Green initiatives might be a wise way to improve energy efficiency and lower costs; they might also be good PR. In either case, however, having a green policy has been optional. Now many business leaders are wondering if that will change as governments, which have waded deep into private enterprise due to the financial crisis, begin to flex their muscles even more and take up the green cause.

At the close of the G20 summit in April, the 20 heads of the leading industrialized countries agreed to make "the best possible use of investment funded by fiscal stimulus programs towards the goal of building a resilient, sustainable, and green recovery....we will make the transition towards clean, innovative, resource efficient, low carbon technologies and infrastructure." In addition, the G20 leaders stated, "We reaffirm our reach agreement at the UN Climate Change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009."

The need to formulate green policies for business and possibly compliance purposes, is starting to sink in among executives. A survey last month of senior data center executives from across Europe conducted by Campos Research for Digital Reality Trust, a wholesale database provider, found that nearly 70 percent were "extremely" or "very concerned" with the potential impact of green regulations on data centers, 60 percent now have green datacenter strategies in place and 55 percent would reject a provider with no green strategy.

Rodney Nelsestuen, senior research director at TowerGroup, and Inci Kaya, an analyst, concur that formalized green policies are coming at companies, and they will soon shape request for proposals (RFP) when companies vet potential outsourcers and other suppliers such as data center providers. "Eventually sustainability policies will be published and audited just like the financials," says Kaya.

Steve Haas, principal for financial services at the Everest Group, predicts that having a defined green IT program will eventually be as expected as having a cultural diversity program. He also says that, given the possibility of government mandates within the next few years, companies should consider how to respond now; specifically, whether to invest and make changes incrementally on their own so they are prepared, or continue business as usual without spending on green initiatives and risk getting "caught up in something incredibly expensive," he says.

Not being green is already starting to seem incredibly expensive though, says Atul Vashistha, CEO of neoIT, an outsourcing consultant, prompting many companies to monitor green processes and to begin creating formalized policies for themselves and potential outsourcers. In ten years, data centers have gone from spending 15 cents of every dollar on power and cooling to 45 cents - and that figure is expected to jump to 70 cents within a few years. Since green practices are largely about efficiency, lower energy use and thus lower cost, "companies are starting to include green in the sourcing process and vendor management."

For now, says Kaya, those that aren't already well down the green path are waiting to see what is decided at Copenhagen in December. The industry should get a much more "granular" look at what the governments expect at that time, she says.

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