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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.