Archive for the ‘corporate sustainability’ Category

Sun Microsystems today unveiled a web site where corporations can share greenhouse gas emissions data. A cross between a social networking site and an open-source software platform, OpenEco aims to encourage companies to collaborate on the best strategies for taking carbon out of their operations. Sun’s (JAVA) software lets companies upload greenhouse gas data from spreadsheets and other corporate documents, set greenhouse gas reductions targets and track their progress. Crowdsourcing  carbon is an intriguing idea but the big question is whether companies will be willing to give competitors an inside look at their operations. Some clearly will. Sun and chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) have revealed their carbon footprint while Google (GOOG) has calculated and verified its greenhouse gas emissions but closely guards that data for competitive reasons. So far the only organizations to sign up with OpenEco are Ceres, a coalition of investors and public interest groups focused on environmental issues, and Natural Logic, an environmental consulting firm. Still, pressure is growing on companies to drop the corporate veil when it comes to global warming. Today the Carbon Disclosure Project – a non-profit that collects greenhouse gas emissions data from major corporations – reported that a record 77 percent of companies responded to its annual survey this year.

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photo: UTC Power
Google (GOOG) has its 1.6-megawatt solar array and Applied Materials (AMAT) is following suit with an even bigger solar installation at its Silicon Valley headquarters. Not to be left behind in the greening of the valley sweepstakes, Fujitsu says it has become the first SV company to power its operations with a fuel-cell generator (photo at above). The Japanese computer maker today is unveiling a 200-kilowatt fuel-cell at its Sunnyvale campus that it says produces half the carbon dioxide of a conventional power plant. The generator, made by UTC Power (UTX), reforms natural gas to produce hydrogen which is then used to generate electricity. Besides emitting far less greenhouse gases than a fossil-fuel power plant, fuel-cell generators do not produce pollutants like nitrous oxide and sulfur oxide.  The fuel-cell will provide half the power needed to cool the Sunnyvale campus’s data center.  The hot water generated by the fuel-cell in turn will be used for heating. The project won Fujitsu a $500,000 incentive payment from utility PG&E (PCG).  Fun fact: The UTC fuel-cell generator can be hooked up to a wastewater treatment plant and an anaerobic digester to tap methane gas from what we’ll politely call effluent to produce hydrogen.

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photo: green wombat
Green Wombat’s in meetings today, but driving down the 101 this morning I got a glimpse of Yahoo’s 100 percent biodiesel-powered Green Guzzler employee shuttle bus in the rear view mirror before the BlackBerry buzzed with news of the purple portal’s latest green marketing campaign: a contest  to design a green icon to flag enviro-related products and services on the company’s network. The winner gets $20,000 to donate to the environmental group of his or her choice. The two runners-ups’ green groups will each receive $5,000. And Yahoo (YHOO) wins a crowdsourced logo for a fraction of the price a high-concept graphics designer would charge.

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Amd_climate_planYears before green became the new black, Advanced Micro Devices began setting greenhouse gas reduction targets. Today the computer chip maker released its seventh annual Global Climate Protection Plan, announcing it had reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50 percent between 2002 and 2007 – exceeding its 40 percent goal – and setting a new target of cutting emissions another 33 percent between 2006 and 2010. AMD (AMD) also aims to slash energy use 40 percent by 2010. Planet-warming emissions fell a whopping 68 percent between 2005 and 2006, largely due to AMD’s spin-off of its Spansion flash memory chip subsidiary, which allowed the company to cease counting its CO2 contributions.

In the long run, AMD’s biggest impact on global warming will come from its focus on making energy-efficient chips that power computers and servers. But AMD’s detailed disclosure of its greenhouse gas emissions and plans for operating in a carbon-constrained world are road map of sorts for companies that increasingly will find themselves under regulatory pressure to do what AMD now does voluntarily. It’s a tricky issue – companies like Google (GOOG) and AMD arch-rival Intel (INTC) have embraced corporate sustainability but are leery of the competitive impact of detailing their carbon footprints. Others, like Sun Microsystems (SUNW), have been more forthcoming. With California and other states imposing greenhouse gas caps and a national limit on emissions looming, transparency will be the new green. Companies will not only reap the public relations benefits of such disclosures and any carbon credits that might be associated with big greenhouse gas reductions but may even learn a thing or two from each other.

In that spirit, here’s a  few highlights from this year’s AMD climate change report:

  • AMD’s global operations emitted total 94,062 metric tons of greenhouse gas equivalents in 2006.
  • Eighty-nine percent of the emissions came from energy use.
  • The company analyzed the distribution of some of its products and relocated facilities to reduce the distance goods must be transported to buyers. For instance, AMD discovered that half the buyers for its "processor-in-a-box" were on the East Coast, and so this year will move the distribution center for that product from California to Florida, eliminating an estimated 676,000 air miles used for product transportation. Relocating another distribution center from California to Texas will save an estimated 124,800 air miles.
  • AMD is incorporating green building design into its new campuses and manufacturing plants and retrofitting old ones to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also locating those facilities near public transportation to reduce commute-related emissions. AMD’s new Austin campus will be powered by renewable energy purchased through utility Austin Energy’s GreenChoice program.

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After Green Wombat blogged this week about Google’s (GOOG) reluctance to disclose its carbon footprint for competitive reasons, Sun Microsystems’ Erica Jacobs emailed to say that the Silicon Valley computer and software maker publicizes its greenhouse gas emissions on its Web site. Sun (SUNW) is still calculating its worldwide carbon footprint, but the company lists its major U.S. facilities along with their individual electricity and natural gas consumption and resulting greenhouse gas emissions. In March, for instance, the eight facilities – which are responsible for about half of Sun’s global emissions – produced 10,515 metric tons of greenhouse gases. The company, which has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent below 2002 levels by 2012, says 90 percent of its carbon footprint comes from energy usage. "We believe efforts like this start with showing all the warts so we can identify starting points, help each other improve and solve the problem," wrote Jacobs, Sun’s PR manager for Eco Responsibility.  The eight facilities represent cubicle farms, data centers and manufacturing plants, according to Jacobs. She said Sun will update its emissions reports monthly and begin adding more data to allow month-to-month and year-to-year comparisons.

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At yesterday’s Climate Savers Computing Initiative press conference at the Googleplex, a Forbes reporter asked Google exec Urs Holzle to disclose the size of the search giant’s carbon footprint, noting that the company’s good green deeds notwithstanding, its executives still fly on private planes and so forth. (Larry Page, who had just flown in from Africa, was sitting in the front row.) Holzle, a vp for operations, rattled off a list of Google’s (GOOG) efforts to cut its greenhouse gas emissions – installing the world’s largest corporate solar array, its generous subsidies for employee purchases of hybrid cars, etc. – but declined to reveal the company’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. "Our carbon footprint is actually not that big," he said. "We have 10,000 employees. Even at this scale, we care and want to be a model citizen. But were not quite ready to tell you what were doing."

Another example of corporate hypocrisy or Google’s penchant for secrecy? Not really. Disclosing corporate carbon footprints is a tricky issue. If you’re a financial services firm or a software company, you might be quite happy to make public your greenhouse gas emissions from what is essentially office work. If you operate huge server farms around the world and are locked in cutthroat competition with the likes of Yahoo (YHOO) and Microsoft (MSFT), such disclosures are more problematic. "Our carbon footprint is too close to information that is competitive," Google energy strategist Bill Weihl told Green Wombat during a post-press conference chat.  In other words, Google worries that competitors could reverse engineer its greenhouse gas data to figure out how many servers and data centers it operates – figures that the company keeps locked in a black box. Weihl says that Google has calculated its carbon footprint and has had the numbers verified by a third party. Which third party? He said he couldn’t reveal that at this time.

The Forbes reporter put the same carbon footprint question to Intel’s Pat Gelsinger, who referred to a white paper on the company’s site. While the paper details Intel’s (INTC) many technological efforts to reduce its CO2 emissions, Green Wombat could not find a snapshot of the chip giant’s overall carbon footprint.

One thing is clear, however: Pressure for companies – especially those that portray themselves as green – to reveal their greenhouse gas emissions will only grow in the years ahead. California will require such information to be disclosed for some industries to implement its statewide cap on greenhouse gas emissions; a national registry is likely to follow at some point as part of Congressional global warming legislation. And being upfront about your carbon footprint will be key to effective green marketing. Figuring out how to do that while protecting competitive information will be the challenge.

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Apple_boxphoto: green wombat

When Green Wombat made a purchase at the San Francisco Apple store the other day, the salesperson asked if I’d prefer to have the receipt emailed to me rather than printed out. Brilliant. Imagine saving untold tons of paper used to print receipts that the vast majority of consumers probably just end up tossing in the trash (along with the paper or plastic bag that a clerk reflexively asked if they wanted). In an age when just about everyone and their cat has an email address, and when many purchases are made with debit or credit cards, paper receipts increasingly are an anachronism in a global warming world. It would be revealing to calculate the environmental impact of ridding the planet of those little scraps of paper – in terms of greenhouse gas emissions eliminated, toxic chemicals avoided and forests preserved. Not to mention the improvement to the corporate bottom line. The reality is that receipts, paper or electronic,
aren’t necessary for most daily purchases – already outlets like Starbucks or Peets will swipe your debit or credit card without printing proof of payment. And for the big buys an email receipt is way easier to find on your hard drive
than a piece of paper stuck in some desk drawer. Apple (AAPL) spokesperson Steve Dowling tells Green Wombat that the e-receipt option has been available in the company’s U.S. stores since late 2005 – when you make a credit card purchase – and is also offered in the U.K. (Though it hasn’t been widely publicized, like other green Apple initiatives until recently.) Acceptance of e-receipts will obviously take some change in consumer behavior. But it’s one of those small but significant moves toward sustainability that Wal-Mart (WMT), Dell (DELL) and other companies that have put themselves on the green path could adopt. Green Wombat is sold: by the time I made it from the Apple store counter to the street, my receipt had appeared on my mobile phone.


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