Electrical power consumption has become a headline issue in the ‘greener IT’ debate, but this is just the tip of a melting iceberg for an IT industry that is currently unsustainable, according to Gartner.

Steve Prentice, Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst said: “Financial and environmental pressures, compounded by legislative changes and increasing consumer awareness, are combining to force IT vendors and CIOs to take a closer look at the impact ‘green’ will have on their business.

“The IT industry must now look beyond the current power issue and pay greater attention to broader issues, such as limiting carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, using materials from renewable resources, recycling materials and reusing heat from data centres.”

The analyst firm urged CIOs taking a fresh look at lifecycle management within the organisation to identify opportunities to minimise the impact of IT on the environment, at the same time as meeting business objectives.

Most large enterprise IT organisations typically spend in the region of four to eight percent, in some cases 10% of their total IT budgets on energy. But the twin factors of power hungry hardware and rising energy costs could lead to this figure rising by up to four times within five years at the same time as 374 million PCs will be consigned to landfill sites or storage.

Gartner said electrical power needed to run servers is not the only issue. Power is also needed for storage devices, networking controllers, uninterrupted power supplies and air conditioning. A realistic total figure for data centre power consumption is therefore at least double that used on servers alone.

‘Green’ legislation is already forcing IT executives to review and change their environmental responsibilities. For example, the Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive in Europe, due to take effect in January 2007, imposes strict regulations on the way electrical equipment can be disposed. Because the refresh cycle for IT hardware (servers, storage and networking equipment) is getting shorter, users will have to dispose of more equipment in an environmentally friendly manner. Also, the European Union introduced the Restriction of Hazardous Substance (RoHS) directive on 1 July 2006 focuses on hazardous substances, such as mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium contained in some IT components.

Gartner recommends CIOs start by investigating short and long-term options to reduce power consumption and associated carbon emissions in the data centre and client equipment.

“CIOs need to ask suppliers and service providers about their activities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and their broader environmental policies,” said Rakesh Kumar, research vice president at Gartner. “Vendor programmes are emerging that focus on IT environmental issues, and these should be embraced by IT organisations.” For example, vendors such as AMD, IBM, Dell, HP and Sun are sponsoring a new initiative called the ‘Green Grid’, which they hope will become a user group focused on data centre power and cooling issues.

Meike Escherich, principal research analyst at Gartner added: “Disposal has become a producer responsibility. More than 70% of requests for proposals in Europe now include provision for disposal. CIOs need to carefully assess disposal alternatives against corporate tolerance for risk, as data cannot be fully removed from hardware that is destined for reuse, leaving some CIOs with permanent disposal as the only choice.”

“The time is rapidly approaching when CIOs and IT vendors will need to act fundamentally different to meet business, societal and legislative demands for not just environmentally friendly, but sustainable products and services,” said Mr. Prentice. “But right now, the IT Industry should take real steps to position itself as part of the ‘green’ solution. If it does nothing to get its own house in order, it will be seen as part of the problem,” said Prentice.

Check out CIO magazine and website in coming weeks for more on this issue.