The trouble with green computing initiatives is that it's often hard to separate marketing from reality. While most people would like to think recent efforts by the world's biggest IT firms to ‘go green' have been inspired by a burning desire to save the planet, a cynic would suggest an ulterior motive.

That's because there's real marketing value in what's known as ‘corporate social responsibility'. If companies don't promote their green credentials they'll miss out on plenty of opportunities to tell the world that they're ethically sound participants in what's become a hot trend over the past couple of years.

Even worse, they could get singled out by Greenpeace as eco-laggards and risk being attacked for dragging their feet in the so-called green revolution. Apple was the number-one target for the environmental campaign group's criticism when it started publishing its green electronics rankings in 2006 and the public shaming appears to have worked. The Mac maker has redoubled its efforts to focus on the environmental agenda this year and was praised in the summer for beginning to tackle the problem. Greenpeace claims it's persuaded other IT giants to put environmental issues first too, insisting that well-known companies around the globe have “risen to the competitive challenge” and are now vying for the “top green spot” for low e-waste.

But it's not just the fear of negative PR that's inspired companies to take action - many are turning the process around and gaining marketing benefits from touting their eco-crusading. That's why we're all aware of the efforts being made by the great and good of the IT industry. Intel and AMD talk up low-power chips, HP and IBM tell us of their efforts to go green in the datacentre, PC World has launched a wooden PC and Fujitsu Siemens has developed a laptop with a biodegradable chassis. Plus, Dell is picking up old PCs left, right and centre to make sure they're disposed of in an environmentally friendly way, while the WEEE Directive has forced IT suppliers to make sure they're playing their part.

And it's not just the IT industry that's spotted the potential PR benefits of going green. Multinational companies in various industries are planting thousands of trees under the premise that this will offset their carbon footprint, while their CEOs are taking fewer flights to the other side of the world for those half-an-hour breakfast briefings. Everyone has to be seen to be doing something and, if you believe the press releases, these companies are providing the solution to the environmental burden, rather than creating the problem.

What can you do?

However, it's difficult for the humble end user to measure the benefits of these schemes. While every attempt to protect the environment should be applauded, it's fair to say that most of these high-profile efforts are so far removed from us that it's difficult for any individual who's even remotely interested in ‘being green' to take comfort from them. But you can make sure you're doing your bit, and increasingly that means taking a proactive approach.

This month we've put together a guide to help you. By following the simple advice in our feature, you can decrease your PC's power demands, ensure your old IT equipment doesn't get sent to landfill and ultimately make sure you're following best practice when it comes to your use of computers. Then, every time a high-profile green effort is announced on the other side of the world, you can be sure you're doing your bit, too.