Monday, 15 November 2010

Gartner/WWF report on the sustainability efforts of ICT companies

Gartner and WWF Sweden recently completed an assessment of 28 global ICT providers in terms of the environmental aspects of their internal operations and the low-carbon solutions they offer.

Actually, while 28 were invited to participate, only 19 did: Accenture, Alcatel-Lucent, BT, CSC, Cisco, Dell, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Lenovo, Microsoft, SAP, Sun Microsystems (pre the Oracle acquisition), TCS, Verizon, Wipro and Xerox. (The press release doesn’t say who refused, except Oracle).

The survey looked at the companies’ commitment to managing the environmental aspects of their internal operations and their supply chain. It also looked at how they are developing products and services that will help them and their customers reduce their greenhouse gas emissions or increase their energy efficiency.

Simon Mingay, research vice president at Gartner summarised the findings thusly; "We now have a clear group of market makers formed by BT, IBM, Cisco, Ericsson, HP, Fujitsu, and SAP who we believe are beginning to build a distinguishing capability. However, at this stage they have not really taken the issues associated with climate change and sustainability into the core of the business and their strategies, and they continue to deal with it within the mindset of incremental improvement and short-termism."

Selected findings included:

• IBM, Fujitsu, HP, Cisco and BT ranked in the top five positions (I assume in that order)

• SAP, ranked No. 8 overall, did substantially better than any of the other large software and services organisations. ‘SAP has put sustainability at the heart of its communications and closer to its strategy over the last 18 months’.

• Doing less well are Microsoft (13th), Lenovo (17th) and Verizon (19th)

• Fujitsu, ranked No. 2, is the only ICT provider to set a long-term context to its initiatives. Fujitsu has set itself a carbon reduction goal in terms of its impact on its customers versus a target related to their own emissions.

• ICT providers in Asia (not Japan) are still lagging overall, but making some dramatic improvements.

• Inter-industry partnerships are starting to emerge. This is a significant factor in ICT's ability to develop commercially viable solutions for a low-carbon economy.

"We were surprised at the lack of disruptive innovation, with the majority of responses essentially focused on the incremental 'client-driven' development," said Dennis Pamlin, co-author and independent consultant working for WWF Sweden on this project. "If the ICT industry is to deliver on its promise of making a significant contribution to enabling a transformation to a low-carbon economy it is going to require substantially more than marginal incrementalism."


I don’t think there’ anything particularly new here, although the detail in the report might be more interesting (for instance, who else refused to participate?). In any assessment of the top five ‘green’ ICT companies you would expect to see IBM, Fujitsu and BT, and probably Cisco.

There certainly has been ‘short-termism’ in the industry, though, and the software companies have been more guilty than the hardware players. That’s more to do with the nature of their businesses. ICT equipment uses power, so there’s an easy target for vendors to address – make the hardware more energy efficient. For software companies the savings are less obvious. Two or three years ago I sat in various rooms with representative of major software companies who pretty much denied that they generated any CO2 emissions worth talking about.

That may have changed, but they still see limited responsibility towards their customers in terms of environmental solutions. They’ve been reactive – responding to customer demands - rather than proactive, which is why, in my opinion, the ‘enabling’ part of green ICT, i.e. helping the rest of the business to reduce emissions, has been so slow. By now I expected to be reporting and commenting on a whole range of new and modified solutions aimed at making businesses more energy efficient, but it just hasn’t happened.

One last word on the ‘inter-industry partnerships’ mentioned above. There is going to be some interesting developments in this space in the coming years, particularly in relation to data centres. Companies and products are going to have to work very closely together to produce the sort of comprehensive energy monitoring and management solutions that users will be demanding. That’s going to be a challenge when you have a spectrum of vendors involved ranging, for example, from VMware at one end to Schneider Electric at the other.

Interesting times.

© The Green IT Review

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