Business IT use accounts for 2% of global carbon emissions, equivalent to the aviation industry, according to analyst firm Gartner.

By the end of 2007, most large enterprises will have some public statement addressing their carbon contribution, said Mark Raskino in a keynote session at the Gartner CIO Summit 2007 in Barcelona.

Environmental sustainability concerns have rapidly risen to become a strategic issue that CIOs must grapple, according to Raskino. Currently, the IT industry is seen as “part of the problem, not part of the solution”, and “must get its own house in order” to reduce carbon emissions, he said.

“In most enterprises, such as banking that relies heavily on technology, the IT operations represent the biggest environmental impact. So it will fall under the remit of the CIO to handle this issue,” he said.

Information and communications technology in use in businesses today – including PCs and monitors, servers and cooling, fixed line telecoms, mobile telecoms, local area networks and printers – accounts for two percent of the entire global carbon emissions, according to Gartner. This is equivalent to the carbon emissions of the entire aviation industry. However, the percentage does not include the manufacture or disposal of equipment.

“Climate change, whether it’s real or just a widespread perception, is a strategic discontinuity to which enterprises, their IT organisations and IT vendors must respond. But the issue will move beyond climate change to improved environmental sustainability,” said Raskino.

Despite the issues growing importance, only five delegates attended a peer exchange workshop dedicated to Green technology. Simon Mingay, a research vice president in Gartner Research who ran the workshop, said the delegates were “a small but motivated group”.

“The two biggest drivers to look at environmental impact of IT operations were: to cut costs by reducing electricity usage; and to improve green technology as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda, so it’s a financial and risk driven motivation,” said Mingay. While there is an ethical dimension to the debate, most CIOs are not going to address environmental concerns if it costs money, he added.

“The IT department does not necessarily associate with the ‘green values’ that the parent company or the chief executive espouses. It is irregular to their duties. Despite media coverage, there is a lack of action in IT departments,” Mingay said.

Raskino urged CIOs to take the lead and move the debate beyond “green IT” and power consumption to tackle the much more challenging issue of “sustainable IT” and “sustainable business”.

“Both vendors and CIOs need to review policies and practices to reflect changing views and to focus on improving environmental sustainability,” he said. Raskino advised CIOs to set targets for IT’s contribution to electrical efficiency, recycling, travel reduction and equipment life cycle management. CIOs should also add environmental sustainability to selection criteria for equipment, services and vendors.

Since the start of 2007 many big name enterprises have already announced carbon reduction or carbon neutral targets, including Marks & Spencer, News Corp, Barclays and Google.