Green:Net 2010 - Greenpeace Ranks Cisco As Leader in Green IT, Scolds Entire Industry

greenpeace leader board image

Image via Greenpeace

Greenpeace is all about making companies who talk the talk actually walk the walk, especially when it comes to technology. The activist organization is well known for flinging egg on the face of electronics manufacturers who say they're making moves to green their gadgets, but then backslide on their commitments. It's the same with the IT industry - Greenpeace agrees with IT companies that technology has massive potential to cut our carbon footprints, but when it comes to implementing the solutions these companies are dreaming up, Greenpeace says they're being far too sluggish. That's why they've put out the IT Leaderboard, a ranking system of tech companies, as a way to create "friendly" competition and prod them into action and earn the green clout they're all hoping to have in the marketplace. At Green:Net, Greenpeace announced that Cisco topped the charts, but panelist Molly Webb of The Climate Group says that ranking companies is more complicated than meets the eye. How the IT Giants Rank in Green
The Green IT Leaderboard is all about applauding the companies that are proving the potential of IT solutions to address climate change, and knocking the companies who aren't doing much more than talking about it. The rankings are based on how companies are doing in their effors to offer economy-wide techy climate solutions to reduce GHGs, their initiatives to reduce their own emissions, and their political advocacy for science-based climate and energy policies.

In the most recent iteration of the rankings, Cisco has come out on top, earning 62 points out of a possible 100. They scored a 32 out of 50 for their solutions for how technology can reduce emissions, a full 15 out of 15 for reducing their own footprint, and a 15 out of 35 for advocating for strong energy policy.

"To play a significant role in helping make sure global greenhouse gas emissions peak by 2015, IT companies need to deliver upon the promise that their technology can provide substantial climate savings today," said Greenpeace Campaigner Casey Harrell. "Leaders such as Cisco are actively investing in climate solutions, while others are merely signaling commitments, hoping that lofty words are as good as action."

While Cisco was rewarded, Greenpeace shook a finger at the entire IT industry, saying it simply isn't doing enough right now to implement solutions for reducing GHGs and pushing policy makers to get tough on cutting emissions. Greenpeace feels technology can and will play a vital roll in curbing climate change, and it just isn't living up to its potential.

Following up behind Cisco was Ericsson with a score of 53, IBM with 42, and HP with 41. Google and Microsoft - who had a panel at Green:Net discussing how they're moving into home energy management, and who are both extremely active in icreating data center efficiency technology - ranked 6th and 7th respectively, ironically for their lack of leadership in creating solutions and reudcing their own footprints. That brings up a big problem with the ranking system.

Pushing Companies Forward Without Pushing Them Overboard
Molly Webb, who works with The Climate Group and helped author the Smart 2020 Report, works closely with IT businesses and was on the panel during the announcement of the Leaderboard results. She noted that numbers are very hard to extract from the companies for a variety of reasons, from their wanting to keep numbers private to the lack of standards in tracking emissions in the first place.

So while actions speak loudly, there aren't hard and fast calculations for how well they're doing, nor a hard and fast way of tracking progress - for example, how much money is a company investing in their R&D; for green tech, and are they calling it green tech, or sustainability development, or environmental accounting? How are they tracking their emissions, and would comparing footprints of companies be comparing apples to apples? Simply put, it's tough to rank a company when you can't be sure quite what they're doing or how they're labeling it. Additionally, there's a gap between supply and demand - the companies may have great solutions, but no customers who are interested in or savvy about how that solution will solve their problem. The companies, to a great extent, are waiting for the market to catch up to them.

So while a ranking program like the IT Leaderboard is compelling as a way to encourage companies to move quickly forward with productive sustainability technology, it has its holes. We definitely need organizations like Greenpeace monitoring IT companies and requiring them to implement the tech that they say will solve the world's eco-woes, but we also need to be fair and acknowledge the challenges the companies face in moving forward.

You can check out the full Leaderboard at Greenpeace's website.
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