Will ICT Save the Planet?

By Seth Rosenberg

Seth is a current dual MBA/MPA in Sustainable Management student at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He also works as Sourcing Manager for Tomato Sherpa, a new ready-to-cook recipe kit company in the Bay Area.

The GeSI SMARTer 2020 Report examines the potential of information and communication technology (ICT) enabled solutions in the power, transportation, agriculture and land use, buildings, manufacturing, and consumer and service sectors to fight climate change. The report determined that overall, ICT-enabled solutions offer the potential to reduce projected global GHG emissions in 2020 by 16.5% (9.1 Gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent), create 29.5 million jobs, and yield USD $1.9 trillion in gross energy and fuel savings. Even though ICT’s own footprint is projected to grow by 1.27 GtCO2 by 2020, it’s abatement potential is thus more than 7 times higher.

Potential ICT-enabled abatement by sector:

  • Power: 2 GtCO2 (22%)
  • Transportation: 1.9 GtCO2 (21%)
  • Agriculture and Land Use: 1.6 GtCO2 (18%)
  • Buildings: 1.6 GtCO2 (18%)
  • Manufacture: 1.3 GtCO2 (13%)
  • Consumer and Service: 0.7 GtCO2 (8%)

Greenpeace began looking to global IT companies in May of 2009 in order to identify which firms were leading efforts to realize this potential. This April, Greenpeace released the 6th edition of the Cool IT Leaderboard, which evaluates top IT companies on their leadership in their fight to stop climate change. The Leaderboard is scored from 0-100, as companies are evaluated in three key areas:

  • Climate Solutions: Efforts to offer economy-wide technological climate solutions that contribute to global GHG reductions (40/100)
  • IT Energy Impact: Initiatives to reduce their own global warming emissions (25/100)
  • Political Advocacy: Active engagement in political advocacy and support for science-based climate and energy policies (35/100)

(For the full leaderboard, and a complete breakdown of the evaluation criteria, see the full report.)

Top Performers: Cisco and Google

With an overall 9-point gain from 2012 and improvements across each of the three evaluation areas, Cisco regained a top ranking in this year’s leaderboard, tieing Google at a total of 58 points. Below is a summary of the Cisco’s performance in the individual areas (complete scorecard):

2nd place in Climate Solutions (24/40):

  • Developing case studies to demonstrate the tangible and quantifiable benefits of clean energy IT solutions.
  • Helping develop methodologies for accurately measuring total energy savings associated with IT energy solutions.
  • Signs of increasing investment in smart grid solutions (Google topped the investment category, having invested more than USD $1 billion in clean energy since 2010.)

1st place in IT Energy Impact (22/25):

  • Announced an updated set of targets for GHG reductions, energy intensity goals, and renewable energy targets.
  • Adopted performance-based goals for its facilities defined by the emissions factor of the local electricity, which will drive new growth away from coal-fired generation.

6th place in Political Advocacy (12/35):

  • Improved its score in political advocacy leadership from the previous year, mostly from advocacy efforts in the EU and particularly in the UK.
  • Greenpeace suggests that Cisco look to the leadership shown by Google in this final area for inspiration or ideas on how to strengthen its advocacy leadership at home in the U.S.

Check out Google’s complete scorecard here.

Overall trends

The Greenpeace report suggests that the IT sector continues to show slow but steady improvement in offering energy solutions, as companies are demonstrating that they are willing to make major investments to drive clean energy deployment. They also acknowledge the increasing numbers and efforts of companies to use of renewable energy to power their operations. However, the report claims that the IT sector overall still lacks the leadership in demanding the policy changes necessary for driving investment in renewable energy deployment and clean technology.

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