Please visit to see the new & improved site.
Please visit to see the new & improved site.

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.