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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The 2009 Leadership Conference on Global Corporate Citizenship

I am speaking in New York at the end of January at The 2009 Leadership Conference on Global Corporate Citizenship organized by the Conference Board. I am also on the advisory panel for the event. I have spoken before at Conference Board events and they have always been stimulating for the opportunity to hear from the audience just as much as from the speakers. As an advisory panel member I get a discount code for my friends. If you are reading this - you are my friend (if you want to be). The code is DAI ! Enter it in the appropriate place when you book to receive the discount. And if you attend do let me know afterward what you thought of it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What About the Skeptics - My Blog on GreenBiz

"No one has to tell you climate change is real, but what about the disbelievers? Think they're not important? Think again, says Kevin Moss, who writes on why it's essential not to write off the skeptics." See the full article just posted on

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Accounting for my Energy Usage in Shared Buildings

We are going through a process in the USA to fine tune our energy consumption data and carbon accounting. It is common practice, in buildings with multiple tenants, for energy and other utilities to be bundled in with a commercial real estate leases. Costs for these utilities are allocated on the basis of square footage.

Needless to say this does not provide much incentive for companies to reduce energy usage. The benefit of reductions made by one tenant are shared amongst all and could easily be overwhelmed by increases made by others.

However, I want to include my share of these shared tenancy sites in my energy consumption and carbon footprint. Not only is it the right thing to do, but also, if I don’t include them now, then if in the future I consolidate some of these sites into a single larger and more energy efficient site with separate energy metering my apparent consumption and emissions will increase where in fact they may have decreased.

To assess the energy consumption for those of our sites in this situation I have either to hassle the landlord for sight of the bill and then determine how to split it, or to develop an estimate of KWh per square foot of space from buildings where I do know the consumption and apply it to the square footage of buildings where I do not know the consumption. I have relied mostly on the latter. I have also spoken to counterparts in other companies and I am not the only one having to take this approach.

I am hoping that over time commercial property companies, and especially those companies that have a stated green focus, will move away from this allocated utility practice and towards individual metering. Meanwhile estimating will have to do unless anyone reading this has a better approach to suggest.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Panels are Going Up

In my post Momentum on the Sunny side on October 24th I said I would point out when the tracker panels go up on our solar installation. They are going up as I write. If you are thinking of doing something similar and you want to see how it looks in real life go to our webcam. Hit ‘animation viewer’ and then (if you are reading this post in the week I wrote it) hit the ‘this day’ ‘previous day’ or ‘this week' link to watch the panels go in. Notice that the lot is pretty much empty. Our installation partner EI Solutions, now Suntech, has been great at working round us, but even then, if you are doing a parking lot installation you still need to allow for some days when you have to encourage teleworking or find alternative parking for your staff.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ranking Corporate Sustainability Performance

We have been conditioned to want rankings. It starts with our Apgar score at birth and continues throughout our lives as students, consumers and investors. So of course in the sustainability world we want to see companies ranked according to their sustainability credentials.

But I am skeptical of broadly scoped CSR and sustainability rankings.

Rankings require quantification and quantification requires applicable data to be available consistently and transparently. And then the scores need to be weighted. A broad ‘most sustainable company ranking’ needs to compare the relative importance of diversity, philanthropy, environment, workers rights and a dozen other things.

The correct weightings will vary enormously across countries, across industry sectors and even between companies in the same sector. The quantification underpinning a ranking can appear deceptively scientific. But the final ranking is predominantly determined in a subjective judgment of the weighting accorded to each measure.

Hopefully my skepticism is a healthy one. I fully understand the value of ranking companies as a tool for continual improvement in the general level of sustainability across the business world. And rankings can be more representative within a single industry vertical, or within a single theme such LGBT equality in the workplace as defined by the Corporate Equality Index of the Human Rights Campaign or its UK equivalent the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.

My suggestion for the c-suite exec is that when it comes to ‘best overall company’ rankings, not to worry too much about precise positioning in the ranking. If the criteria and rankings are not transparent don’t pay much heed at all. If they are transparent and they are representative of what is material to your sector then it is worth taking applicable action and striving to improve your position. But focus on what quartile or decile you are in. Don’t worry too much about why you are sixteenth and not fifteenth – the methodology is unlikely to justify that level of granularity.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Why Weren't We at the Top ?

C-suite executives are becoming increasingly interested in how their organization fares in sustainability awards and rankings.

In the last few weeks I have participated in discussions on various rankings and methodologies for assessing the sustainability credentials of a company. The context varies considerably from a closed group of corporations developing a scorecard type methodology for their own use to a media company and investor analyst who work together to publish a yearly ranking. With such a broad scope out there, where should the C-suite and the sustainability team be focusing their attention ?

BT has faired fairly well in these various recognition initiatives. Last Wednesday, November 25th, BT won the ‘Green Award’ at this year’s World Communications Awards (WCA) in London. As I posted in October, Gartner included BT very favorably in a report on the greenest IT vendors worldwide. In September the company won one of Oracle’s 2008 'Empower The Green Enterprise' awards and earlier in that same month was named Global Super Sector Leader for the telecommunications sector of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the eighth year running. This alone illustrates the broad scope of organizations running such initiatives.

The interest in rankings is considerable right now. In speaking with colleagues in other companies, I know that c-suite executives in many companies want to know why their company is sometimes overlooked or further down the rankings than they expected. But even some large companies are finding it hard to resource all the different requests for information required by some of these ranking programs.

The different awards and rankings programs serve different purposes and over the Thanksgiving break I had some time to reflect on the differences. In some forthcoming posts I plan to comment on some thoughts from my involvement.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Time to move from Analysis to Vision

During the North American launch of the SMART 2020:USA report, there was a discussion about why climate change initiatives have taken hold in Europe and Japan but are getting less traction here in the USA. I heard a consensus that this was due to consistently higher oil pricing and a national strategy for energy. But, I think even that answer begs the question of why governments in those countries have been more inclined to create a national energy strategy.

Political reasons have something to do with it, but I would like to add one additional and perhaps more personal observation on European/American contrasts. I think that Europeans (I realize I am generalizing here) are more receptive to having to knuckle down and sacrifice to solve a problem. Americans, in contrast, do better if they can see creative and imaginative ways forward that include a vision for a better future. I have written before about the need for positive visions of a carbon constrained future and feel we need those positive visions now more than ever.

We need to move from a "you're not gonna be able to that" vision (which might have worked somewhat in Europe - aside from the spelling of "gonna") to a "you’re gonna be able to do all this!" vision. We need to capture the imagination of the public with the possibilities and potential for a better lifestyle. Thomas Friedman makes a start on this in Chapter 10 of Hot, Flat and Crowded where he draws an attractive vision of a carbon constrained future.

Corporations are experts at marketing and we now need to grow from analyzing and quantifying and instead expand our focus to include depicting attractive and creative views of what our lives could look like. The government needs a public mandate to act. If we can influence the public in a positive way, we will help build that groundswell for action. Of course there is some fear of being thought to be green washing, so we have to continue to take action on our own footprints and the impact of our products and services. However, we should not forget how good we are at marketing and at helping people see the potential of a brighter rather than duller future.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

SMART 2020: USA Report Released

On June 27th, I wrote a post about a new global report called SMART 2020. The Climate Group and GeSI produced the report. It is the best-quantified comparison yet of the contrast between the global negative and positive impact potential of the ICT sector on carbon emissions. In the interests of full disclosure, Chris Tuppen of BT was on the steering group for this report.

Yesterday, I attended the North American launch of the SMART 2020 report. At the same time, a report called SMART 2020: USA was released. As the name suggests, SMART 2020: USA identifies the USA specific contribution of the ICT sector. I chatted after the meeting to Chris Lloyd, Executive Director of Corporate Responsibility at Verizon. Chris was an active participant in the production of SMART 2020: USA and helped me identify some of the USA specific characteristics of the report. I think it is informative to look at these contrasts.
  • As well as the carbon emissions focus of the global report, the USA report puts equal emphasis on cost savings ($140-240B) and on reduction in oil imports (a 20-36% reduction).
  • Where the global report offers a potential reduction in emissions from application of ICT services of about 15% of global emissions, the USA report identifies a range of between 13% and 22% of business as usual emissions.
  • The global report identifies dematerialization, smart motor systems, smart logistics, smart buildings and smart grids as the five main areas for potential reductions. The USA investigation discovered that 45% of all vehicle miles driven in the world are driven in the USA and so not surprisingly, the emphasis of the conclusions is slightly different and focuses on four areas, smart grid, more efficient road transportation, smart buildings and travel substitution.
In my next post, I will share my perspectives on climate change initiatives in other countries as compared to the USA that were topics of discussion.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Future Business Leaders of America

I am on my way back from the 2008 Net Impact Conference. If you were not one of the lucky 2,400 to have a place at the event, you missed a wonderful forum. And if you were one of the apparently 400 people on the waiting list, try again next year - it is worth it.

During the conference, I facilitated a panel on Quantifying Benefits of Energy Sustainability Initiatives that included Brian Boyd, Vice President, Worldwide Environment, Health and Safety, Johnson & Johnson; Dan Fiorino, Performance Track Program Director, EPA and Eric Israel, Managing Director KPMG LLP. As you might expect, we addressed approaches to making sustainability tangible through quantifying the benefits. Just for interest we compared the carbon footprint reduction targets of the three companies on the panel. We all quantify our emissions but all use different baseline years, different end target years and different decisions on what we include from scope 3 emissions. It is a lesson in the difficulties of comparing, even among three companies which quantify their activities in this area.

The event continues through Saturday. It was inspiring to see the level of engagement of the participants. The audience of Net Impact includes mostly graduate level students, with many executive MBA participants. It was inspiring to see so many committed people from across the country – many traveling in at their own expense. If this level of interest is carried into peoples' values when they are back in the workplace, I am very optimistic about the future for sustainability.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Collaboration and Competition in the Development of Renewable Energy

I have just returned from a meeting for the World Resources Institute Green Power Market Development Group that BT hosted at our headquarters in El Segundo, California.

The group, of which BT is a member, is a collaboration of leading corporations and the World Resources Institute. It is dedicated to building corporate markets for green power. Our goal is to develop corporate markets for 1000 MW of new, cost competitive green power by 2010.

The agenda included a tour of the progress made with BT's solar installation (see the latest here) and a roundtable where members share and learn from each other's experiences and discuss pursuing collaborative projects in the green power space. It was interesting to compare this collaborative approach with the competitive approach presented by the X-Prize Foundation. The Foundation is planning a suite of future prizes in the energy and environment space.

The two approaches are complementary. The collaborative approach of the Green Power Market Development Group lends itself to the development of markets and commercial scaling up of tried and tested technologies. The higher risk, but higher reward competitive approach of the X-Prize will stimulate creativity, out of the box thinking and ultimately the breakthroughs we also need. It will be interesting to watch the initiatives that result from both paths.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Silver Lining to Sustainability

It is instructive and encouraging reading other positive perspectives on the economic crisis outside of the specific issue I have addressed in my blog. Bill Kramer, principal of The Global Challenge Network, LLC, has a post in, “Silver Lining to the Financial Meltdown?” While Bill covers the inevitable toll the downturn will take on vulnerable populations, he also highlights the potential refocus of Asian corporations to regional and domestic markets and the benefits this can have for sustainability initiatives at the bottom of the pyramid.

In a similar vein but at a different scale and on a different continent, Joel Kotkin had an article in the Washington Post, “Turns Out There's Good News on Main St”. Joel writes, “Forced into belt-tightening, Americans are likely to strengthen our family and community ties and to center our lives more closely on the places where we live.” He goes on to illustrate the benefits of what he calls "the new localism” and examines the benefits of such localization.

Having lived here for twelve years, I have learned that it is an innate attribute of Americans to look for the silver lining even in difficult times. Even the Chronicle of Philanthropy had an opinion piece this week titled “Nonprofit World could emerge Stronger from Economic Crisis”. The challenge for companies remains to continue to find the intersections between economic growth and enhanced sustainability.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sustainability on the Road

I have just returned from attending and speaking at the CRO/Sustainpro fall conference in Chicago. Some great speakers were there including Dr. Peter Diamandis, founder of the X-Prize, and T. Boone Pickens. I particularly appreciated that the conveners, Jay Whitehead and Elliot Clark, used a quick fire Q&A approach that kept panelists on their toes and maintained the momentum.

As many of my readers are in the ICT space, I will note that T. Boone Pickens attended by video link. The sound quality was not perfect but I thought his presence on a big screen was superior to him being at a distant podium and more than compensated for the sound issues.

My panel included the sustainability/CSR officers from MacDonald's, IBM, FedEx, Orbitz and Campbell Soup. We addressed broader issues including the impact of the current economic crisis, European/US contrasts, what we hope for from the next administration and where sustainability is going next. I heard consensus around most issues, including that the economic downturn reinforces the importance of sustainability and the need to move our focus more onto the longer term.

On the topic of transatlantic differences, I was asked what might help US companies catch up given the estimate by CRO magazine that they are 3-5 years behind British and European companies in sustainability. I did not fully accept the premise that US companies are behind. On the social sustainability front, there are significantly different approaches, but I would argue that neither is behind nor ahead. On the environmental front, while I agreed UK and European countries were doing things 3-5 years ago that American companies (generalizing) are doing only now, I don’t think that means it takes that long to catch up. I see UK and European companies more likely to accentuate climate change as their rationale for taking action on energy than their counterparts in the USA - which accentuate energy efficiency. As I noted in my post "The Objectives Matter", I think stated reasons for taking action on energy make a difference to the specific actions taken.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What Does the Financial Crisis Mean for Climate Change?

The current financial crisis has clearly taken policy attention and resources away from what might otherwise have been focused on addressing climate change. However, deceleration in spending will probably have a bigger impact in the short term on reducing carbon emissions and other excesses than any other action. But, an either/or situation is not what we need. We need to be able to take sustainability action while continuing to support economic growth.

So how does the global response to the economic downturn indicate possible responses to climate change at this policy level?

I am encouraged by the extent to which the country and the international community has acted cooperatively in response to the current crisis. However, while both the financial downturn and environmental sustainability challenges have global interrelationship in common, they are very different in another way.

The impact of the financial crisis on individuals was pretty immediate and hopefully reversible. There is a strong vision of what an attractive (read; wealthy) future looks like. In contrast, the biggest challenges facing concerted action on energy and climate change is that it is likely to be irreversible and catastrophic by the time the true consequences become readily apparent to the layman. Right now the impact is not really visible to most people and strong visions of an attractive (read; enhanced lifestyle) low carbon future are less apparent so the support for government action is limited.

I think the most important factor is whether the concerted cooperation and action on the financial crisis can be leveraged to overcome this challenge and become a precursor for strong and determined global action on climate change. Or have we just used up a limited supply of cooperative feeling, which together with the remaining financial challenges ahead, will delay the onset of our willingness to tackle climate change. Of course, I hope the former is the case and this crisis will prove to have been the model for what the global community can do by working together. A positive outcome for sustainability.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Gartner’s new green IT vendors report

Both Neal Weinberg at Network World and Larry Dignan at ZDNet have reported BT’s inclusion in a Gartner report on the greenest IT vendors worldwide. The reports are based on Simon Mingay’s presentation at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo. According to Neal’s report, BT scored the highest of any global company. I think global in that context means non-US headquartered as I suspect IBM and HP, to name but a few, consider themselves to be pretty global too. Larry simply names BT as a participating vendor and reports that a number of vendors declined to participate. I don’t think I see any specific pattern looking over the list. The Gartner report is not out yet. But I am hoping to get sight of a copy and will comment on it when I do.

Monday, October 27, 2008

False Economies

Cynics say that corporate sustainability strategies are all very well when times are good. But, they ask, how long will firms continue these policies now that the financial downturn is hitting us harder? Actually, I believe these strategies becomes more, not less important. I've recently written an article on this topic for Read more here.

Also, you may want to check out my previous post, Is the Economic Downturn Good or Bad for Sustainability?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Momentum on the Sunny Side

Much of the recent work has been on foundations, but our solar installation made visible progress above ground level yesterday. Many of the concrete pillars that are going to support the trackers above the parking lot were installed. If you are thinking of doing something similar and you want to see how it looks in real life go to our webcam at Hit ‘animation viewer’ and then (if you are reading this post on October 24th) hit the ‘previous day’ link to watch the columns go in. I will post again when the beams and then the pv’s themselves are installed.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Is the Economic Downturn Good or Bad for Sustainability?

When the economy takes a dive, companies take a serious look at their resources and cut down on non-essential spending. Will sustainability programs be considered as an area to cut back on?

The value of sustainability programs are clear - reduced energy costs, increased productivity and efficiencies. I believe companies that are serious about sustainability will continue, if not step up, their focus. At BT, being green has reduced our energy costs, especially so when it comes to energy efficiency, and increased our energy security – so why wouldn’t we step up our efforts? The corporate customers I work with see the same benefits.

At a more strategic level, it is important to consider the impact this crisis will have on the willingness of shareholders to take a longer term perspective of corporate success. Whether considering social or environmental sustainability, I have always felt that taking only a short term perspective on investment is generally to the detriment of substantive sustainability strategies. Just the term ‘sustainability’ really says it all. I believe long-term sustainability initiatives reap true value for a company and its investors.

So a key question is will this economic downturn will act as a catalyst for investors to take a longer term view that gives more support to sustainable practices in the companies in which they invest? In my mind the jury is out on this one. I welcome your thoughts on the topic.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Energy Efficiency, Energy Security or Climate Change – The Objectives Matter

Common wisdom has it that the environmental sustainability case needs to be presented differently in different regions. It is all a means to the same end. Climate change is a good lead in Europe, but energy security needs to be the lead play in the USA and energy efficiency in China. I agree, but only to a point.

The three objectives have different end games. For climate change it is climate stabilization at safe levels. For energy security it is a level of independence from outside sources. For energy efficiency it has to come down to a cost benefit. I could certainly envisage countries that can achieve energy independence and cost effective energy efficiency without us achieving climate change stabilization – perhaps even the USA. Some say that doesn’t matter in the short term as long as action is being taken, but I think it can make a significant difference to operational decisions too.

The data center manager being guided only by energy efficiency is not going to consider alternative energy sources unless they are significantly less expensive and easier to manage. And if energy prices drop in the short term the main driver for action is removed.

The data center manager being guided only by energy security may not pay due attention to efficiency, but may be willing to pay a premium for alternative on-site sources (low carbon or otherwise) for resiliency of supply.

The data center manager being guided only by a carbon reduction objective may jump straight to renewables (or simply resort to offsets) without paying due attention to energy efficiency.

The most complete response will come from a climate change objective. And the proper response is first to address energy efficiency and then low carbon energy sources. Climate change objectives also demand consideration be given to data center location to ensure low carbon grid energy and take into account the future effects of climate change by avoiding regions where flooding or temperature rise is anticipated.

The CIO and the IT team should be clear on why they are taking action on energy usage as the first step in building their plan.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Week Where Solar was in the Ascendant

From my perspective, last week was a good week for the sun.

We are in the process of picking vendors for a BT Americas employee solar program. As recently as last Wednesday, conversations with the short listed vendors reflected the prevailing view that the expired Investment Tax Credit (ITC) would not be renewed until some time next year. ITC offers residential solar customers an offset against income tax. By Friday morning, the credits were not only renewed, but were significantly expanded as part of the bailout bill signed into law.

Meanwhile, despite the economic situation facing the country, both the key providers in our corporate implementation at our head office in El Segundo were the beneficiaries of major investments. Our integrator, EI Solutions was acquired by Suntech, one of the largest solar panel manufacturers in the world and our finance provider, Solar Power Partners (SPP), announced that it has closed $100M in financing and all this before the ITC extension was announced on Friday morning.

Visible construction began on the installation in our headquarters parking lot (previous work was below ground on the foundations). You can see it here. Select ‘previous week’ in the ‘animation viewer’ to see the supporting pillars going in at the far end of the lot towards the end of the animation.

And closer to home (my home at least), was the annual Metro Washington DC tour of Solar Homes. We are certainly no California, but it was an impressive event with over 50 homes displayed in Maryland, Virginia and DC over two days. I visited a couple of the houses in Virginia where there were dozens of people walking through. Some were clearly dedicated environmentalists, but many regular folks attended who are starting to consider solar for their homes and wanted to see it in practice.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

How Many Mobile Phone Users Does it Take to Power a Light Bulb?

It depends on the screen technology and the type of light bulb.

I spoke at the Green ICT Workshop of the European American Business Council last week. The main theme was how the role of ICT in the environment should inform government policy. It was interesting being in a forum that included both European and American perspectives. Although there are some contrasts in approach, the overwhelming sense was of the common ground of the potential for the industry to help drive energy efficiency and reduce emissions.

In the process, speakers shared some interesting statistics that show how much potential there is for our industry to continually reduce emissions. For example, Jennifer Sanford of Cisco noted that the carbon emissions of a single plane flight are equivalent to 97 telepresence sessions.

What about the mobile phone users to whom I first referred?

Asfaw Negeri from Ericsson said that today’s mobile phones produce about 24kg of CO2 per year – already a significant order of magnitude decrease on older generations of handsets, and forecast to continue decreasing. 24kg CO2 for the year is about the same as driving a mid-sized car for an hour.

Cheryl Schwartzman, speaking for Qualcomm, described one way some of those future reductions might be achieved. Their new Mirasol display screens for mobile phones and hand-held devices consume 1mW to operate, compared with 240 mW for the standard screens that we have on our phones today. Cheryl explained that screens are such a significant part of the drain on displays that the benefits can increase battery life by 30%.

And where do the light bulbs come into it ?

Bill Morin from Applied Materials referred to the potential future energy reductions from LED-based light bulbs, according to the Next-Generation Lighting Industry Alliance. LEDs are anticipated to be twice as efficient as even CFLs.

Loads of potential from known technologies, let alone from what is yet to come.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Why Value the Green IT Market ? It's All About Timing

I am frequently asked what I think the green ICT market is worth. This question has always troubled me.

Market value is determined by the number of potential customers and how much they are prepared to pay. However, a company that holds that catastrophic climate change will occur if emissions are not kept below very challenging thresholds must believe that close to 100% of the market needs to go green to abate those emissions and minimize that risk.

That said, it is a necessary step in business to put a value on a market. At a strategic level, it is a contributing factor towards assessing if that market is a priority compared to others you could serve. At the operational level, it allows you to make determinations on business cases bidding for limited investment money available for individual products and services.

By articulating a green market value smaller than its total market value, a company is accepting that not all customers buy with green criteria taken into account. What troubles me is the implication that it isn’t necessary to plan energy efficiency into all product design right now. From a business perspective, if you make the investment and develop the products and services ahead of their time, you may not gain enough business to cover the investment and so lose money or even go under, albeit in a blaze of moral glory. Someone else copies you a few months later when the market is ready and reaps the benefits as the second mover. If we all leave it too long though, or if the market realizes too late, then we get catastrophic climate change, and we all lose.

This dilemma is reflected in a recent report by The Register - “Dell: We went green too early”.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Floating Data Centers

There are some creative data center ideas floating around. Google has apparently applied for a patent for a “water-based data center” that uses the ocean to provide power and cooling.

Bill St. Arnaud has been arguing for some time in his blog that, rather than bring the electricity from where it is generated to where the data center need is, we should instead bring the data center to where the electricity is generated. The underlying principle is that it is more energy-efficient to transport data over optical networks than to transport energy over power networks, so you minimize the distance you transport the power, and extend the distance you transport the data.

Perhaps we could combine these two ideas and position floating data centers underneath offshore wind turbines.

Of course, we also need to ensure we pay attention to unintended consequences. While discussing the Google floating data center idea recently at a sustainability meeting, I was asked whether data center equipment "buzzed" and, if so, would a floating data center interfere with the communications of whales. As the proposed barges use seawater for cooling, the average temperature around the barge would be higher than that of the surrounding water. Perhaps, someone speculated, that would attract algae and create a coating on the barge which would act as a sound absorber, so the whales would be OK!

Although I have presented these ideas in a light-hearted spirit, I think they, and the subsequent exchange, illustrate both the immense scope of the possibilities ahead of us to reduce emissions if we allow ourselves to think outside of the box. But, also the complex interactions that result, and which need to be taken into account as we move forward.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Global Super Sector Leader

The 2008 results of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index came out on September 6th. BT is the Global Super Sector Leader for the Telecommunications sector of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. For eight years running. And it is a grand sounding title if ever I heard one, per the supporting commentary on BT from the DJSI team.

Criteria for the award cover economic, social and environmental sustainability dimensions. Of the 12 primary criteria, BT was the lead company in the sector on only four, so we cannot rest on our laurels as that leaves 8 criteria where at least one other company in the sector is ahead of us – just not the same company for each criterion.

In fact, I recall from last year that the DJSI commentary mentioned the competition was heating up (my words not theirs) and other players were narrowing our lead. This is all healthy competition, of course, because it means that the industry is forging ahead on sustainability. But, if sustainability is aligned with business benefit (and I believe it is), then it is a competitive advantage, too, and we want to stay ahead of our competitors.

On that note, I don’t see any American headquartered companies in the telecommunications sector. I assume that means they didn’t apply, but I don’t know why that would be. I see plenty in the technology sector including Cisco, Dell, HP, Intel and IBM (Intel is the Super Sector Leader).

I'll be discussing this report and the impact of ICT on the environment on September 24 at the European-American Business Council's Smart Energy Panel on Green ICT in Washington, DC.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Good Carbon Emissions from Starbucks

I just picked up a copy of a carbon emissions leaflet from Starbucks produced by 'Good' magazine. It is the first in a series and is simply a great graphic depiction of the US carbon chain from both the producer and consumer ends. Although you can see it on the web, it is worth dropping by for a copy since it better lends itself to viewing on a large sheet of paper.

This is a strong example of a non-media company using its brand image to inform and influence the wider community on a sustainability topic. Coffee drinkers are invited to follow-up at Starbucks' social networking site. It will be interesting to see what impact it might have on customers who are climate change skeptics.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Computerworld’s Green IT Checklist: Make Room for the Biggest Opportunity

Following on from my previous post, "The IT Green Team – What’s Next?" as one of the finalists in the Computerworld Green IT Awards, BT was included in some of the real life examples in Mary Pratt’s Computerworld report “A green IT checklist: From first steps to stretch goals."

It is a great checklist, which, as the title says, is arranged in categories ranging from low-hanging fruit (limit paper use) through stretch (monitor and manage data center usage) to longer-term (build green). But, I still think it misses the biggest opportunity for the ICT vertical. Direct emissions are important at 2-3% of world emissions but, in order of magnitude, the most material contribution we can make is what I call leveraged, or indirect, emissions reductions. According to SMART 2020 these represent as much as a 15% reduction opportunity in global emissions. (And SMART 2020 is one of the most conservative reports on the topic. Others identify even higher potential for savings).

As much as IT departments should be managing and reducing direct footprint, it must not be at the expense of also thinking more strategically about the contribution their services can bring into their organizations to leverage improvements in the broader energy efficiency of the company. I therefore would have liked to have seen some reference to these included in both the stretch and long-term goals, but it’s a great start and the core premise of the report should be commended.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The IT Green Team – What’s Next ?

There are IT "Green Teams" at every one of our customers, and they are making great headway at tackling such things as vendor selection, virtualization and renewable energy.

Sustainability initiatives launched from central corporate responsibility teams made evident the synergies between sustainability and business opportunity. In response, functional business units picked up the mantle. Thus, we saw the establishment of green teams in IT and also procurement, fleet management, product design, etc.

This allowed the role of the central team to become more strategic, and less operational. It worked particularly quickly in the environmental space, where environmental results require effective action at the operational level.

So where does the IT Green Team go from here?

I think we will see the same evolution continue. As the operational benefits of the IT green team’s direct energy reduction and cost-saving initiatives prove their value to the business, they become business as usual. Energy consumption and emissions will become one of the standard criteria for decision-making for everyone within IT. The IT green team can, in turn, start to think less tactically and more strategically (thin client vs thick client; outsource or outsource data center operations; new IT technologies that will improve the energy efficiency of the core business).

The IT green team should be encouraging this evolution. Push the tactical initiatives out into the business and create some space for strategic planning.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Avoided Emissions are Just Fat-Free Equivalents

I am always suspicious of companies that quote their "emissions avoided" as the primary measure of their environmental achievements, i.e., "If we hadn’t done this or that then our emissions would have been so much worse."

As supplementary information to reduced emissions, avoided emissions can be a valuable measure to help employees, customers and other stakeholders understand the relative contribution of energy reduction activities.

We do this at BT. Our absolute emissions have been reduced from 1.2 M to 0.6M tonnes CO2 since 1996. In fact, last year we avoided 97k tonnes CO2 through our use of teleconferencing and about 50k tonnes through encouraging telecommuting. That helps employees really understand the contribution they are making to the whole, when they avoid traveling for a meeting and attend by teleconference instead – and that understanding is a great motivator. But, what really counts is the 0.6M tonnes CO2 absolute emissions. The avoided number is meaningless without the absolute reduction achieved. So, next time you see a company quote an achievement in terms of "avoided," look for the absolute number and, absent that, don’t give the avoided number any credence.

So, what does that have to do with "fat-free?" It reminds me of the claims I sometimes see on food stating, "95% fat-free." It’s the emissions that count, just like it’s the 5% fat that counts. The 95% avoided, while perhaps technically accurate, only tells half the story!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sunny Side Up

In February, we held the groundbreaking for a 2000 module solar PV installation for our American HQ in El Segundo, Calif. We had some honored guests at the groundbreaking, including HRH Prince Andrew, The Duke of York.

Once completed, the system is expected to generate approximately 917,000 kWh per year and reduce carbon emissions by 642,000 pounds annually, which represents at least 15% of the site’s emissions. You can find more details in the press release .

We have had some delays that I gather impact many building projects, and most of the work since has been on the foundation. so there has been little to see. But now, at last, panels are starting appear on the roof and there is a camera in place monitoring progress.

Click on "animation viewer" and you will see progress from the current day. Even better, select "previous week" in the animation window to see the progress over the past week. I feel like a kid with a new toy!

When the roof is done, the camera will be rotated to cover the parking lot where the tracking panels will be placed. At the moment, the vendor is working on foundation there, so not much to see yet, but I will add the occasional post when there is some especially good progress to share.

Friday, August 29, 2008

BT's Carbon Stabalization Intensity Target

Large corporations can produce long lists of great environmental initiatives and large claims of reduced emissions. Smaller companies have shorter such lists and fewer reduced emissions, but maybe their efforts are proportionately greater – how does one really know?

What really counts is how much a company contributes towards solving the problem. And the test? What would the outcome be if every company did likewise?

In the climate change space, the desired outcome is climate stabilization. From the 2007 Bali Climate Declaration by Scientists, there is pretty good consensus over the maximum allowable level of carbon in the atmosphere and the 50% reduction in absolute emission levels that needs to be achieved to get there.

It is fairly straightforward to calculate what that looks like in relation to anticipated GDP growth. An 80% reduction in global emissions per unit of GDP by 2050 is required - slightly higher for developed countries, slightly lower for developing countries. So, if we can work out our contribution to GDP, corporations should be in a position to work out what it really means to do their part.

BT has started down this path with our recently announced CSI – Carbon Stabilization Intensity target. The intensity is calculated in relation to our "value-added" as a company. Value-added is a measure of a corporation’s contribution to GDP – a published figure in the UK. Consistent with the reduction required from developed countries, our objective is to reduce emissions per unit of value-added by 80% by 2020. If everyone does the same, we should be well on-track for the reductions required.

This changes the paradigm for sustainability from one in which we judge a company’s actions by how long their list of actions or how sizable their emissions avoided, to one in which action can be planned and assessed within the context of solving the larger problem.

Postscript: August 2009 - A report from the CDC The Carbon Chasm highlights that for the most part even leading companies are not doing enough to avert catastrophic climate change.

Postscript: November 2009 - Autodesk has announced a target using a very similar approach called C-FACT - Corporate Finance Approach to Climate-stabilizing Targets. Read a guest post from Autodesk's Emma Stewart on their new target.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rain-Powered Energy ?

In Sensing the Environment with ICT on July 7th, I noted that "We need to look towards the development of very low-cost wireless devices that can be distributed widely, last indefinitely and run independently of the electricity grid". I had sun-powered devices in mind, but it seems that there is a potential complement to this with rain-powered devices. "French scientists have built a piezoelectric material that generates voltage when it is bent by the impact of a raindrop. Large drops can generate enough power to run small outdoor sensors" (Popular Mechanics May 2008). A more scientific description can be found at

Don’t think that this will bring enough power to be an alternative to solar or wind power for large scale energy use. But, if it is enough to support an outdoor sensor, it provides a complementary capability for remote sensing devices to provide monitoring of environmental and other important sustainability criteria. There might be applications to the agricultural industry and oil and gas sector, among others.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Prize for Best Paper on Broadband and Sustainability

It was just brought to my attention that the Telecommunications Society of Australia is running a competition offering a AUD $10,000 (US $8,655.00) prize for the best paper on the application of broadband to a sustainable environment.

Three of last year's four winners focused on the environment, offering papers on (1) Distributed energy services (2) Travel avoidance by commuters and (3) Availability of broadband to rural and remote communities to enable agriculturists to use Landsat, Geo-positioning and Agronomy to better manage the environment. The fourth took a broad look at sustainability, covering social, environmental and economic sustainability. No new topic areas, but some in-depth analysis of the possibilities.

Closing date for this year's entries is October 6th so there is still time for any aspiring applicants. You can read the reports from last year's winners there, too.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sensing the Environment with ICT (Cont'd)

Since I posted ‘Sensing the Environment with ICT’ on July 7th, I have been looking for corporate examples of the application of ICTs to environmental monitoring. I was intending to identify some down-to-earth examples, such as monitoring wastewater flows out of a factory. I am still looking for a good case study.

However, I recently spoke with Dan Thoma, executive vice president of marketing at Iridium Satellite LLC, and learned about a far from down-to-earth example. Iridium is developing a solution that tries to monitor climate and other environmental metrics in a holistic way, without requiring large numbers of sensing devices on the ground and then having to collect information from them. They are planning on including the sensing devices in a network of new satellites so the whole thing is pretty much self-contained: altimeters for measuring wind speed, sea surface height, wave height; radiometers to measure the earth's radiation budget; GPS radiation occultation (not sure I fully understand what that is, but it's such a great word I had to include it!) to measure temperature and humidity and imagers to measure deforestation and desertification. You can find some great visuals and more examples of applications in a presentation they gave as part of an event at the Royal Society.

I am still looking for examples within other industry sectors of using monitoring for environmental benefit. If you have any, please share them.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Becoming a Winner in a Low-Carbon Economy

I don’t know how, but I missed a report that was published in May by the WWF in Sweden and sponsored by HP, "Becoming a Winner in a Low-Carbon Economy - IT solutions that help business and the planet."

Compared to SMART 2020, this report takes a less analytical view of the numbers. For example, it doesn’t try to quantify the total carbon abatement opportunity, but it does a great job of reviewing the current literature and is chock-full of excellent examples (with appealing illustrative graphics to break up the text a bit) of the many ways ICT can make, and is already making, a contribution. Although it is not specifically targeted at companies, if you are looking for a ten-point checklist of ideas, "Becoming a Winner in a Low-Carbon Economy" has it! Try not to print it out though – it’s 109 pages.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

So What is the Market Worth ?

Tony Chan at Green Telecom Live wrote a great review of the report, “Communicating Green: Telecommunications Value in Promoting Environmental Improvement, 2008-2013,” on his blog. The report notes that the telecommunications industry has the potential to abate as much as US$1.2 trillion worth in carbon emissions in the next five years.

I was interested in how the forecasts of "Communicating Green" compare with SMART 2020, about which I wrote on June 27th. SMART 2020 reports that ICT services have the opportunity to abate 7.8 GtCO2 in 2020.

I spoke with Daniel Bauer, program director at Insight Research Corp, and one of the primary researchers and authors of the report. “Communicating Green’ forecasts the opportunity for the ICT industry to abate 9.8 GtCO2 in 2013. This is pretty bold compared with SMART 2020. However, as I identified in my June 27th post, SMART 2020 is one of the more conservative reports so far.

By trying to estimate a market value for green ICT services, this report has certainly moved the ball forward from previous reports. We do need to take market values with a pinch of salt because so much depends on what you include. Case in point, a service that BT provides to a customer that stands on it own two feet commercially, like the wireless devices in vending machines that I wrote about on July 30th. Now, we identify a carbon footprint benefit to that solution, too. Does the whole value of the solution get attributed to the market for green ICT services, some proportion of it, or perhaps none as the solution existed anyway?

That difficulty, though, doesn’t negate the importance of trying to attribute a market value. "Communicating Green" attributes a value by tying a price of carbon to emissions abated. So, whichever way you look at it, as the report from Insight Research Corp. shows, there is a market out there and it is big. That market value represents the cost of carbon to government, corporations and consumers if they don’t take action. So beware any ICT company, or for that matter any IT department, that is not building this into their strategy.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sensing Stock Levels

More on my theme of sensing, but, rather than sensing water levels, this example is about sensing stock levels. It comes from implementation of a wireless-based system that BT implemented for one of our customers, Britvic, a softdrink producer and distributor. Wireless devices were installed in Britvic’s soda machines. Previously, drivers would have to drive around to the machines to check and restock those that required it.

Collecting and processing data from the wireless devices in each machine, Britvic was able to eliminate the journeys to those machines that didn’t need restocking. That reduced the mileage logged by their fleet by 10%. Knowing in advance what stock was required in the machines allowed them to stock their vehicles more efficiently and thereby reduce their loads by 30%. Assuming a mileage reduction of 10% equates to an emissions reduction of 10%, and that 30% reduction in vehicle load equates to an emissions reduction of 10%, we have about a 20% reduction in carbon footprint for the fleet as a whole.

Of course, we also have to consider the emissions of the wireless devices, the network and application hosting and perhaps the screen and computer at the customer’s operations center. But, we only get an allocation of most of these components as they are also being used by other applications. Added together, the footprint of the solution represents only a very small proportion of the emissions saved from a 20% reduction in driven miles.

And, the beauty of a solution like this is that it makes commercial sense even without the emissions reduction benefit -- just in terms of the cost savings and increased revenue from improved vending machine stock levels.

That said, as per my previous post, “RFID: A Double-Edged Sword in Sustainability,” it is always valuable to consider emissions benefits in your solution design, or what seems like a good solution can backfire on you.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

To Host or Not to Host? That is the question

Network-hosted solutions surely offer a reduction in the energy consumption on the users’ premise, but do they reduce overall consumption or do they just move it from the users premise to the carrier’s premise? I just spoke about this with Dean Parker, president and CEO of Callis Communications . Callis is a hosted telephony and managed IP communications service provider serving small and medium-sized businesses throughout America’s Gulf coast region and has tried to quantify the difference.

Callis estimates the energy consumption of an individual premise-based IPT solution at 20-30 amps. A hosted solution removes this consumption from the customer’s premise to the carrier’s and reduces the customer’s direct consumption due to telephony by about 74%. In comparison, a partitioned hosted solution running within Callis’ network operates at 80 amps, but with a capacity of up to 500 customers. Breakeven comes at about 20 customers.

Additionally, moving the IPT phones and the premise switch from independently powered to powered over ethernet reduces the consumption from 12 amps to 3 amps for a 24-phone Cisco system, taking the switch and the handsets into account.

Combining the energy benefits of a hosted solution and power over ethernet and assuming Callis puts 250 customers on their hosted solution, that represents more than an 80% reduction in overall energy consumption, compared to a premise-based, independently powered solution. Sounds good to me and plenty of justification to consider multi-tenanted hosted solutions.

Friday, July 18, 2008

This Year’s Greenest Conferences

We are a little over halfway through the year, and I have spoken on sustainability-related issues at several industry conferences - links to most of these events are noted in the “on the road” section of this site.

Comparing subjectively the extent to which each conference sponsor attempted to mitigate the environmental impact of their event, CERES and Freedom to Connect stand out.

CERES took a comprehensive and sophisticated approach and went to great efforts to work across their vendors, the hotel, transport and catering providers to do so. But, CERES is a devoted sustainability organization, so it should come as no real surprise that they did this so effectively.

In contrast, Freedom to Connect has no specific environmental sustainability mission. The event is organized by David Isenberg and is a meeting of self proclaimed ‘netheads’ engaged with “Internet connectivity and all that it enables…shaped by universal connectivity and the plunging capital requirements of information production…changing many of our fundamental economic and social assumptions.”

However, there was plenty of room on the agenda to cover environmental issues; there was no conference literature at all in hard copy - agenda and all other conference details were provided in soft copy; the conference was connected on the web and so it was possible to attend remotely (the quality of the webcast was poorer than expected, but it was a great first step).

Most importantly, taking up most of a giant screen was a chat session. Attendees had their laptops open and were chatting - reflecting on what the speaker was saying. This provided the potential for an attendee to avoid travel and participate remotely almost as actively as many of the in-person attendees by watching the broadcast and joining in the live chat.

I am sure it helped to have a highly technically literate audience and a limited budget. It certainly left an impression on me of what is possible if we rethink our approach to conferences.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sensing the Environment with ICT

A short program ran on NPR a couple of weeks ago that illustrated the social and economic disadvantages faced by farmers in Ethiopia, unable to get frequent and reliable weather forecasts. The reason – the network of weather sensors is not nearly as granular as is available to forecasters in industrialized nations (West Africa 16 countries, 28 stations, UK 1 country, 31 stations). Common wisdom has it that, as a result, the forecasts are no more reliable than looking out the window. Listen to the report 'Developing countries and weather forecasts’ (it's only 4 minutes).

The World Technology Environment Center produced a report in 2006 called Sensors for Environmental Observatories. It is a comprehensive review of the application of networks and sensing devices to monitor environmental activity from water levels in river beds to pollution. “Sensor networks will produce a revolution in our understanding of the environment by providing observations at temporal and spatial scales that are not currently possible”.

To make more extensive use of these devices both to support farmers in a developing nations and scientists trying to make more sense of climate change patterns, we need to look towards the development of very low cost wireless devices that can be distributed widely, last indefinitely and run independently of the electricity grid. We also need a widely accessible mechanism of networking, that will allow a sensor anywhere to communicate – even if only intermittently. Symbiotic networks is one conceptual solution. If we can receive weather reports from Mars, we must be able to find a way to receive them from Central Africa.

I am exploring a couple of real life solutions for a future post. Please describe any you are aware of.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Do we really need another report on the impact of ICTs on the environment ?

The Climate Group has just published a report on the impact of ICT on the environment called SMART 2020: Enabling the low carbon economy in the information age. In the interests of full disclosure, I should add that while it was produced with BT’s involvement, I was not personally involved. The report quantifies and compares the carbon burden of the ICT industry with the opportunity of ICT services to abate the wider emissions of society.

Past analyses looking at individual services like tele-conferencing or wireless sensor networks, for example, have identified benefits of 50-fold and sometimes even more (eg, carbon emissions of flying compared to emissions of a tele-conference). But these approaches tend to take a micro view and often fail to take into account an allocation of the ICT infrastructure that needs to be in place to enable the particular example. A macro view is far more valuable.

Among the macro level reports, ETNO’s Speed of Light paper covers Europe. It is a pretty simple analysis to understand and identify a 10-fold benefit. ACEEE’s ICTs: The Power of Productivity, produced in February 08, covers the USA and concluded a 6-to 14-fold benefit.

What the SMART 2020 report adds to the picture is a more comprehensive approach and an attempt to tackle the question on a global basis (and so take account of emerging economies). The paper concludes that by 2020, ICT can drive abatement of 15% of global emissions, a 5-fold benefit compared to the calculated emissions burden of the sector.

So, SMART 2020 provides a more conservative view, which I think reflects the global angle. The impact of ICT on emissions remains a very new area with developing consensus on standards, boundaries of ownership, cause and effect. As these areas of understanding develop, our analyses will continue to evolve. I am sure we will see more papers on the topic, and I think they are needed.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Successful Tele-Conferencing Adoption Strategies

I spoke today about implementing successful conferencing adoption strategies as part of a Climate Group webinar (to listen to my segment go to approximately :48 into the webinar). The focus was on ensuring reduction in travel-related emissions, and I came up with the following 10-point checklist of components of a successful strategy based on a range of customer audio, web and video implementations:

Demonstrate ownership and commitment

1) Senior management adoption - through both a senior sponsor and adoption of conferencing by senior management
2) Own badged - have all components of the service badged in your company name to demonstrate ownership

Provide framework for engagement

3) Provide context for engagement and report against it - report emissions avoided in the context of an overall company emissions reduction objective
4) Cap travel or emissions budgets - at least measure, or possibly cap, travel budget and add a carbon charge to internal budgets or set emissions budgets

Educate and communicate

5) Support transition with tutorials on how to set up conferences and how to conduct a successful conference call. Required behaviors are different from face-to-face meetings.
6) Ongoing targeted communication - customized to the user type (non-user, novice, experienced, expert)
7) Expound all the benefits - don’t just rely on emissions reduction; communicate all the benefits - cost reduction, faster decision making, work/life balance, improved productivity

Ensure service is easy to use

8) Reservation-less
9) Non-technical
10) Integrated

Monday, June 23, 2008

Climate Group Webinar on Reducing Business Travel Emissions

I am speaking at a one hour webinar on Reducing Business Travel Emissions being held by The Climate Group this coming Wednesday June 25th at 11:30 EST.

The seminar will cover the findings from the recently published WWF-UK report Traveling Light the latest thinking on short-, middle- and longer-term issues facing business travel and how business travel might change in the future, presented by Paul Tilstone, Institute of Travel Management, Project Icarus; and the technology solutions available to help measure, manage & reduce business travel, presented by Cisco. I will be presenting on how businesses have developed and implemented successful travel management strategies.

This event is open only to members of the Climate Group but, if you mention this blog, there are a few additional places available. Please RSVP to Doreen Reid,, or call +1 510-251-2823.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

NXTcomm - Focus on the Environment

I spoke at NXTcomm 08 yesterday.

The topics at NXTcomm reflect the important trends and issues in the telco sector. Almost exactly one year ago I was due to speak on a panel about sustainability opportunities in the ICT sector at a telecom event in Northern Virginia. It was cancelled due to low registrations. But here we are year later and NXTcomm 08 had a panel in the main conference "Environmental Efficiencies - Thinking Beyond the Bottom Line", a 'Green Village' in the middle of the exhibition hall and a conference with the conference "Communications Goes Green". I see this as a significant step change in recognition in the sector of both the need to act and the business benefits of taking action.

Dawn Bushaus from Telephony Magazine put together a great overview of the state of the industry in a report entitled 'Telecom's Green Future' for the conference's daily news.

I spoke on the main conference panel "Environmental Efficiencies - Thinking Beyond the Bottom Line". The panel included speakers from Eltek Valere, Juniper and Insight Research Company. A common theme was the extent to which industry standards would help ensure apples to apples comparison of the energy efficiency of different products and services. The range of different organizations working on such standards became evident as did the complexity of the industry -- from providers of infrastructure components, software, router and switch providers, network and data center operators through to service providers like BT. It is quite conceivable that different standards would be required at each level.

Friday, June 13, 2008

RFID: A Double-Edged Sword in Sustainability

Implementing a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) solution enables a much greater level of control over a materials distribution operation, but that can be a double-edged sword when it comes to carbon emissions. The trick to success is in defining the correct design criteria up front.

Imagine designing a food distribution solution for a supermarket chain using RFID to manage the delivery of crates of fresh produce. An effective RFID implementation enables enhanced control and management. That permits smaller, more frequent, deliveries, which puts fresher food on the shelves (good for the consumer), in quantities that accurately reflect demand and thus also reduces waste due to spoiled produce (good for sustainability).

The additional control also enables the distributor to manage a larger fleet of smaller vehicles. On a like-for-like basis, I believe that larger vehicles, fully-loaded, are more carbon-efficient per pound of food delivered (please keep me honest on this), so this solution has increased emissions.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way. The secret is to include carbon emissions as a design criteria up front and not leave it as an afterthought. Solutions can be identified that meet both the traditional design criteria of reducing cost and improving service at the same time as addressing sustainability concerns. But only if all criteria are considered up front.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Greener Future for Conferences

Last week, I spoke on the plenary panel of the Green Business Summit of the Wharton DC Club. In response to a question from the audience, keynote speaker Kathleen Matthews, executive vice president for Marriott International, outlined some ideas about the role of the hotel industry in greener conferences of the future.

I am part of a team organizing a conference for the British-American Business Association in Washington, DC, in April 2009, and we have been grappling with the appropriate steps to take to ‘green’ a conference. The steps one can take seem to be overwhelmed by the emissions from the number of people who are going to travel long distances to attend.

One could envisage the conference of the future is not anchored to a single location. Instead, working with a hotel/conferencing organization that has incorporated an appropriate ICT infrastructure, one could offer participants two or three locations from which to attend the event, while preserving the ambiance of a conference. Each location would provide a sophisticated ‘presence’ type solution, consisting of a combination of conferencing and broadcast technologies.

Speakers and attendees alike could pick from whichever was their nearest location. Speakers and audience viewing and hearing each other would be replicated with large, appropriately-placed screens. The technology is fairly straightforward. The success factor is in a well thought-out operating model that makes it no more complex for the conference organizer to run the event than if it were all at a single location.

As an attendee, networking would be ‘in-person’ with people who had chosen to attend in your location. Harder to replicate, although not impossible, would be lining up to speak to a remote panelist privately after their session, and networking with attendees in other locations. But that might be a reasonable compromise for being able to attend the event without having to travel nearly so far.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Why Would you Aspire To a Carbon-Constrained Future?

One of the obstacles for individuals and corporations to taking action on climate change is the negative pictures that have been drawn of a carbon constrained future. Why strive for a future that looks so poor? Might as well enjoy the present.

A number of corporations are trying to address that barrier by painting positive views of what that future might look like – all include the role of ICT in reducing emissions and enhancing lifestyles. BT produced a paper in 2006 called, “What would a genuinely carbon neutral BT look like?” It includes a wonderful image of a grandmother in real time contact with her children and grandchildren halfway around the world through a “video mirror” hanging on the back of her front door.

IBM has also just produced a paper, “A day in a low-carbon life”. It uses the day of a corporate executive in 2012 as the narrative vehicle. ‘Tom’ drives through London much quicker now (so reducing congestion-based emissions) as a result of ICT-enabled congestion reduction initiatives.

And, last week, Duke Energy announced a Smart Grid initiative. It is underpinned with a range of ICT technologies. But rather than focus solely on the technology they have also sketched a picture of a future with better service, less outages, more control for the consumer and improved energy efficiency. It is a great overview of the potential of the Smart Grid.

Drawing rosy pictures of the future is no substitute for taking action and providing ‘here and now’ solutions. But, as an antidote to the resistance to take action and as a catalyst for thinking outside of the box, they should be welcomed and these three initiatives include much of that thinking to inspire new ideas.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Q: What's the difference between an SUV, a server and ten 65 watt light bulbs? A: Apparently nothing when it comes to carbon emissions

In my May 16th post, Server Footprint from SUV to Light Bulb Equivalent in 5 months, I mentioned further exploring the carbon footprint comparison among servers, standard light bulbs and SUVs. Now, here’s my take.

The December 2007 report, An Inefficient Truth, states that “a medium sized server has roughly the same annual carbon footprint as an SUV doing 15 miles per gallon.”
In an apparent amazing leap of improvement in only five months, an EU paper from May 2008, Addressing the Challenge of Energy Efficiency through Information and Communication Technologies, states "the most advanced computer servers consume the same amount of energy as a standard light bulb”.

From an SUV to a single light bulb - almost too good to believe.

The authors of An Inefficient Truth point towards The Carbon Neutral Company as their source for the comparison. The folks at The Carbon Neutral Company reference the Feb 2007 Jonathan Koomey paper, Estimating Total Power Consumption by Servers in the US and the World, which identifies the typical power of a medium sized server as 638 watts (2005). Multiply that wattage by 24 hours, 365 days a year, double it to allow for energy required for cooling and apply an average carbon emissions factor for UK grid electricity 0.52kgCO2/kWh. This is compared with an SUV doing 15,000 miles per year and an emissions factor of 2.33kgCO2/litre for gas and the answers come out at about the same 5.7tCO2/yr.

The comparison sounds reasonable.

But that also means that operating an SUV for a year has the same carbon emissions as ten 65W light bulbs (albeit bulbs that are left on all the time). It doesn't sound as bad to say that a server has the same emissions as ten light bulbs as it does to compare it to an SUV. And it is far more credible to have got from 10 bulbs equivalent energy consumption in 2005 to one bulb equivalent in the most advanced computer servers of today.

For the record, BT uses very high proportions of renewable energy and combined heat and power, we have implemented many innovative cooling mechanisms (including not cooling where appropriate!) and use the most efficient servers wherever possible so our emissions are far lower whether your preference is to compare to the light bulbs or the SUV!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Smart (energy) Grid - Environmental and Social Sustainability Benefits

I attended the Corporate Climate and Energy Summit of the World Resources Institute earlier this week in Washington, DC. I participated in an informative, frank and very upbeat breakout session on the Smart (energy) Grid with speakers from Cisco, SunEdison and GridPoint.

If you have not come across Smart Grid before, the basic technologies enable energy consumption at a user level to be measured and displayed in real time. Users can see how much is being used at any one time and which devices are driving that usage and take action appropriately. It also enables discrete pricing to be established so sophisticated pricing programs can be established to incent energy consumption to move from peak to off-peak times. Large industrial customers can put in place lower tariff interruptible supplies where, by prior agreement, supplies can be ceased during peak times.

This has significant potential carbon emission benefits. Some of the greatest carbon emissions come about when the oldest, least efficient coal fired stations are fired up to meet a couple of hours of peak usage in the middle of a hot day. Cutting those peaks and keeping that old station from being fired up has a disproportionately large benefit on reducing emissions.

If we connect the dots there is a direct link between demand from devices, supply and price. So for example, you could envisage a more sophisticated consumer customer setting the maximum energy prices they are prepared to pay for using the toaster, running the HVAC, running the freezer, etc. When the power provider is approaching a peak, the price is gradually increased until enough devices switch off that the high emissions coal station doesn't have to be fired up. Or, perhaps, we all allow our aircon thermostat automatically run two degrees higher for two hours. It is certainly better than the grid overloading and shutting down completely.

This sophisticated level of management and control also has social impact. Something that is currently seen as a utility to which we pretty much all have basic rights at a common price, becomes auctioned off to the highest bidder. From the other perspective, we have a powerful tool for policy makers to ensure the basic rights of poorer communities to remain thermally comfortable in the summer and winter. Perhaps other usage needs (like powering my plasma TV) go in the luxury category and get 'auctioned' off during peak times.

More granular management and control enables finer tuning in times of limited supply. The creators of the technology are not responsible for how the technology is applied in this regard -- that is a matter for government policy. But it’s great to identify the social sustainability opportunities and promote them as much as we do the environmental sustainability benefits of the technologies that comprise Smart Grid.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Tagging Recycling Bins with RFID Chips

I have heard it said that RFID tags are too expensive for many applications, but apparently they are cost effective for tagging residential recycling bins. As per my mission statement, I am always on the lookout for examples of Information Communications Technology (ICT) services contributing towards environmental sustainability.

One of the benefits of working in the CSR arena in a large corporation is that colleagues send you stuff. One of them did just that - thanks Jim! Jim's trash company, AAA Recycling and Trash Removal Services, in Fairfax County, Virginia, is trialing a service to encourage recycling.

Here is their description of the service:

"Each resident will receive a green 64-gallon wheeled cart, which is equipped with a barcode and radio frequency identification (RFID) chip mounted on the body …Our trucks will be retrofitted to read the RFID chip and weigh the contents of you cart…The amount you recycle will be recorded and converted into RecycleBank Reward Points. Through the web site or via toll free phone access to customer care, these points can be redeemed at hundreds of national and local retailers… .”

It’s an innovative use of technology. We need to be careful of course. We don’t want people ordering more free catalogs in the mail just so they can put more in the recycling for RecycleBank Reward Points. However, if this helps residents ensure they maximize how much of their trash goes in the recycling, I see it as a great contribution of an ICT technology to environmental sustainability.

I am speaking at Front End Innovation in Boston on Monday. I think I have an additional example for my presentation.

More examples of RFID and other residential and consumer applications of ICT in the future.

Server Footprint from SUV to Light Bulb Equivalent in 5 months

The European Commission issued a press release yesterday, “As part of its effort to combat climate change, the European Commission today announced that it would promote the use of ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) to improve energy efficiency throughout the economy, starting with buildings, lighting and the power grid. ICT can enable, across the economy, greener behavior, which would massively cut Europe's carbon footprint if widely deployed. The Commission will encourage the ICT industry to demonstrate leadership in reducing its own CO2 emissions and by identifying and creating solutions that will benefit the whole economy.”

The press release also notes that ”the most advanced computer servers consume the same amount of energy as a standard light bulb.” In the December 2007 report, An Inefficient Truth, it states that "a medium sized server has roughly the same annual carbon footprint as an SUV doing 15 miles per gallon.” From SUV to light bulb is a great efficiency improvement. The sort of order of magnitude of improvement we need to save the planet I think. I will try to get to the bottom of this.

You can read the full release and the 10 page report at the EU web site here.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

How do you know when you are a Sophisticated Sustainability Player?

BT came across an unanticipated conflict a couple of years back between components of our CSR approach. We had commissioned Forum for The Future to conduct a CSR assessment of the impact of our rollout of broadband. Against key dimensions of social sustainability (wellbeing, education, health, etc.) and economic sustainability (digital divide, level playing field for small and medium businesses, etc.) the impact ranged from neutral to positive. But, against the dimension of environmental sustainability they assessed the impact as neutral at best and pretty bad in some cases. This, because broadband had enabled, and to some extent encouraged, our customers to have a slew of equipment that they previously didn’t need and that was ‘always on’. Computers, routers, fancy phones, hubs and modems. You can see the report here.

There are mitigating factors that the report didn’t take into account such as the potential for ICT services to reduce carbon footprint at an order of magnitude significantly greater than the deficit from such services, but lets put those aside for the moment. The report identified an underlying tension between components of our sustainability agenda.

A couple of weeks ago I was speaking with the SVP, Corporate Affairs for Cadbury Americas. There was a bowl of Cadbury chocolate on the table and as a Brit I couldn’t turn down the opportunity of a bite of genuine British made Cadbury chocolate. It was packaged in those dinky little one bite bars (well barely even a bite actually for someone with my appetite for chocolate!). Cadbury Americas has a commitment to a reduction of between 10 and 25% on packaging for different types of product. I asked my counterpart at Cadbury Americas why they didn’t stop making and packaging these smaller bars altogether. (I asked politely of course – they are a customer!). Well, I learned that it is because diet and consumer portion control are a significant component of Cadbury America’s approach to CSR. Hopefully the tension between these two sustainability issues is obvious to the reader. Small bars = good for portion control, larger bars = better for the environment.

Seems to me that it is a sign of a sophisticated approach to sustainability when a company has identified these conflicts and is prepared to discuss and address them internally and externally. Now we need to work out how we balance them correctly. I would be interested in hearing about other such conflicts between different sustainability priorities.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Probably the Worlds Most Environmentally Conscious Telco

IT World Canada has just published an article based on research by Lawrence Surtees, vice-president of communications research and principal analyst at Toronto-based research firm IDC Canada Ltd.

Despite my references below to the complementary comments made by a number of speakers at the CERES Conference on April 30th, Lawrence Surtees describes a different picture when it comes to telcos that I cannot resist highlighting.
"Despite this, North American telcos tend to “lag way behind” European ones in terms of green approaches, and drilling down even further, Canada remains behind the U.S.," he said. "The fact that Canada has abundant hydro is likely a reason carbon footprint reduction is relatively less of a priority," he added.

The U.K.-based company BT PLC – which Surtees described as “probably the world’s most environmentally conscious” telco – has set a goal of deriving more than 60 per cent of electricity from renewable wind energy for all of its U.K.-based operations. It’s a great case of “farsighted thinking and what’s possible today”, thinks Surtees, and it ought to serve as a wake-up call to other telcos especially those in North America.

You can read the whole article here.

Actually Lawrence gives us more credit than we are due. Our wind farms programme is aimed at generating 25 per cent (rather than 60%) of all BT’s energy needs by 2016. That said, it is still the UK’s biggest corporate wind power project outside the energy sector. BT has so far installed eight met masts - meteorological towers that measure the scale and direction of wind to help the planning and deployment of wind farms. They will be in place for up to a year and applications have been submitted for planning permission for many more.

We have reduced our UK carbon footprint by 60% since 1996 and we have an objective to reduce it by 80% by 2016.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Trans-Atlantic Contrasts - Complementary Approaches

Yesterday I spoke at the CERES Conference 2008 in Boston. It was an excellent event. I especially enjoyed a discussion between Andrew Savitz (Triple Bottom Line author), Jeff Swartz (Timberland) and Gary Hirshberg (Stonyfield Farms) that was both entertaining and inspiring.

I spoke on a panel organized jointly between CERES and the British Consulate in Boston. Our topic was the catchy “Operating in a Carbon-constrained Business Environment: US Scenarios, UK lessons”. The panel included Confederation of British Industry (CBI), National Grid, First Climate and University of Massachusetts and was based on responses to the recent CBI climate change task force paper "Climate Change - Everyone's business". I have a pride in what BT and other British companies have achieved in addressing climate change and the panel was made up almost completely of Europeans, however it was notable the extent to which panelists recognized and complemented the contribution of American companies to progress in tackling climate change. In response to a question from the audience on what could be done to make the American Chamber of Commerce and similar organizations as supportive of climate change action as the CBI, Bjorn Fischer of First Climate reminded everyone that carbon emissions trading had been initiated in the USA, and Rhian Chilcott, Director of the Washington Office of the CBI, commented that the focus of American Trade Associations on technology was a welcomed and necessary part of the solution.

I think both continents have a lot to learn from the contrasts. The European emphasis on climate change as the issue and the expectation that we will need to change our behaviors and lifestyles to mitigate. The American emphasis on energy security as the issue and that technology will allow us to tackle the problem while maintaining our lifestyles. As an Brit who has lived in the USA for many years I am sure the right answer will fall somewhere between the two.

You can see a brief summary of the event on the web site of the British Consulate here.