IT vendors face the truth over carbon disclosure

This year's Carbon Disclosure Project Survey has thrown up some interesting results as IT companies become aware of some of the environmental implications of their activities.

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Here’s a quick green quiz. Which IT company believes energy star ratings for servers will put some manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage? Who sees climate change as a great business opportunity? And who says their manufacturing related carbon emissions may rise by up to 50 percent by 2015? According to answers given to the 2007 Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) they are Sun, EMC and Intel respectively.

The CDP was set up to give investors data on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, power consumption and climate change related strategy information of FTSE and S&P Top 500 companies. As well as those mentioned IBM, HP, Cisco, Dell and Microsoft also volunteered information. Links to their full responses to the questionnaire are below.

Total GHG emissions reported

HP - 1,598,500 CO2e metric tonnes
IBM - 2,824,361 CO2e metric tonnes
Sun - 235,051 CO2e metric tonnes
Intel - 3,870,000 CO2e metric tonnes
Cisco - 338,750 CO2e metric tonnes
EMC - 263,527 CO2e metric tonnes
Microsoft - 416,170 CO2e metric tonnes

Survey data ranges from measurement of GHG emissions and mega watts of power used in operations to GHG reduction targets. Firms answer only the questions they want to.

In climate change terms IT companies want to be seen as good global citizens. And while companies say they want a long term regulatory framework to help address the issue most mention climate change related regulation as a commercial risk.

If only the paranoid survive - as Intel’s Andy Grove famously told us - how different companies address the same question on risk tells us a lot about their corporate thinking.

The CDP asked: What commercial risks does climate change present to your company including physical risks to your business operations from scenarios identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on climate Change or other expert bodies, such as sea level rise, extreme weather events and resource shortages?

If there was an award for brutal honesty, it goes to Sun: "Given the nature and magnitude of Sun Microsystems' GHG emissions, the company is unlikely to be directly regulated under current or proposed climate change legislation in the US and other countries. [Sun] is most likely to feel the impacts of these regulations as higher energy costs to run our operations, and increased demand for low-power products by our customers," said the vendor its responses.

"The potential is higher that energy efficiency standards for information technology equipment will directly impact our business. For instance, EPA does not currently have an Energy Star rating for computer servers, a major portion of Sun's product line. Should EPA publish such a standard, IT equipment buyers may start requiring equipment they purchase to meet or exceed this standard. Vendors who cannot comply will be at a competitive disadvantage."

HP says the impact is unknown but is almost biblical in its terminology: "Losses could also be caused by power shortages, telecommunications failures, water shortages, tsunamis, floods, typhoons, fires, extreme weather conditions, medical epidemics and other natural or man-made disasters, for which we are predominantly self-insured.”

IBM answers the same question with: "At this time, based on the nature and scope of our business operations, IBM does not perceive any unusual physical risks outside of those we plan for as part of our ongoing business and risk management processes.”

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