Big business is lining up behind a new lobby group that will call on the government to resolve the environmental impact contradictions between reducing their carbon footprint by 60% and processing and storing more data digitally.
Trewin Restorick, director of environmental consultancy Global Action Plan (GAP) and spokesman for the new Environmental IT Leadership Team (EILT), said government departments are sending contradictory messages. Some want companies to reduce their impact on the environment, but more regulations require firms to do business electronically and to store the data for many years, he said.
"The potential threat of audits and law suits down the line means everyone is storing everything," he said.
The EILT launched today with the release of research into how green the UK IT sector is, and how far green thinking extends into the parent organisation. The initial members include Global Action Plan, Lloyds TSB, John Lewis Partnership, Sony UK, British Medical Association, E.ON UK, CQS, and the University of Cumbria.
Restorick said the ICT sector produces 2% of the world's carbon, about the same as the aviation sector. But it is growing faster.
Chris Gabriel, head of solutions and strategies at systems provider Logicalis, which sponsored GAP's research, said the results showed companies are confused by both government and industry messages. "Users are looking for environmental standards that are consistent and meaningful across the whole range of equipment and activities," he said.
Some users are adopting greener technology such as virtualisation, thin client architectures, and some are putting more work on to mainframes under Linux. But the main driver was to save money rather than carbon, he said.
ICT managers are often personally aware of the issues, but they seldom see their energy bills and so have little insight into the costs of running and cooling their kit. Nor are they usually consulted on corporate carbon-reduction plans, he said.
Restorick and Gabriel said IT suppliers have been slow to respond to global warming. However, the government could speed that with more effective regulation and through its own procurement strategies. "At present, reducing the government's own ICT carbon footprint is not a high priority," they said.