What colour is a dollar bill?

It's Green. It's a Grid. Environmental awareness - or marketing spin?

The Green Grid, the IT industry's alliance for environmental thinking, is not off to a good start. It's hard to put a convincing spin for new awareness when the first news is that Intel and AMD are bickering. AMD says Intel was invited but never replied; Intel says it was never invited. Like we care. Are you guys serious about this, or what?

To answer that question, let's see how much input there is from outside America — where most of the US IT industry's output goes and where most of the environment actually is.

That didn't take long.

Now, let's look at how much non-industry independent expertise is involved. There's support from the US Government's Environmental Protection Agency — an organisation which said this week that "The Bush Administration has an unparalleled financial, international and domestic commitment to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions." No need to say how that looks from this side of the Atlantic. And there are warm words too from the Alliance to Save Energy, a Washington-based group initially co-chaired by Henry Kissinger, whose funding comes from among others BP, Dow Chemical, Pacific Gas and Electricity, and, oh yes, AMD. Feeling green yet?

There is nothing wrong in working with industry to improve efficiency, to aim for minimal impact computing and awareness of the many environmental effects that IT has. And whatever happens in the future, we will need an effective and profitable IT sector that is fully integrated with a workable economy, as well as fully aware of the implications of its actions.

But the sector itself cannot be the sole arbiter of how that works. Industry is there to maximise value for its shareholders, which means getting us to consume as much as we can. Industry thinks in 90-day cycles, with no more concept of the next ninety years than a mayfly knows of Christmas. Industry, in short, cannot do the job of the Green Grid. To put it another way: whatever the Green Grid is there to do, it cannot be what it claims.

An effective and trustworthy alliance for environmentally sensible computing would include independent voices from research and academe around the world. It would be capable of soberly trading off the commercial imperatives of its industry members with the environmental concerns of the scientists, and giving us guidelines with more dimensions than cash efficiency.

For now, that alliance does not exist. While there may be many good intentions behind the Green Grid, they will be wasted while the organisation looks like a front for American industry doing what American industry always does. Whatever the hell it likes.