Public sector CIOs are being urged to take a leadership position with regard to green IT, despite the disorganised state of the UK government’s green IT policies.

As the issues surrounding green IT become ever more political, analyst house Gartner is predicting that by 2010, environmental-related issues will be among the top five IT management concerns for more than 50 percent of state and local government organisations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), as well as in North America and Australia.

This view was reinforced by Gartner vice president Andrea Di Maio, who said that although green IT is an important theme for many industries, government organisations will be more exposed to it as they play key roles in regulating and supervising the environmental impact of IT.

"IT is at once a contributor to environmental problems and part of many solutions," Di Maio added. "Governments will need to deal with both aspects at the same time as green IT leads to new IT investments as well as changes in the way that IT spending is assessed and managed."

However he appears to acknowledge the increasingly cynical nature of the political debate surrounding green IT. "Just as businesses in many industries are increasingly using environmental pro-activeness as a marketing tool, governments can also earn political capital by appearing environment-conscious," Di Maio said.

Yet he believes that governments are starting to take green issues in general seriously, saying that many governments - especially at local levels - are already investigating and engaging in IT-intensive projects that aim to reduce air and water pollution. Examples include environmental monitoring, congestion charge programmes, and fleet management systems, among others.

Looking forward, Gartner foresees that green IT will affect many aspects of IT management and operations. "The move towards greater consolidation and the use of shared services in government is already happening as a consequence of cost pressures," said Di Maio. He points out that centralised datacentres and networks are likely to be better managed from an environmental impact perspective, by the use of virtualisation, better utilisation and capacity management."

Indeed, Gartner is not the only analyst house pointing out the environmental benefits of new technologies such as virtualisation.

"Consolidation of IT procurement will also ease the selection of vendors that meet green IT requirements and better manage equipment disposal in compliance with relevant regulations," he added.

Gartner also believes that the case for open source will be strengthened as government organisations look to use less powerful machines and that the objective of reducing energy consumption and procuring devices with a lower environmental impact will encourage the use of thin client architectures.

Looking forward, Di Maio added that increasingly, environmental impact, energy consumption and compliance with green IT policies will become significant decision-making criteria for IT investment, and in geographies and governments where green issues are top concerns.

It was only last week, that the UK cabinet office minister Gillian Merron said that public sector computer systems need to become greener and more efficient. Echoing the Gartner call, the minister called on the UK Chief Information Officer’s council to reduce the carbon footprint of government computers and improve the sustainability of public sector IT.