Greenpeace Cool IT: But does GP miss the point?

Greenpeace upped the ante on the IT sector by switching focus from reporting on the environmental performance of consumer electronics to looking at how the industry as a whole is performing on climate change. Yesterday they launched their inaugural Cool IT ranking of the top 12 IT firms performing on climate change.

Greenpeace upped the ante on the IT sector by switching focus from reporting on the environmental performance of consumer electronics to looking at how the industry as a whole is performing on climate change. Yesterday they launched their inaugural Cool IT ranking of the top 12 IT firms performing on climate change. The ranking is weighted as follows: 50% for solutions provided to enable the economy to reduce emissions, 35% for political support of emissions reduction and 15% for corporate performance.

And here is the 'Leader Board' for the current Greenpeace Cool IT review:

I agree wholeheartedly with Greenpeace's focus on solutions and as readers will know from this previous post, I also believe leadership in the public policy arena is important. But we should not under estimate the difficulty the industry faces in confronting some of its best customers across the political lobby:

The IT industry must, therefore, push back against the lobbying of powerful industry sectors such as coal and transport who are heavily lobbying for a weak deal.

None the less, such corporate activism may very well be the mark of a new breed of corporate sustainability leadership with corporations increasingly taking strong political positions, even across industry sectoral lines, to support sustainability public policy.

But there are some troubling aspects of the GP methodology and assumptions made:

We first looked at the biggest global IT and technology companies, then, because we are looking for the most progressive leaders, we focused on those who have already made environmental or climate leadership promises. We then selected a majority of companies from Japan and the US because both countries need to improve their current 2020 greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and their overall negotiating positions in the Kyoto talks.

Fine to select the biggest companies but to focus on companies that are based in the US and Japan only because of the current weakness in domestic environmental legislation is a nonsense. Does the 'Leader Board' reflect a rating of industry performance or a prioritization of Greenpeace campaigning activity? It suggests that GP's main focus here is less on enouraging IT innovation and more on leveraging the political influence of these firms in the short run. Such a narrow tactical aim could very well back fire on Greenpeace and undermine the veracity of this index in time.

And what of the contribution of the IT industry in Europe, India & China? The contribution IT can make particularly in developing economies is immense. Such markets have the dual problem of needing to grow fast to lift people out of poverty whilst facing great political pressure from the West to curb CO2 emissions. They operate at fairly low levels of resource efficiency so IT enablement of rapid improvement can help ease political pressures and deliver global reductions in CO2 more quickly.

And when it comes to industry prioritization, unfortunately, Greenpeace seems to send conflicting messages. On the one hand:

Because of the range of solutions that companies are or could be involved in we also ensured we chose a range of companies to cover all parts (hardware, software and services), and those that make components that other companies and industries use for climate solution technology.

But on the other hand, the list of firms GP actually reviewed and ranked largely ignores the enterprise software market and instead focuses on consumer brand names, services, hardware and devices.  Nor is the role of systems integrators considered. It is this limited focus that slightly jars with Greenpeace's own vision of what IT should enable:

IT solutions provide a key element of the solutions the world needs as outlined in our Energy Revolution blueprint. For example, to have a large increase in renewable energy use new smart grids are needed in developed countries and need to be built in developing countries. IT is vital for smart power grids. To achieve large energy efficiency gains the production, transportation and building will need to be made drastically more efficient, all of which can be achieved with the help of IT solutions.

Lofty IT goals indeed but its hard to see how they can be realised without the engagement of major enterprise software players.

On the whole, I am thrilled to see Greenpeace start down this road. The landscape is cluttered with faux industry rankings mostly rolled out as a marketing gimmick. With this index, even if imperfect, the direction and motivation is spot on.

Update: Response from Greenpeace (thanks Tom):

Hi James,

Here's a short response from Greenpeace. We started this project with a group of companies who had already claimed to be leading on climate change issues. As our work moves forward we will be looking at additional companies who have the potential to show leadership in this area measured against our criteria.

The challenge is open to all large players in this field and we aim to identify further leading companies in upcoming editions from different types of companies and also in different areas.

For example we are also starting this work in India:

http://www.greenpeace.org/india/press/releases/ict-sector-slow-climate-leadership

Tom Dowdall Greenpeace International