06/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Which Tech Company Will Lead on Climate Change?

We know that IT industry can and should be at the vanguard of climate solutions. We have all seen how tech companies compete with each other to provide the newest, fastest, and shiniest gizmos to power our lives. It is only natural then that they now apply that know-how and compete with each other to see who can provide the best (and profit the most from) IT climate solutions.

Many IT companies, including HP, Nokia, Microsoft, Sun, Cisco and Ericsson, Google, Dell, IBM and Lenovo have already said that they are able to provide solutions that will reduce projected global greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by 2020 through IT solutions. Because Greenpeace wants to take IT's potential to make change and make it reality, we have launched our Cool IT Challenge, an effort to expose the IT industry's inadequate leadership in tackling climate change and challenge them to do better.

Greenpeace began its Cool IT Challenge in February with a letter to the CEOs of the major IT companies asking them to take specific action prioritizing climate change in 2009. Today we have released scores to their responses to specific requests in the letter, which urge them to show leadership by:

• Providing IT solutions and accurately measuring the impacts these solutions provide for the rest of the economy. These solutions come in vital areas in such as grid transmission, transport, and building efficiency;

• Lobbying for a strong climate deal at the international climate negations to be held in December in Copenhagen. That deal would create a stimulus for an increase in demand for IT driven climate solutions by the rest of the economy;

• And by cleaning up their own back yard by reducing their own emissions and increasing their use of renewable energy.

The few bright spots on our scorecard include Sun Microsystems, which has publically advocated for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 and at least 25 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2020. Fujitsu too stands out as a company openly addressing the need to measure "net" emissions reductions that result from solutions they propose for the rest of the economy.

But leading names such as HP, Microsoft and Sony are among other IT giants that score less that 15 out of the maximum of 100. These companies talk big about "going green" but have yet to provide tangible evidence of how their software and hardware solutions actually reduce emissions. If these companies want to score better on our next scorecard, which is coming out at the end of the summer, they must show real world case studies of climate savings based on sound metrics.

2009 is a crucial year for the climate
In December, crucial UN climate negotiations are taking place in Copenhagen, Denmark. World governments will agree the next round of greenhouse gas emission reductions under the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol. In order to reach a strong agreement, all sectors need to act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenpeace is asking the companies to support the objective to keep global temperature rise as far below 2°C as possible. Scientific evidence shows that in order to prevent climate chaos, temperature will need to be halted well below 2°C. In 2007, the world's most eminent climate scientists the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released their fourth report, which shows that in order to keep temperature rise around 2°C, greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2015 and developed countries need to reduce their emissions by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 by 2020.

Greenpeace is currently using the upper limits of the ranges given in the IPCC report, as later scientific evidence is showing that we need to reach at least these upper limits. As such, Greenpeace feels it is the minimum we can also ask of companies. Greenpeace will also keep companies informed about the latest scientific research, and expects them to keep their greenhouse gas emission projections in line with this.

A strong global climate deal offers a real business opportunity for the IT industry through the technology needed to implement climate solutions, such as improved videoconferencing, smart power grids, and efficient production and logistics. We believe that IT can lead with the right mix of public pressure, government action, and industry competition. Simply put, if the world is to avoid the worst of effects of climate change, they are going to have to. A peak in global emissions by 2015 followed by a rapid decline to as close to zero as possible by 2050 is crucial to protect the climate. The industry has said they have the knowledge; now is the time to prove it.