Western Europe is showing the rest of the world the way when it comes to implementing environmentally-sustainable IT. 

Western European members of the European Union (EU) are making the first crucial steps towards embracing environmentally sustainable IT, particularly from a CO2 emissions and legislative point of view and by the end of next year, 50% of mid- to large-sized companies will declare a green imperative as a result of financial, environmental, legislative and risk-related pressures. This compares to less than 20% outside of Western Europe.
Last month, Gartner analysts revealed that ICT accounts for 2% of global CO2 emissions, equivalent to the amount produced by the aviation industry.
"European organisations have reacted more quickly to this threat than their US counterparts and are on the verge of acting accordingly," says Simon Mingay, research vice-president at Gartner. "Climate change and e-waste issues are much more visible in Europe because many national governments have been taking high-profile actions that have changed regulations and customer attitudes.
"In Europe, the environment and climate change are non-divisive issues. In the US, although the trend is clear there remain distinctly polarised views. In addition, business leaders in Europe are beginning to see market opportunities emerging from this debate as organisations seek alternative energy sources."
Gartner analysts looked at how European IT companies are taking the lead in their quest for environmentally sustainable IT and outlined 10 action points to reduce the environmental impact of IT during a press conference at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Barcelona.
Examples of steps already taken by European governments include signing the Kyoto protocol and meeting their targets for carbon emission reductions; creating carbon credit trading programmes for the industries that emit the most carbon and developing the following directives: the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), restriction of hazardous substances (RoHS), European Union¹s energy using products (EuP) and registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals (REACH).
The UK and Scandinavian governments are currently taking a leading on carbon emission reductions globally while Germany is the frontrunner on reducing e-waste.
According to Gartner, many Western European IT organisations are already beginning to think green when it comes to purchasing and predicts that more than 40% will have one or more environmental criteria in their top six buying criteria by the end of 2008.  This will compare to less than 20% of IT organisations outside of Western Europe.
"Despite the relatively high levels of awareness among Western European IT organisations, it is far from a level playing field, with environmental maturity varying vastly from industry to industry," says Mingay. "Among the leading companies in Europe are telecoms organisations, many of whom are already taking steps to reduce their own energy consumption as well as that of their suppliers and customers."
He points out there is strong evidence that European organisations are tackling the first order effects of climate change such as greenhouse gas emissions, e-waste
and the use of hazardous substances.
"The challenge now is to start innovating on the second order which will come from the application of ICT technologies that decrease the need for travel, optimise supply chains from a CO2 perspective and help enterprises reduce the environmental impact of their operations, products or services. There are huge opportunities to make a big difference because of the inefficiencies that currently exist in both the technologies and usage behaviours."
Increasing the efficiency of data centre power and cooling is one of 10 crucial action points Gartner recommends for organisations who are looking to promote environmentally sustainable IT.
Gartner's "10 Crucial Action Points for Greener IT" are:
* Define an environmental policy;
* Start measuring and analysing;
* Green the staff: socialise the green issue and educate your workforce;
* Dare to switch off after hours;
* Begin the journey from always on to always available;
* Improve efficiency of the cooling in the data centre and factor in green design points into new data centre builds;
* Incorporate environmental criteria into procurement decisions;
* Start assessing your vendors – beware the "green wash";
* Create equipment disposal policy, process, control and audit trail; and
* Be aware of global e-waste legislation.
"The bad news is that, regardless of their location, IT organisations and vendors alike need to wake up to the negative impact that the industry is having on the future of our planet," says Mingay. "The good news is that given the current colossal inefficiencies among both vendors and end-users, making a positive difference will be very achievable. We might not see the bio-degradable PC in the near future but we should certainly be working towards power consumption as a standard design criteria and increased worldwide regulation and legislation on hazardous substances and e-waste over the next few years."