Thursday, 5 March 2009

Greenpeace's Green IT Challenge

Greenpeace has launched an 'IT Climate Leadership Challenge' aimed at getting IT industry CEOs to provide solutions to the threat of global warming and turn it into a business opportunity. The challenge has been addressed at the CEOs of Cisco, Dell, Fujitsu, Google, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Nokia, Panasonic, Sharp, Sony, Sun Microsystems and Toshiba.

At the end of this year world leaders will meet in Copenhagen to decide on the follow up to the Kyoto Protocol. With that in mind, Greenpeace is challenging the companies' CEOs to:

* Demonstrate their support for a strong Kyoto deal
* Lobby their governments to support strong global mandatory Kyoto regulation
* Significantly cut their own companies' absolute emissions
* Ensure a large scale increase in their companies' own use of renewable energy

To be fair, it's clear that a lot of IT companies are reducing their carbon emissions and many are turning to renewable energy (see the post on Dell on Monday). I guess many would also voice support for a strong agreement in Copenhagen, in general terms.

But the Greenpeace challenge seems to go further. The organisation points out that "there are many powerful industrial groups lobbying against global regulation and the world's climate now needs champions more than ever". But when it gets down to specifics it becomes a problem for IT companies, for two reasons. Firstly, the don't really see it as their role to adopt a stance on an issue outside of the remit of the business. In my experience if the subject comes up in conversations with senior managers (at least those not directly involved in green IT issues) there is often a dismissive laugh and a slight embarrassment about being seen as tree huggers.

More significantly, lobbying is seen as taking sides, which has the potential to deter some potential customers. If you express reservations about excessive air travel you may lose an air industry account. If you promote renewable energy your gas client may go elsewhere.

It is a real concern for IT suppliers, but I think it's a misguided one. Climate change is an issue that will progressively reach into all aspects of society and business. Companies will eventually have to express strong views, if for no other reason than the fact that customers and shareholders will force them to. Those that move early to adopt a moral stand (as companies in other industries are starting to do) will reap the benefits in the longer term.

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