UK businesses are demanding clear cost benefits from their green IT initiatives, according to Forrester.

The pressure is on as 86 per cent of IT executives press ahead with their green plans, Forrester and events firm Tech Touchstone found.

Most of the work involved changes in datacentres and desktop environments, they said, in their 'Forrester and Tech:Touchstone Events 2009 green IT UK report' following a survey of delegates at the Green IT Conference and Exhibition in London in May.

Half of businesses wanted green IT investments to slash their energy consumption, and four in 10 wanted to extend the life of their technology.

A telecoms IT executive who was interviewed for the report stated: “Costs speak to our management. At this point, any requests for funding of green IT activities must first be supported by a business case that examines costs and the comparative return on that investment.”

A number of firms said they could extract funds for green IT projects from their corporate social responsibility budgets. One quarter of those surveyed said green IT played a part in achieving their CSR goals.

“We had a server virtualisation project that was stalled due to funding,” said a chief information officer at a large food retailer. “We approached our corporate CSR team once we heard they had resources available for projects with demonstrable green outcomes, specifically energy efficiency and carbon emission reduction.

“Based on the project’s green benefits — it would significantly improve the organisation’s carbon footprint by removing power-hungry servers from the datacentre — we were able to secure funding and appreciably accelerate the project's timeline.”

Forty three per cent of British businesses are already executing a green IT action plan, with a similar proportion devising such a scheme for the future.

Datacentres and desktop environments were key areas of focus for UK firms. Some 85 per cent have server virtualisation schemes in place, with 82 per cent exploring more efficient cooling. Half of businesses were exploring the implementation of thin clients, and 21 per cent had already implemented the technology.

Recycling and waste disposal were also key initiatives among many firms in the UK, motivated by a changing culture and regulatory environment. Over nine in 10 businesses have desktop disposal and recycling policies in place, partly because UK firms are required to have documented proof of appropriate IT asset disposal.

The impending Carbon Reduction Commitment, which comes into effect next year, was motivating some change. Nine per cent of firms wanted to be ahead of it and other green regulations.

But the report noted that the focus on cost cutting “can be extreme”, and that was an imbalance with too much focus on quick wins such as cutting energy bills.

Douglas Washburn, analyst at Forrester and co-author of the report, advised businesses to devise a list of operational priorities in which green IT is fully embedded, to make sure both green and overall business goals are achieved.

“Businesses need to look at this in a sophisticated and robust way,” he told CIO sister title Computerworld UK. “They’ve got to look beyond energy savings and datacentres and understand the overall business issues.”

They needed to start with free or low cost initiatives, such as switching PCs off at night, double sided printing and not over-cooling their datacentres. After this, it said, they could invest in change such as power management software, and the purchase of energy efficient equipment.

“Too often, firms start with the expensive options before solving the basics,” said Washburn.

Businesses also must balance the need for efficiency improvement with the requirement on technology to be reliable, he said. “Overzealous” datacentre and desktop greening “can put operations at risk if it compromises performance or reliability,” he added.

Lastly, green IT managers should become comfortable “speaking the language of C-level executives”, he suggested. This meant they would be able to place their IT plans in the context of other green strategies, such as fleet fuel efficiency, green product design and remote working.