(Ed: This entry was first posted April 29 on our old Making Waves blog.)
The Cool IT campaign has just unveiled Version 3 of the Leaderboard, our third assessment of Information Technology (IT) companies’ efforts to fight climate change. If the world is going to end its reliance on dirty energy, sweepingly incorporate renewable energy into our electricity grid, and boost energy efficiency, IT companies represent a key link in the chain to get us there.

At today's Green:Net conference in San Francisco, where we launched Version 3 Leaderboard scores to an audience of tech companies and reporters, everyone is talking about innovative technological solutions that could get us economy-wide gains in efficiency and reduce global warming pollution.

cool-it-leaderboard-v3.gifAnd indeed, the clean energy revolution will require that IT delivers these tools. If we’re going to plug in our cars, we will need a way to monitor our electricity usage and juice them with renewables. Well, IT is building the smart grid and smart electricity metering to allow us to do just that.

And if you were constantly reminded how much energy you’re using when you turn on your lights or run your blow dryer, you would probably cut back your usage a bit, right? IT can help us make our buildings more efficient, so we use less energy to light and heat our homes, but it can also help us measure our individual impacts so that we make better choices about our energy consumption. But IT companies need to demonstrate the real-world contributions of their products and services in order to get credit on the Leaderboard.

In this evaluation, a handful of IT companies have provided examples of the solutions that they will offer to help solve the climate crisis. And to be sure that they are putting these products and services to good use, we have rated them on their ability to demonstrate metrics by which they plan to measure the positive climate and energy impacts of their solutions.

Cisco really shines in this area, scoring highest overall, largely for its specific cases studies of solutions and the associated means for measuring their contributions. Similarly, Ericsson, which is new to the Leaderboard, starts off well in second place for its climate solutions.

Most IT companies have also set greenhouse gas reduction targets for their own operations, which is ever more important as cloud computing becomes a primary way of communicating, sharing documents, posting photos, watching videos, and organizing our lives (i.e. the Google suite of web tools).

Our recent report, Make IT Green: Cloud Computing and its Contribution to Climate Change, details this growing problem. Companies that build data centers to run their cloud platforms will have a choice to make: either increase the demand for dirty energy by building data centers near cheap coal-fired power, or throw some weight behind the deployment of renewables and commit to using clean energy to fuel the cloud.

We know what the real leaders should do.

Real leaders will work hard to influence local, national, and international decision-makers on climate policies that slash emissions and enable widespread deployment of renewable energy and carbon-cutting technologies. While this sounds like a no brainer - given that advocating for favorable policies and incentives boosts both the climate and IT’s business model - companies are not displaying the degree of political activity we’d hope to see. And they better get going if they hope to beat the fossil fuel industry, which continues to throw its lobbying dollars behind maintaining the status quo.

Google scores top marks for advocacy, and a number of the IT companies turned out in Copenhagen, but we still need to hear some specific policy goals articulated by these corporations and witness proactive, vocal advocacy for climate and energy policies.

This will be an important year for the climate. In the U.S., debate will soon begin on an energy and climate bill that is expected to put a price on carbon pollution. And the year will end with international climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, where world leaders will once again attempt to negotiate a fair and binding deal to stop climate change.

We hope to see Leaderboard companies improve their scores in 2010 by actively participating in political advocacy and showing us what real climate advocacy leadership looks like.

Which companies would you expect to see stronger climate leadership from? What do you hope to see from the IT sector in 2010?

Check out some of today's media coverage of the V3 Leaderboard launch: