Wednesday, 9 September 2009

We're not doomed - Sir Jonathon Porritt

Attended a Fujitsu Executive Discussion Evening last night, entitled ‘Will going green keep you out of the red?’. The headline speaker was Jonathon Porritt, Founder Director, Forum for the Future (previously Chairman, UK Sustainable Development Commission) but Catalina McGregor, Founder and Chair, HMG Green IT Delivery Unit, Cabinet Office and Paul Coby, CIO, British Airways also gave their views.

In a pretty upbeat speech (only 20 mins) Jonathon Porritt's theme was that from initially being sceptical, business is now often leading the fight against climate change, with major corporations such as Wal Mart and DuPont setting an example. And it should be no surprise, given the market opportunities and the business benefits (eco-efficiency, quality management, license to operate, market advantage and sustainable profits) from going green.

Overall, though, managing emissions has had limited success to date, because the cost of CO2 emissions has not been included in business costs. Even now, in the UK there is a range of views as to what the cost should be; EU ETS currently around €14 a tonne, Defra looking for £27, The Treasury suggesting £70 and Stern said it should be greater than £100. When a realistic price for CO2 is reached, (via cap and trade) then business as a whole will adapt and innovate to reduce emissions.

The down side is that what we need to achieve is getting harder. From an initial target of stabilising at 550 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, reduced to 450 ppm at Kyoto, the consensus is rapidly approaching 350 ppm, and we're already above that.

Catalina McGregor talked about the contribution that IT can make in reducing its emissions and what the government is doing. She particularly focused on the issue of full life-cycle emissions (rather than just the energy used in operation) and also the e-waste problem. She showed the Greenpeace video -, described by Greenpeace as a response to Cebit 2008 (anyone who's been to Cebit will understand).

Paul Coby talked about BA's targets as a whole, which are to stabilise emissions at 2005 level by 2020, reduce them by 25% by 2025 and cut them by 50% by 2050. In IT, the plan is to reduce the carbon footprint by 25% by 2011 compared with 2007.

It was all very interesting - Jonathon Porritt is a great speaker and puts everything in perspective. The differing views at the IT level, though, showed where some of the issues are. Both Catalina McGregor and Paul Coby focused very much on reducing the environmental impact of IT, rather than how IT can help the rest of the organisation manage emissions. McGregor's talk followed the UK government's lead in this respect, which is all about procurement, turning off PCs, etc - not much of a lead to industry.

Coby's focus was similar, with only one reference to how IT was contributing to reducing emissions elsewhere in BA. (There were also several references to refreshing the IT infrastructure, which seemed to ignore the life-cycle concerns that McGregor expressed).

Overall the comments confirmed the view that progress in reducing emissions will be slow until legislation kicks in. Even then, not until the cap or tax results in a 'realistic' carbon price (whatever that is) will businesses really make the effort. But it does also seem that until then IT departments are reluctant to emerge from their bunkers and look at what's happening in the rest of the operation, which is very shortsighted. Or maybe they're just not being asked.

© The Green IT Review

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