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Using Sustainability as a driver for competitive advantage

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I saw an interesting piece on the Guardian's Sustainable Business website the other day all about the concept of 'embedded sustainability' being used as a driver for competitive advantage.

The article based on a new book argues that that the incorporation of environmental, health and social values into core business activities (with no trade-offs in price or quality) is the answer for enduring profit and growth.

It adds that such embedded sustainability makes sense, leading to organisations having a "more decentralised handle on efficiency in its broadest sense, an in-depth awareness of environmental and social trends and related risks and opportunities, and may even lead to innovation and experimentation that encompass more bottom-line benefits." Moreover, it goes on, embedded sustainability offers employees and stakeholders new opportunities to find meaning in organisational life.

Worth a read.

Greenpeace challenges the Cloud industry on the environment

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Interesting report from Greenpeace on what it describes as "the energy choices that power Cloud Computing."

"How dirty is your data?" is claimed by Greenpeace to be the first ever report on the energy choices made by IT companies including Akamai, (Amazon Web Services), Apple, Facebook, Google, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo, and it says, highlights the need for greater transparency from global IT brands on the energy and carbon footprint of their Internet infrastructure.

In its highlights from the report, Greenpeace suggests:

·         The $1 Billion (USD) Apple iData Center in North Carolina, expected to open this spring, will consume as much as 100 MW of electricity, equivalent to the electricity usage of approximately 80,000 homes in the U.S. or over a quarter million in the E.U.. The surrounding energy grid has less than 5 percent clean energy, with the remaining 95 percent coming from dirty, dangerous sources like coal and nuclear.

·         Both Yahoo! and Google seem to understand the importance of a renewable energy supply, with Yahoo! siting most of its data centres near sources of renewable energy, and Google is directly signing power purchasing agreements for renewable energy and investing in solar and wind energy projects in many US states as well as Germany. Their models should be employed and improved upon by other Internet ("cloud computing") companies.

·         Facebook, one of the fastest growing and most popular destinations on the web, is unfortunately on track to be the most dependent cloud computing companies on coal powered electricity with over 53 percent of  its facilities estimated to rely on coal to power the Facebook cloud.

In its executive summary, Greenpeace says:

"Information Technology (IT) is disruptive. Largely for the better, IT has disrupted the way we travel, communicate, conduct business, produce, socialise and manage our homes and lives. This disruptive ability has the potential to reduce our dependence on dirty energy and make society cleaner, more efficient and powered renewably. But as we applaud the positive, visible impacts and measurable, game-changing potential of IT, we also need to pay attention to what's behind the curtain.


The 'Cloud' is IT's biggest innovation and disruption. Cloud computing is converting our work, finances, health and relationships into invisible data, centralised in out-of-the-way

storage facilities or data centres. This report seeks to answer an important question about this trend, currently underway across the globe: As Cloud technology disrupts our lives in many positive ways, are the companies that are changing everything failing to address their own growing environmental footprint?"


Key learnings from the report are that:


•Data centres to house the explosion of virtual information

currently consume 1.5-2% of all global electricity; this is growing

at a rate of 12% a year.


•The IT industry points to cloud computing as the new, green

model for our IT infrastructure needs, but few companies provide

data that would allow us to objectively evaluate these claims.


•The technologies of the 21st century are still largely powered by

the dirty coal power of the past, with over half of the companies

rated herein relying on coal for between 50% and 80% of their

energy needs.


•IT innovations have the potential to cut greenhouse gas

emissions across all sectors of the economy, but IT's own

growing demand for dirty energy remains largely unaddressed by

the world's biggest IT brands.


•There is a lack of transparency across the industry about IT's own

greenhouse gas footprint and a need to open up the books on its

energy footprint.


•In emerging markets, where there is limited reliable grid electricity,

there is a tremendous opportunity for telecom operators to show

leadership by investing in renewable energy, but many are relying

on heavily polluting diesel generators to fuel their growth.


•Data centre clusters (Google, Facebook, Apple) are cropping up

in places like North Carolina and the US Midwest, where cheap

and dirty coal-powered electricity is abundant.


•IT companies are failing to prioritise access to clean and

renewable energy in their infrastructure siting decisions.


•Of the 10 brands graded, Akamai, a global content distribution

network, earned top-of-the-class recognition for transparency;

Yahoo! had the strongest infrastructure siting policy; Google &

IBM demonstrated the most comprehensive overall approach to

reduce its carbon footprint to date.


•Across the board, IT companies have thus far failed to commit to

clean energy in the same way they are embracing energy

efficiency, which is holding the sector back from being truly









Greening the Government's new ICT strategy

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The government's new ICT strategy has generated plenty of comment, notably in Computer Weekly and by Socitm in the Guardian discussing the perceived lack of local government focus in the strategy.

Another key ares of interest is in the government's approach to Green IT encompassed by the strategy.

There are three areas specifically covered in the strategy: green ICT standards, a greening government ICT approach, and data centre reductions. The relevant paragraphs in the ICT plan say the following:

  • Green ICT standards that are pivotal to the delivery of improved cost efficiencies will also be factored into the design, delivery and disposal of ICT solutions


  • The Government will publish a Greening Government ICT strategy in line with the Government ICT Strategy and wider carbon reduction policies. This will set out how government will achieve reductions in operational costs and carbon footprints, and will include the use of collaboration and mobile working technologies


  • To reduce the cost and carbon footprint of government ICT, the Government will set up a programme to reduce the cost of data centres across the estate, leading to a 35% reduction in costs over five years

China: potentially a leader in Cleantech?

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I've written here before on the rise of China as a green power. With this in mind, there's an interesting piece on the Tomorrow Today blog about China going green. By the end of the decade, asserts the blog, China will be the greenest nation in the world.

It is investing in a wide array of technologies, from novel power-transmission lines to advanced vehicle engines and batteries for electric cars. (though there's not much evidence yet, it appears, of a groundbreaking approach to 'Green IT'.) The piece, originally from Newsweek, is worth a read.

Green IT officer: a must have position in China

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There has been a lot of blog comment about this article in the Economist, which suggests that there are growing numbers of Chinese graduates aspiring to join China's massive bureaucracy.

As the article says, the pay isn't great, but is offset by job security and good welfare benefits. The competition, however, is fierce. This year there were 16,000 jobs on offer, one for every 64 test-takers.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is that there were nearly 5,000 applications for the most sought-after post, that of "energy conservation and technology equipment officer". In other words, someone looking after Green IT.

That's a refreshing outlook. Would that we had the same clamour to do the job here.

That reminded me of a survey which came out a few months ago by the Green IT specialist Externus which revealed that responsibility for implementing green measures in businesses is being taken-on by staff in a variety of different positions.

The majority of the UK professionals surveyed (34%) reported that, in their organisations, directors and senior management were in charge of green initiatives. For other businesses, responsibility was mixed; 13 per cent said that it fell to a dedicated 'green' person, while 17 per cent identified the facilities manager. 

Other roles identified as having environmental policy responsibilities included office managers or administrators (6%) and human resources (4%). Eight per cent were unsure whose remit it was and as over ten percent reported that nobody within the organisation held responsibility.

Over half of those surveyed (56%) confirmed that green improvements are on their company agenda

The areas of business which respondents felt most benefited from green improvements included IT (67%), marketing (52%), finance (51%) and human resources (39%)

"The results show clearly that, in most organisations, the desire to make improvements clearly exists," says Murray Sherwood, Externus' managing director. "Yet for any changes to be successful, initiatives that can reduce energy waste and enhance green credentials, such as green IT, require commitment from all areas of the business.

"Defining or understanding who in the business holds responsibility is of great importance if sustained green improvements are to be made. A potential reason for the failure of green IT, or indeed any other change management programme, is because of a lack of proper planning at CEO-level or director level. 

"Convincing management about the potential benefits of Green IT is, therefore, even more crucial than changing the mindset of IT staff."

Gartner/WWF: ICT industry 'falling short' in making sustainability part of its 'core' business

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Next week, the Gartner research group is holding the European leg of its IT Symposium, which will feature four days of thinking on sustainability.

Coinciding with that event, the results are out of an assessment of 28 global information and communication technology (ICT) providers by Gartner and WWF Sweden which revealed that the ICT industry sees climate change and sustainability as an emerging opportunity. While it identified the emergence of a group of market makers, the industry as a whole fell short of making climate change and sustainability part of its core business.

"2009 and 2010 have seen rapid progress in the maturity of ICT vendors both in terms of their internal environmental programs, and the development of a set of low-carbon market offerings," said Simon Mingay, research vice president at Gartner. "We now have a clear group of market makers formed by BT, IBM, Cisco, Ericsson, HP, Fujitsu, and SAP who we believe are beginning to build a distinguishing capability. However, at this stage they have not really taken the issues associated with climate change and sustainability into the core of the business and their strategies, and they continue to deal with it within the mindset of incremental improvement and short-termism."

Gartner and WWF invited 28 global ICT providers to participate. Nineteen chose to participate by providing the required information. Those companies include: Accenture, Alcatel-Lucent, BT, CSC, Cisco, Dell, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Lenovo, Microsoft, SAP, Sun Microsystems, TCS, Verizon, Wipro and Xerox.

The survey, the second of its kind, examined ICT providers' commitment to managing the environmental aspects of their internal operations and their supply chain. Very importantly, it also explored their capabilities in advancing the low-carbon solutions markets and developing products and services that will help them and their customers reduce their greenhouse gas emissions or increase their energy efficiency.

"The good news is that we don't see anyone going backwards," said Mingay. "But, across every category, there are clearly a group who are on the move and a group who seem to be treading water relatively." IBM, Fujitsu, HP, Cisco and BT ranked in the top five positions, while others such as Verizon and Lenovo did not score particularly well, and held the No. 19 and No. 17 spots, respectively. Mingay said Microsoft, ranked in the No. 13 position overall, is making reasonable progress, from a relatively weak starting point.

The survey revealed that service and software providers have improved their position from 2008, but remain relatively immature in terms of both their internal programs, as well as their market offerings. SAP, ranked No. 8 overall, did substantially better than any of the other large software and services organisations. SAP has put sustainability at the heart of its communications and closer to its strategy over the last 18 months. The survey also found that Fujitsu, ranked No. 2, is the only ICT provider to set a long-term context to its initiatives, and want to help reduce more emissions in society through low carbon IT solutions than their own emissions. Fujitsu has set itself a carbon reduction goal in terms of its impact on its customers versus a target related to their own emissions. Finally, ICT providers in Asia (not Japan) are still lagging overall, but making some dramatic improvements, which Gartner analysts anticipate will continue.

The dominance of talking in 2008, when Gartner and WWF Sweden completed their first assessment has evolved into much more action in 2009 and 2010. "We now have a number of ICT providers with an actual low carbon portfolio and a readiness to move from an incremental contribution into the center stage when it comes to providing society with low carbon solutions," said Magnus Emfel, director of Climate Program, WWF Sweden. "It is precisely this shift -- from ICT as a minor contributor to global emissions to a major enabler of low-carbon solutions -- that we need to see replicated in business strategies and urban planning, if we are to succeed in the transition to a low carbon economy and stabilize the climate."

The survey also found that inter-industry partnerships are starting to emerge, particularly from ICT providers including Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent and IBM. This is a very significant and important step in ICT's ability to develop commercially viable solutions for a low-carbon economy, particularly around smart grid, intelligent buildings and smart city infrastructures.

When looking at ICT's own impact, and the focus on the 2 percent of ICT's global CO2 emissions, it has become evident that hardware vendors, such as HP, Ericsson and Fujitsu are increasingly focused on the energy efficiency of their equipment and making it a core business, while for software and services organisations this is not the case. Very few vendors are thinking about dematerialisation in any real systematic way, though Xerox is one of the few exceptions that is reusing and recycling parts.

Collectively the ICT industry has enhanced its game in terms of providing solutions in other areas, e.g. transport and buildings, to help reduce the 98 percent of global CO2 emissions that are not generated by ICT, but that can be reduced with the help of smart ICT.

"Although the leaders in the Carbon Delivery sections such as IBM, Fujitsu, HP, BT, Ericsson and Cisco have begun to build structural capabilities, governance, and allocated organisational resources to addressing the opportunities of a low-carbon economy, their commitment still falls short of being integrated into their core business," Mingay said.

Gartner's client interactions and analysis of the survey suggests this is due to a lack of spending on low-carbon and sustainability-related solutions by the public and private sectors, except in the area of smart grids, but also to the ICT sector's conservative approach built on incremental changes in existing technologies and capacity.

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

"No one is making any serious effort to extend the life of equipment beyond the basics one would expect of improving reliability and quality," said Mingay. "But, with the management of e-waste and rare earth metals rapidly turning into a substantial global challenge and the growth of emerging markets the industry needs to be giving much more serious thought to dematerialisation, recycling and longevity."

The environment, sustainability and the Spending Review

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There's no escape from the Spending Review today, though a couple of conversations this morning have already suggested that there may be less detail in terms of implementation than we expect. In other words, we may get less of Chapter and Verse, and more a case of title, author, contents and preface.

Interesting post on the Guardian environment blog with a list of things to look out for. (though not a lot here that screams too much about Green IT.) And some more background on George Osborne's green challenges.

And there's an interesting piece about corporate sustainability, discussing five key corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability trends over the last year.

Broadly these are:

1. The influence of a new generation

2. The impact of social media

3. Leadership

4. The need for actions, not just words

5. Collaboration                                                                                   




The ongoing reaction to 10:10's Climate Change movie

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The UK Director of 10:10 has posted a statement on the organisation's website apologising for the 'mistake' the organisation says it's made.

It's a contrite statement, with a clear message to its corporate sponsors, delivery partners and board members, who the organisation admits 'have been implicated in this situation despite having no involvement in the film's production or release.'

Those include the copy, document and print specialist Kyocera Mita which has been a strong supporter of 10:10's activities and which itself is very much a thought leader in the drive to reduce carbon emissions.

It's Director of Brand and Reputation Tracey Rawling Church said, "Kyocera Mita UK has supported the 10:10 campaign because we share its ambition to reduce carbon emissions. However, we don't support the "No Pressure" video and are dismayed by the suggestion that we might have been knowing partners in its production; in fact, we had no knowledge of its content until it appeared online. We consider that 10:10 made a serious error of judgement in its choice of creative approach, which is totally at odds with the inclusive and positive attitude that has been the hallmark of its other activities. We understand that 10:10 has acknowledged its mistake, withdrawn the video and issued an apology. Kyocera is taking this issue extremely seriously. A formal statement will be issued in due course."



P&G sets down a marker on sustainability

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Here's an interesting development. Procter & Gamble's announcement of a new "sustainability vision" is a noteworthy moment -- not just for the world's largest consumer packaged goods company, but for the world of sustainable business.


According to the blog, it "represents another yardstick of how major corporate players view their place on the sustainability landscape: being "socially responsible," of course, but also seizing the global business opportunities that can inure to companies taking leadership roles in environmental and social well-being."


I think what's interesting about P&G's announcement is that it raises the bar and encourages other organisations to also 'not treat environmental sustainability as something separate from their base business.'


In today's economic climate - as opposed to the outdoor climate that's changing - organisations will tend to 'think green but mean lean'. That's the reality. But P&G's sustainability vision might just get some key players - IBM, Microsoft, SAP, M&S - thinking about what their updated sustainability vision actually is - and for others, whether they actually even have one.

The Black Swan and Climate Change

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You may have heard about an excellent book called The Black Swan, a book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, about randomness and uncertainty.

Black Swan events were discussed by Taleb in the book, with almost all major scientific discoveries, historical events, and artistic accomplishments labelled as "Black Swans" -- i.e. they are undirected and unpredicted. Examples are the rise of the Internet, the creation of the PC, World War 1 and 9/11.

In this post for the Harvard Business Review blogs, and from the point of view of climate change, Andrew Winston suggests two Black Swans will shape our world.

"Black Swan 1 is climate change itself. What really makes for a Black Swan is the fact that massive numbers of people are sure it can't be true. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence of climate change and resource constraints vs. the two heavy-hitter forces driving sustainability -- many people struggle with believing any of it.

Black Swan 2: is worldwide action. We'll need to change so much about the way the world works as to make it nearly unrecognisable. Imagine companies creating radically new energy supplies, entirely electric transportation systems, and non-toxic and completely recyclable products. Picture massive increases in resource efficiency, waterless manufacturing and agriculture, and everyone engaging in tough, heretical conversations about our consumption and what it means to live a good quality life.

Winston goes on to say that "Taleb's work gives me hope -- the unexpected not only can happen, he says, it's really the only thing that ever changes history. Which Black Swan will hit first? Will it be climate devastation and resource shortages ... or collective action to create more profitable, healthy, and sustainable companies, communities, and countries?

The first Swan has left the gate and we have some catching up to do, but I'm betting on the second."

Want to know more about the book? There's a review here 

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