Green computing has traditionally featured fairly low down the priority list for people in the market for a new computer. Typically, price, performance, brand name and the cool factor have all ranked above helping to save the planet.

Having said that, green computing has slipped onto the agenda over the last 18 months or so. Well, some agendas, at least. Greenpeace released its Guide to Greener Electronics in 2010, a report which examined every environmental aspect of computers – from chemicals management and recycled plastic to energy efficiency and carbon footprints.

Is cloud computing greener?

It’s perhaps the emergence of cloud computing which has done more than anything to put green computing in people’s minds. The theory is that the cloud – which replaces inefficient desktop computers with centralised servers which you access online – is greener.

And there’s evidence to back it up. A study commissioned by Microsoft estimated that companies could cut their carbon emissions by 30% if they switched to the cloud.

It makes sense: most business computers are woefully underutilised. Not only do they sit switched on and idle when you’re having lunch or in a meeting, but even when you’re using your PC, it’s probably only actively using a fraction of the available processing power. The rest is wasted.

Contrast that with the best cloud computing systems. These make processing power available when required from a central pool. They automatically power servers up and down depending on the demand, meaning less processing power goes unused.

And that ensures a far greater proportion of the electricity going into the system is being put to productive use. In terms of not wasting electricity, cloud computing – as long as it’s used properly – can definitely be more efficient.

It’s about lower bills too

If you ask most businesses if they want to be greener, the answer is ‘yes’. But once they realise that greener, more efficient computing tends to go hand-in-hand with reduced costs (because greener IT uses less electricity), it’s clear that every company should consider more efficient IT.

It won’t just help reduce the impact on the environment – it’ll reduce the impact on your bottom line too.

But there’s one big caveat to that. Switching to cloud computing will only lead to big energy savings if you also replace the desktop computers in your business with slimmed down, energy efficient alternatives.

The idea of cloud computing is that less work is done by the computers, and that more is done by central servers. So if you don’t change your computers, even more of their processing power will go to waste.