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IT is becoming central to the way companies tackle corporate sustainability. According to a recent Forrester survey of IT leaders on the subject, 44 percent replied that IT was key in both planning and executing corporate sustainability strategy, said Christopher Mines, senior VP and research director at Forrester.

"It organizations are perfectly positioned to be the exemplar … but also the enabler for the rest of the company to improve the sustainability of operations," Mines said during a keynote address at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s Data Center Efficiency Summit in San Jose, California, Thursday. "It has everything to do with IT. IT can be a catalyst (and) a leader across the entire organization."

Ed Kettler, green IT strategist at HP, said in an interview that the observation made perfect sense, since CIO’s have a more comprehensive visibility into companies’ operations than most other executives. "The CIO’s have the collective knowledge of the company," he said.

As companies realize the centrality of IT to operations, members of IT staff are also increasingly starting to spread out across the rest of the organization, Mines said. "IT is becoming the training ground for business-process leaders who move across the company. We see it over and over again at our client companies."

Mines outlined three basic steps in an IT organization’s path to taking the driver’s seat in corporate sustainability. The first is to get IT’s own house in order;the second is to partner with other business-process leaders;and the third is to take the leadership position.

A key component in getting IT’s house in order is increasing data center energy efficiency. Organizations approach this differently, but the most popular way is virtualization and consolidation. According to Mines, 68 percent of respondents to the Forrester survey had active virtualization and consolidation programs.

Improving energy efficiency of IT is not always a bottom-up process however, with 36 percent of respondents saying they were working on eliminating redundant applications. "If we can reduce the number of applications that our data center is supporting we can reduce the hardware footprint" and the underlying power and cooling infrastructure that supports it, Mines said.

Such a decision usually comes from management levels above the data center, however. Kettler said companies that grow through acquisitions – such as HP – are naturally prone to having redundant applications that are being supported by redundant infrastructure. Eliminating such redundancies requires a wider push from the top. "It requires more business change to accomplish," he said.