Even as the technology sector's carbon footprint is expected to double in the next 12 years, applying tech tools to monitoring energy use, maximizing energy efficiency and reducing the need for travel, shipping and resource use could save businesses billions of dollars and cut overall CO2 emissions, according to a report released today.

The report, "SMART 2020: Enabling the Low Carbon Economy in the Information Age," was developed by The Climate Group in partnership with the Global e-Sustainbility Initiative (GeSI), and looks at how information technology can play a positive role in fighting climate change.

Analysis in the report was conducted by McKinsey & Company, and finds that although the IT sector currently is responsible for about 2 percent of global GHG emissions, and although that figure will grow to nearly double by 2020, the industry overall can put its expertise to use to cut emissions by as much as five times that amount -- 7.8 gigatons of CO2 emissions -- in the same timeframe.

The opportunities to achieve these reductions, the report says, come not only from telework and videoconferencing tools, but also to macro-level applications of IT to four key areas: building design, logistics, electrical grids, and industrial motor systems.

Because buildings are the second largest consumers of power in the world, applying smarter design, management and automation can save significant energy: the report projects savings of 15 percent in North America alone. Savings from incorporating smarter IT into logistics, electrical grids and manufacturing automation could lead to similar-scale reductions.

In order to achieve these goals, The Climate Group and GeSI recommend the SMART framework: Standardize, Monitor, Account, Rethink and Transform. By standardizing protocols to allow smart systems to interact, monitoring carbon emissions rigorously (and linking that monitoring to an accountability framework), optimizing systems for energy efficiency across the board and then distributing those new systems globally, the groups believe that massive, game-changing reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are possible.

The full report is available for download from ClimateBiz; more information about the report and the groups involved in developing it is online at http://smart2020.org.