Nutanix Glossary

What is Green Computing?

December 26, 2023 | min

What is green computing?

Green computing, also sometimes referred to as sustainable computing or green IT, is the practice of taking an eco-friendly and energy-efficient approach to an organization’s computing technologies and processes as well as other resources such as physical hardware and equipment. It represents a deliberate focus on sustainability and on decreasing carbon footprints, reducing electronic waste (e-waste), and minimizing environmental impact.

When organizations implement green computing strategies, they not only strive to reduce energy costs and usage, but they also evaluate how computers and other technology is used and how they get recycled.

An organization often moves toward green computing as part of its overall sustainability initiatives—which are typically driven largely by the company’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals.

There are many things an organization can do to make computing and the entire IT ecosystem more sustainable. Green computing practices typically involve at least some of the following:

  • Smart technology – Tools that use AI or machine learning, for example, can help organizations analyze power usage and other metrics, which can then help leaders make informed decisions to improve those metrics.
  • Turning devices off – Something as simple as powering down a computer when it’s not in use, when multiplied by hundreds or thousands of computers across a large enterprise, can make a significant difference in power consumption.
  • Energy-efficient devices – Today’s device manufacturers are savvy about energy efficiency and there are many options for organizations that want to implement “greener” equipment, from laptops to switches to computer chips.
  • Eco-friendly e-waste disposal policies – Green computing includes making sure that electronic equipment is properly disposed of to avoid the negative environmental impact of the many chemicals and other substances in devices such as smartphones and laptops.
  • Green data center practices – Data centers are a major energy consumer for businesses. Fortunately, there are many ways to make data centers and processes more sustainable (which we cover in more detail later).

Green computing forces organizations to take a slightly different view of technology than traditional IT and computing practices from the past. In addition to speed and performance—how a computer is made, what it’s made of, and how it consumes energy are also extremely important factors to consider today.


Carbon and Power Calculator

Why is green computing important?

Green computing is important for several reasons involving environmental impact:

1) human-generated carbon emissions are negatively affecting our atmosphere and climate;

2) the production and disposal of electronic devices requires valuable and sometimes scarce resources and can also negatively affect the planet; and

3) on a global scale, organizations are taking responsibility for their actions and making efforts to mitigate environmental burden.

More organizations than ever are looking at how they can reduce their energy consumption, reduce their impact on the environment,  minimize carbon emissions, and recycle more responsibly to limit hazardous byproducts that can damage ecosystems.While commercial computing practices and data centers have had the reputation of being a part of the problem in the past, if an organization prioritizes sustainable practices and leverages efficiencies that technology can offer,, they could have the potential to reduce their environmental footprint while improving operational effectiveness." Green computing is also important because governments and industries across the globe are making energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions a priority. There are a growing number of regulations today that organizations must comply with to avoid penalties and other negative consequences.

Along with organizations and governments, more consumers now value sustainability and strive to be energy-efficient in their own lives. They value—and often reward—those companies that make a real effort to reduce emissions, recycle responsibly, and use less energy.

Benefits of green computing

  • Reduce energy consumption and emissions – There are many ways organizations can use green computing to use less energy, such as using devices optimized for energy efficiency, powering down devices when not in use, and reducing the amount of hardware needed to run operations.
  • Minimize carbon footprint – With more efficient hardware, organizations don’t need as much equipment to run the business.
  • Decrease waste – Not only does green computing help organizations reduce e-waste such as laptops and computer workstations (by allowing employees to use their own devices for work purposes or reducing the hardware footprint with more efficient servers), it can also help them reduce waste such as printed hard copies of documents by increasing digital applications and capabilities or refurbishing or reusing equipment.
  • Cut costs – Using less energy naturally leads to lower energy costs. Having less hardware to manage and maintain leads to lower IT costs, or at least frees up IT staff to focus on projects that build the business.
  • Ensure compliance – While strictly voluntary for a long time, green computing practices are beginning to be disclosed by legislation more each day. Organizations that take a green computing approach are already well on their way to staying compliant with evolving regulations around energy efficiency, recycling, and sustainability.
  • Boost brand perception and reputation – Customers are increasingly attracted to organizations that take sustainability and energy efficiency seriously. Green computing can help organizations improve their public reputation and attract customers looking for more sustainable options.
  • Attract employees – Like customers who want to buy from a company serious about sustainability, many employees want to work for these companies. Showing your dedication to sustainability can be a real draw for people who prioritize that.

Challenges of green computing

  • Lack of concern – This can be one of the most serious challenges for organizations that want to implement green computing practices. If stakeholders aren’t concerned about global warming or other effects of high carbon emissions, it will be difficult to prioritize and maintain those practices—or even implement them at all.
  • Concerns about cost – Some stakeholders might recognize the value of green computing but have concerns about the cost and effort of replacing legacy equipment and processes with more environmentally friendly versions.
  • Concerns about competitiveness – Many industries are fiercely competitive and stakeholders in organizations that are thriving might take issue with changing up suppliers, hardware, or processes simply to make them more sustainable and energy efficient.
  • Concerns about security – Some stakeholders might balk at replacing existing hardware and changing processes because of how the new solutions will affect data and application security.
  • Lack of expertise – It might be difficult to find partners who have deep expertise in green computing solutions, especially when it comes to renovating a data center. This is a challenge even more when it comes to emerging green technologies that haven’t been in the market for long.
  • Resistance to change – Even if stakeholders and employees across the organization recognize the need for green computing strategies, there can still be a resistance when it comes to actually using the new hardware or following the newly defined processes that are designed to save energy. It can take a lot of change management and education before the new equipment and policies take hold. 

Improving sustainability with virtualization and cloud computing

Two important technologies—virtualization and cloud computing—are excellent tools for cutting energy costs, reducing emissions, and creating a more sustainable organization. Here’s how:


With virtualization, organizations can significantly reduce their hardware footprint by creating multiple virtual machines (VMs) that are hosted by a single physical server. Rather than having a physical server for each workload or operation, one server can run many different workloads or systems. By reducing the need for hardware, you have several servers instead of dozens (or hundreds instead of thousands). This naturally means less energy is required to run those servers. Less cooling is needed to keep them from overheating. With virtualization, an organization immediately becomes more energy efficient, reduces carbon emissions, and cuts energy costs.

Cloud computing

The cloud offers some sustainability benefits for organizations seeking to reduce energy consumption. Like virtualization, cloud computing allows organizations to reduce the number of physical servers in their own data centers. That’s because they can access applications and data remotely through the cloud provider’s servers instead of their own servers. For example, one report found that organizations using Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud services see an 88% reduction in carbon emissions, need about 77% fewer servers on-premises, and use 84% less power.

Some people might wonder, however, if cloud computing simply reduces their organization’s emissions and energy usage while increasing emissions and energy usage in the cloud provider’s data center. It’s a good question, but here’s the good news: While technically yes, the cloud provider’s servers are still consuming energy and creating emissions, the big cloud providers have great motivation (and budgets) to invest in energy-saving solutions and technologies. For instance, the same report mentioned above stated that AWS “has committed to reaching 100% renewable energy usage by 2025.” In fact, AWS is one of more than 450 companies that have signed The Climate Pledge, which means AWS has committed to achieving net-zero carbon by 2040.


Improving Sustainability in Data Centers

Green data centers

The data center is a big source of energy consumption for any organization. Every company, from small startups to large enterprises with tens of thousands of employees across the world, can use up a good portion of their operating budgets—one expert says up to 70%—on housing and maintaining the servers that keep their businesses running.

Today’s data centers are increasingly energy efficient, and they need to be. Not only do they need to power the servers and peripheral equipment that store critical applications, systems, and data, those servers can get hot and need a robust cooling system, which also consumes plenty of power.

Achieving a data center that only minimally impacts the environment can include the following:

  • Reducing hardware footprint as much as possible – Whether through cloud computing, virtualization, or other strategies, the more you can reduce physical equipment in the data center the less energy it will need. It will also require less embodied emissions - or those that are a result of sourcing the materials, manufacturing and shipping IT infrastructure as well as end of life practices.
  • Using energy-efficient servers, lighting, and cooling systems – Make sure the equipment you do have is designed as energy-efficient, from lightbulbs in overhead lighting to the actual server CPUs. Look into solutions that allow you to maximize resources in innovative ways. For instance, some organizations use heat recovery solutions in their data centers. These solutions, such as heat exchangers, capture waste heat from the floor of the data center and transfer it to another system that can benefit from it, rather than letting it simply dissipate into the air.
  • Using strategic layouts or item placement – The layout of your data center and where you put things can make a difference in energy consumption. For instance, separating equipment in different rooms or having “hot” and “cold” aisles, where some equipment needs cooling and some doesn’t, allows you to get the most out of your heating, ventilation, and cooling systems.
  • Find ways to integrate renewable energy – While getting renewable energy to a data center isn’t always straightforward, it can greatly reduce carbon emissions.  Gaining direct access by installing solar, wind or geothermal-powered generators on site might make the most logical sense.  However, data centers look towards purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) in the US, Guarantees of Origin (GO) in Europe or Power Purchase Agreements (PPA’s) which are contractual instruments that can deliver renewable energy and have varying degrees of their own challenges.

Today’s organizations focused on sustainability are increasingly using a number of metrics to benchmark and continually evaluate data center energy efficiency. These metrics include:

  • Power usage effectiveness (PUE), which measures a data center’s energy efficiency in terms of how efficiently it uses input power.
  • Carbon usage effectiveness (CUE), which measures how well a data center uses carbon resources.
  • Water usage effectiveness (WUE), which measures how effectively the data center is using water in relation to energy consumption.
  • Data center infrastructure efficiency (DCiE), which measures overall efficiency in terms of how much power IT equipment is using compared to total power available across the facility.
  • Green energy coefficient (GEC), which measures how much of a data center’s energy is derived from green energy sources.
  • Energy reuse factor (ERF), which measures how much energy a data center reuses compared to total data center energy.

The history of green computing

The concept of green computing first emerged in 1992, when the Energy Star program was launched by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This program set standards for energy efficiency in consumer products such as washing machines, lightbulbs, and refrigerators—and it also led to “sleep mode” for consumer devices as well as computers and servers in the IT industry.

Over the years, “going green” became more popular as news about climate change and global warming grew more urgent. In 2010, U.S. president Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which fed more than $90 billion into U.S. green initiatives. The U.S. Energy Department earmarked $47 million from ARRA to boost energy efficiency specifically in data centers.

In 2013, the Green500 list was created as part of the Top500, which had been ranking supercomputers by a number of metrics since 1993. The Green500 list ranks supercomputers by energy efficiency two times per year, which demonstrates the industry’s awareness of the importance of sustainability and reducing carbon emissions.

Today, green computing, or at least the awareness of it, has become mainstream and organizations are increasingly taking steps to reduce energy consumption and implement sustainable practices. Many regulatory agencies and governments have instituted guidelines and standards across the world for green computing.


Green computing is more critical than ever today, as society moves toward sustainable practices across industries. The way organizations use computing and other IT technologies can go a long way toward reducing the consumption of energy and increasing sustainability to benefit themselves and their communities.

There are many benefits to green computing, such as reduction of costs and regulatory compliance. Stakeholders or employees might present roadblocks with concerns about change, but organizations have many choices for solutions today and can usually find the right tools and technologies to alleviate those concerns if they are committed to sustainability. 

As technologies evolve and more people begin to realize the need for environmental change, the most successful organizations of tomorrow will be those that recognize the value of green computing practices and the positive effects they can have on the planet.

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