Australian enterprises are the largest consumers of electricity used for computing but still lag behind when it comes to environmental leadership, according to new research released this week by Springboard Research.
Despite its large carbon footprint, Australia's ICT sector has a tendency to interpret Green IT initiatives as just another cost and process to endure.
The findings were released on the same day the federal government hosted its two-day Greenhouse Challenge Plus conference in Canberra.
Keen to establish partnerships with private industry aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Australian Greenhouse Office, which is part of the Department of the Environment and Water Resources staged the event. More than 700 businesses and industry bodies participated in the Greenhouse Challenge Plus programme including Thiess, the Minerals Council of Australia, Lion Nathan and Yalumba.
It is well supported by the big players such as IBM but there are very few local ICT companies involved in the initiative. One of the few is Australian IT firm, Renewtek, which is the first local technology company to go carbon neutral.
Large enterprises in Australia comprise the largest consumers of electricity used for computing at 41 percent, followed by IT users at 32 percent and small to medium enterprises at 28 percent.
Springboard Research vice president, Bob Hayward, says computing devices have a significantly large and unrecognised carbon footprint.
For example, an average sized server has the same carbon footprint as a mid-sized 4WD taking 17 litres of fuel to travel 100km.
"As companies become more accurate in determining what percentage of energy costs are allocated to the IT department, you will see cost savings will be the key driver of green IT investments," he says.
Springboard estimates that over A$837 million per year is spent on powering computers in Australia, with the overwhelming majority of this spend wasted on systems that are in idle mode.
Hayward says IT vendors are taking steps to make their products more energy efficient, adding that this is an ideal opportunity to educate users without increasing costs.
He predicts more regulations to be introduced in coming years to encourage the adoption of Green IT and more disposal programmes.
"As some vendors provide disposal services for free, the providers that do not and charge users will stand out," Hayward says.
"Server virtualisation is accounts for 30 percent of new product acquisitions in Australia and the installed base is around 15 percent."
Last year the federal government made it mandatory for Australian companies receiving fuel excise credits of more than $3 million to participate in Greenhouse Challenge Plus.
Renewtek chairman, Neil Perry, presented at the conference on ways the ICT industry can reduce its carbon footprint. The company recently received Greenhouse Friendly certification from the federal government.
Perry says its green initiatives along with training and career development programmes had helped the company retain staff.
"This is important because we plan to triple staff and revenues within three years," he added.
Worldwide, Gartner estimates the ICT industry accounts for two percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, a figure equivalent to aviation.
This figure includes the use of PCs, servers, cooling, fixed and mobile telephony, local area networks, telecommunications and printers.
Despite the overall value of IT, Gartner vice president, Simon Mingay, says this figure of two percent is unsustainable.
Mingay says the issue is no longer about whether the enterprise needs to care, and more about the risk associated with doing nothing.
He says pressure will force IT organisations to become greener and IT managers should act now by developing a strategy which measures power consumption and take steps to improve capacity planning.
"Around 50 percent of IT organisations will declare an environmental imperative by 2010," Mingay says.
"Going green is no longer the reserve of a minority doing the right thing; it's becoming an essential activity for all IT leaders."