Cool IT Leaderboard shows growing divide between talk and action on developing climate solutions

Feature story - 29 April, 2010
The newest version of our Information Technology (IT) industry climate ranking reveals how a few global tech companies are taking the lead. They're demonstrating the potential of IT solutions to help reduce energy wastage and greenhouse gas emissions, while others seem unable to decide if IT climate solutions are a significant business opportunity or a mere marketing strategy.

Cisco vaults to the top of the newest Cool IT leaderboard, doubling its score from the previous version by demonstrating the effectiveness of its greenhouse emissions-saving solutions. Ericsson debuts on the leaderboard in second place. Google places sixth. (Click here to download the PDF directly)

Cool IT leaderboard (version 3, released April 2010)

Smart Solutions Cut Global Warming Pollution

Version 3 of the leaderboard shows that the sector is ramping up technological solutions to fight climate change. Smart grid, smart meters, home energy management, and carbon tracking software are examples of IT-enabled climate solutions that can help shift the economy away from dirty energy and bring about increased efficiency and widespread adoption of renewables. But companies like Cisco, Microsoft, Google, and IBM need to demonstrate that, as they build these solutions, they are also walking the talk by measuring and reporting their own carbon and energy savings potential.

Forecast: Cloudy With a Chance of Climate Change

Innovative and rapidly iterative, the IT sector has the potential to quickly design and implement technological solutions to reduce climate change, solutions to achieve world-wide energy efficiency gains and carbon cuts. But, as the IT sector grows, its growth must be powered by clean energy sources rather than dirty 19th century technologies, such as coal.

The industry must ensure that its own growing carbon footprint doesn't negate the impact of its solutions; IT's right hand needs to pay attention to what the left hand does.

Our report, "Make IT Green: Cloud Computing and its Contribution to Climate Change," shows how the expansion of the "cloud" poses a major challenge to the otherwise positive climate contributions of the IT sector. Cloud computing services, such as social networks, video streaming, email, and photo storage, give us access to information that is centralised in IT-operated data centres rather than on our computers' hard drives. These data centres draw electricity from the grid to run the servers that bring Facebook, Gmail, Flickr, and YouTube to your laptop, iPhone, or tablet computer.

IT Needs to Advocate for Climate and Energy Policy

The leaderboard reveals that not only must IT companies kick innovation into high gear, they must add their weight to push for strong energy and climate policies and incentives at a local, national, and international level. In the lead-up to international climate negotiations in Copenhagen, CEOs of many of the major IT companies, such as Dell, SAP, and Ericsson began to flex their political muscle and speak out in favour of a global climate deal. But all of the IT companies need to flex a little harder.

Scores for advocacy reveal that across the Cool IT leaderboard IT companies need to take a stronger public position in favour of policies that pave the way for renewable energy deployment and greenhouse gas reductions. Doing so is also in the interest of IT companies' bottom line, since climate and clean energy policy will stimulate a greater need for their climate solution products and services.

Following the Leaders

In this version of the Cool IT leaderboard, two companies have been added - SAP and Ericsson. Several companies have provided more concrete examples of their solutions offerings than before, and they have begun to demonstrate how to measure the impacts of their IT-enabled climate solutions. Ericsson, Fujitsu, and Cisco scored well for solutions in this leaderboard, and for demonstrating their methodology for measuring the energy conservation and greenhouse gas reductions made possible by their technologies.

A majority of companies score well for setting absolute greenhouse gas reduction targets for their own operations. Google, disappointingly, does not provide an absolute target, nor does it report its emissions. Microsoft is barely better than Google, having set a target per unit of revenue, but not an absolute reduction goal. In the next version of the leaderboard, the growing impact of cloud computing will be more central to the footprint scoring. Version four will also include a more detailed evaluation of companies that demonstrate leadership in getting their own emissions in line with their climate goals and solutions offerings.

Will the real climate leaders please stand up?

IT companies are to the 21st century as fossil fuel companies were to the past -- they have the power to shape the economy and, in turn, the future of our climate. Microsoft, Google, IBM, and other leaderboard companies must use their considerable political influence to shape the policies of this critical climate era, and lead the transformation to a clean energy economy, backed by smart grids and smart technology.

Find out how the companies scored: Version 3 Leaderboard PDF