Google, IBM and Microsoft with their heads in the clouds

Feature story - 27 October, 2009
People could some day recall that it was the Information Technology (IT) industry's advocacy for strong action which tipped the balance at the Copenhagen climate summit. But that's not going to happen unless all of us press them to become climate champions. As our updated Cool IT Challenge leaderboard reveals, IT heavyweights such as Google, Microsoft and IBM are still hesitating to speak up on the urgent need for emissions reductions.

Google, IBM and Microsoft still hesitating to speak up on the urgent need for emissions cuts.

The Information Technology industry stands to profit significantly by selling technology solutions to reduce greenhouse gases, yet most major IT companies are standing on the sidelines of the climate debate while the biggest polluting industries are going all out to weaken or delay climate legislation.

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This is most clear in the US where even weak proposed climate legislation is under attack from the US Chamber of Commerce. IT companies are continuing to fund the Chamber's regressive and destructive stance on climate issues, even when unaligned with their own climate policies.

We rank IT leaders as climate leaders

Google and Panasonic are new on the leaderboard for this round. They join twelve other big names from the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, from the US, Europe and Japan. IBM (43), HP (42), Fujitsu (33) and Google (32) occupy the top four places. We award points for companies who can demonstrate clear public support for strong emissions reductions; have measurable, economy-wide climate solutions; and for reducing their own emissions.

IT Executives: Get on your soap boxes!

Half the points in the Cool IT Challenge can be scored for providing details on how a company's climate solutions can show reductions in overall emissions. But the UN climate conference in Copenhagen is only weeks away, and climate legislation is struggling to make its way through the US Congress. The biggest names in IT need to get out and advocate for strong climate legislation now. Without strong legislation, we won't stand a chance of tackling global warming.

Even though the IT industry will profit from strong emissions reduction targets, the fact that no company yet scores more than half marks shows that the IT industry still has much work to do to match its climate words with climate action.

Scoring in detail

The scoring goes as follows: 50 points are available for providing calculations of how large-scale climate solutions from the IT industry actually reduce net greenhouse gas emissions. Another 15 points can be earned for a company's commitment to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions from its own operations and for the amount of renewable energy used as a percentage of total electricity. 35 points are awarded in relation to a strong stance on climate issues and political advocacy. Lastly, a key scoring criteria on the leaderboard is clear public support for strong emission reductions.

Political Advocacy is split in two parts - political position and political influence. An IT company can use its considerable influence to show CEO-level support for strong global climate legislation. If a CEO makes a public speech supporting the call for strong, mandatory emissions reduction targets, the company scores points. If the company then follows up with advocacy work to push for the specific level of emissions cuts, it earns more points. And if the company repeats that speech and advocacy work, it earns even more points. Hearing this stuff once isn't enough for some politicians.

Sounds reasonable, but sadly, only Google, with 24/35 climate advocacy points, passed the halfway mark. Despite this relatively strong score, Google's CEO has been silent on Copenhagen, when Google could be a powerful positive voice for a strong deal.

Other firms are stepping out

Apple's recent bold move to leave the US Chamber of Commerce over theChamber's lobbying against US climate legislation contrasts stronglywith Google, Microsoft and IBM's relative inaction at this crucialjuncture for the climate.

The CEO of Ericsson has been making prominent speeches on the urgency of the problem and the importance of Copenhagen but the leaders of Nokia, Dell, Microsoft and Sony, among others stay silent on the most urgent issue facing the planet.

Simply: We call on them, then they call on the politicians

But not all is bad, since the last assessment in May, there has been some progress. While IBM maintains top spot on the leaderboard due to an extensive range of climate solutions and action to reduce its own emissions, HP is following closely and has shown strong progress by providing more comprehensive information on how its climate solutions can reduce global emissions.

Toshiba also significantly increases it score by providing much more information on its climate solutions. Sharp stands out as the only Japanese company to indicate support for the stronger emissions reduction target of the new Japanese Government.

With their powerful influence, IT giants like Microsoft, Google and IBM need to speak up. The Cool IT leaderboard exposes the gap between what the IT industry could do to fight climate change, and what they're actually doing today. Clearly, more can be done.

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