the fuel source is used for your heat, numbers of miles members of your organization fly in a year, how many miles your car fleet travels, how far your employees commute, and the amount you ship and waste each year.

While there's a lot of data to be entered, it's certainly not a comprehensive tool for assessing all energy-consuming equipment in an organizations. What about computers, printers, storage equipment, networking equipment, air conditioning, and other types of machinery? Also, it doesn't appear to consider what mix of fuels your utility uses, either: Natural gas or solar results in fewer CO2 emissions than, say, coal.

Granted, the calculator is targeted at SMBs, so it's conceivable that said targets will come away with at least a better sense of what their carbon footprint looks like -- and can use it as a starting point to reduce its size through better practices.

Forrester Research has also come out with a calculator for measuring your green IT baseline, a term coined by Forrester that represents an annual estimate of the energy consumption, CO2 emissions, and financial costs of operating your IT within and outside of the datacenter.

[ Learn more about calculating your green IT baseline. ]

The calculator has you enter the number of various IT equipment you have at your organizations, from PCs and peripherals to servers and networking equipment, as well as CRAC and lighting in the datacenter. You need to supply the watts per asset used and the number of hours per year each pool of equipment is up and running. You also enter your CO2 emissions and price per kWh. You're then given a chart showing annual CO2 emissions and costs associated with powering your IT gear; it will also measure your PUE and DCIE.

Like the Rackspace calculator, Forrester's isn't comprehensive, but I think it can provide some value for organizations planning to embrace sustainable technology practices at their organizations. Taking some time to calculate the baseline will provide a starting point from which they can work to improve.

Have you found any useful, free online tools for assessing your company's carbon footprint?

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