Forget the rain forest. The Internet is the world's true carbon sink.

The ever-expanding IP network probably eliminates more carbon than it creates, according to Subodh Bapat, the vice president at Sun Microsystems that heads up the company's energy and environmental efforts, speaking at the State of the Clean Green Industry sponsored by the SD Forum today.

Overall, the Internet is probably "carbon negative," he said.

Think about a world without it. "You would have printed a lot more brochures. You would have printed more books. You would have traveled more. You have online shopping," he said. "A lot of stuff has become more efficient."

The carbon benefits of the Internet are important for Sun's business, of course. The more people move online, the more opportunities Sun has to sell servers and storage systems.

But Bapat also said he urges server makers and other people in the IT industry to reach out to regulators. Right now, agencies in the E.U., the U.S. and Japan are putting together regulations for controlling power consumption in data centers. Data centers consume 1.5 percent of the power in the U.S. (and 2.5 percent in Northern California) but it's growing.

The danger is that regulators won't pass effective regulations. In the first version of Energy Star for servers, for instance,  the specifications only concentrate on idle time. That's the same as rating a car's mileage by how it does at a stop sign. Regulators need to look at the way the system performs under different conditions.

"There is a net value here that doesn't necessarily follow from the fact that data centers consume power, t; he said. "The regulators don't understand that there are productivity enhancements because of data centers and servers."

Following the Energy Star rating for servers, there will also be ratings for storage systems and entire data centers.

Energy Star is voluntary, he said. However, government agencies often make Energy Star rating mandatory when it comes to buying equipment. Thus, the "voluntary" regulations become almost mandatory in a practical sense, he said.