European companies who make an effort to go green reap the financial benefit. According to a new survey, green-thinking companies were rewarded with a 2 percent higher profit margin compared to others in the same industry.

"If companies truly go down the path of using sustainability as a differentiator what you tend to find is that they invest in things like telecommuting, telepresence and video conferencing. So, for example, their employee cost tends to be lower," said Vernon Turner, senior vice president, enterprise infrastructure at IDC, who carroed out the research in conjunction with IT services company Atos Origin.

The main driving factor is still lowering energy costs, and not necessarily saving the environment, according to Turner.

"The cost of actually running IT is now very visible. I think two years ago people didn't really understand it. Because the CFO and the facilities people handled that side of the business and the IT folk never really had to be accountable for the amount of energy that either data centers or the IT infrastructure actually cost," said Turner.

Other green IT issues, including low carbon impact and sustainable or renewable products, are nowhere near as important in the mind of IT executives, Turner said. Sixty-eight percent of registrants at IDC's Green IT Forum event in New York, which took place last week, rated energy efficiency as "top of mind" when thinking about green IT, compared to 15 percent for low carbon impact and 14 percent for sustainable or renewable products.

Also, few IT organisations have green IT as a fully funded corporate initiative. An "astounding" 78 percent of registrants said their organisations currently have no budgets in place for green IT and or corporate sustainability initiatives, according to IDC.

If you try to sell green IT as a standalone initiative in a corporation it's not going to get much traction, according to Turner. Instead you have to create business value, because business needs and operational requirements still take precedence over environmental concerns, he said.

The research is based on a survey of 165 senior executives in the manufacturing and retail sectors, according to Atos.