IBM sustainability program effective by many measures

Ongoing energy-efficiency efforts slash another $27 million from tech giant's electricity costs in 2009.

First a random thought: Did you realize that IBM will be 100 years old next year? A not-so-random follow-up thought: Did you realize it has been issuing its annual sustainability/green business/ environmental report for two decades? Kind of puts things into perspective.

The latest version was just posted and there are some notable statistics in miniature.

  • Electricity use: Since 1990, IBM has saved 5.1 billion kilowatt-hours of energy through energy efficiency measures, or $370 million. In the past year, the company cut about 5.4 percent of its total energy use. That was roughly $26.8 million in energy savings in the last 12 months alone.
  • Renewable energy sourcing: The company bought 560 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy in 2009, which is an increase of 100 million kilowatt-hours from 2008. That's about 11.3 percent of annual electricity use.
  • Emissions: As far as carbon dioxide emissions reductions: IBM 2009 emissions were 2.6 percent below 2008 emissions and 5.7 percent below a 2005 baseline. Between that baseline and 2012, the company has a goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions specifically associated with energy use by 12 percent.

What makes any tech company's sustainability report particular interesting of course, is the dual role that these companies have to play: not just in becoming better environmental citizens themselves but in helping other companies benefit through technology.

Here's an excerpt from the letter written by IBM Chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano to introduce the report:

"Addressing the issues facing the world now -- from clean water, better healthcare, green energy and better schools, to sustainable and vibrant cities, and an empowered workforce and citizenry -- does not pose a choice between business strategy and citizenship strategy. Rather, it represents a fusion of the two. This is possible because of an enormously promising set of developments that have come together over the past decade. The systems by which our world literally works have become increasingly instrumented, interconnected and intelligent."

To that end, it's interesting to note that earlier this year, IBM announced that it had helped develop a solar cell that not only holds a new record for efficiency but that has serious potential in helping others benefit from low-cost solar energy.

There also is a disclosure in this report that I think will be of particular interest to any large business that leases rather than owns its office buildings and other corporate facilities. IBM has formed a coalition with DuPont, Fluor, Pitney Bowes and Switzer to work on energy efficiency and sustainability services related to leased buildings. This is something to watch, I think, because I think this sort of thing will likely become a strategic differentiator in commercial real estate.

One thought to leave you with: As you look for ways to become a more attractive employer in the future, especially for the Millennials that have an interest in saving the earth, you should absolutely read the sections on IBM's volunteer work around the world. To date, the company's employees have donated more than 10 million volunteer hours around the globe.

Now that's an impressive metric.

This post was originally published on