Green issues have grabbed boardroom attention, but this has yet to translate into any action in UK IT departments.

Two thirds of UK firms – higher than the US, rest of Europe and Asia — have someone on the board with responsibility for energy and environmental issues, according to an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and IBM survey.

But this high level of commitment hasn’t percolated through to the IT department. Almost half (42%) the UK IT executives surveyed said they did not measure their IT energy use, while a further 9% simply didn’t know their company’s policy. Only 45% of the IT executives had plans put in place to reduce their carbon footprint.

IT’s lack of activity is costing their companies and the environment dearly. According to Graham Whitney, IBM’s leader of climate change and carbon management services, IT in the UK accounts for 4% of the total greenhouse emissions.

It’s vital CIOs act now both to reduce those emissions and help reduce internal costs. At this early stage of us going green, there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit, but as time goes on there will be more of a trade-off. Technology will be the answer to a lot of carbon-related problems, so we need to sort out energy in IT because we’re going to need more IT not less, said Whitney.

This low-hanging fruit includes considering the energy efficiency of new equipment instead of just the price. Survey respondents put reliability as the deciding factor when buying IT equipment (63%), followed by price (32%) and support (30%). Only 12% mentioned energy efficiency.

One reason why IT departments have been slow to react is because CIOs don’t have energy in their budget. Energy costs are usually tied to the property portfolio, so energy savings do not translate directly to budget savings for the CIO, said Whitney.

It’s up to CIOs to put pressure on the board and to highlight the benefits of IT change, while driving home the importance of changing employees’ behaviour.

With centralized data in a data center there’s a relatively small number of people to control and fix problems, but in a distributed environment, with laptops and printers there’s also the issue of changing people’s behavior, said Whitney.

Every printer, laptop, phone charger, or router left on 24/7 is adding to the problem, so companies need to educate their staff.

IBM has come up with a diagnostic tool, The House of Carbon, offering companies a structured approach to identifying their energy efficiency across the business and help them decide what actions to take with their IT, infrastructure, behavior, products and supply chain.

Otherwise what tended to happen was a quick rush to measure carbon output, and then companies think: ‘but now what do we do?’ said Whitney.

IBM estimates that putting a green focus on IT could save a fifth or third of operating expenditure for IT budgets.