The Many Shades of Green

Following up on my Greening the Telecom Sector blog last week, I poked around to get a better sense of how the broader networking and telecom sectors' environmental and sustainability efforts are evolving. Mostly, I wanted to see if they have moved beyond the conceptual, chest-beating, “We’re Green” stage to real-life corporate practices that actually make a difference.

Well, as I suspected (and as many of you probably already know), companies are pretty much still all over the place. Environmentally friendly practices, strategies, and operations range from a mere mention on a corporate Website to pages and pages filled with links, press releases, PDF files, multimedia video, and case studies.

It’s a huge topic to tackle in one post and hard to discern how deeply embedded practices have become. But, here’s a sampling of the kinds of things I happened upon from several global players in a few adjoining sectors (let me know if you have others to share).

Take {complink 1131|Cisco Systems Inc.}, for example. The Silicon Valley networking colossus tags environmental practices to its corporate citizenship responsibility, and they extend across its organizational footprint. Cisco's Website shares info about product innovation and stewardship, energy-efficient datacenters, and smart buildings and work spaces. CEO John Chambers is spotlighted in a video talking about Cisco Energy Wise, an architecture that helps customers “meet their green goals,” using the power of the network “to completely transform a green society.”

Not far up the road, Cisco competitor {complink 2902|Juniper Networks Inc.} is getting involved in a fledging smart grid project at Moffett Park, according to a March article in the Business Journal. Mark Bauhaus, executive vice president and general manager for Juniper’s Device and Network Services Business Group, told Joint Venture, a San Jose-based nonprofit:

    Silicon Valley is viewed a bit like Camelot, a special place. People are attracted to that and we want to make sure that our buildings are sustainable, LEED-certified and energy efficient. So the smart grid at Moffett Park is a natural project for us.

Over in Europe, where recycling, reuse, and energy efficiency are common themes among the populace and government legislators, it’s no surprise to see those issues addressed by {complink 3847|Nokia Corp.}. On its Environment Web page, there are conversations about where phones go to be recycled, videos about eco-choices in manufacturing and logistics, and eco-profiles for Nokia devices.

In a project that spans Africa and Asia, MTN Cameroon — part of the South African-based mobile operator, {complink 8568|MTN Group Ltd.} — engaged with Chinese giant {complink 6419|ZTE Corp.} to come up with a renewable energy alternative to the high financial and environmental costs related to diesel power generation. As an EBN reader pointed out, ZTE has developed a customized solar-powered solution that comprises highly efficient solar panels, field-proven controllers, and a well protected outdoor cabinet. ZTE claims this not only reduces diesel consumption, but also limits air and noise pollution of generators running around the clock.

Now, in response to readers who have asked what motivates a company to turn a few shades of green… well, I don’t really know. I’m not at all convinced companies that embrace green initiatives and wave “Save the Planet” flags do so from a particularly strong sense of moral obligation. Clearly, any such undertaking has to ensure that the account books stay more black than red.

I suppose I would probably side with Gartner managing VP Stephen Stokes, who talks about sustainability efforts in a video embedded on this page. Green initiatives from 2011 onward will look different from the efforts that took seed more than a decade ago, largely because the financial implications and tradeoffs have become more tangible, measurable, and comprehensive. What started as a trendy catch phrase among niche players and consumers, and was relegated to IT types of investments, has gained momentum, and companies are being held accountable by investors, customers, regulators, and competitors. Green efforts will have to expand and evolve as companies determine what’s truly at stake.

I think Stokes says it best:

    Green IT, for example, has been a very, very important driver for IT organizations to achieve better levels of energy efficiency and to improve their overall environmental performance. What sustainability now is about is trying to continue those good practices around green IT but also to [envision] efficiency, performance, and resource optimization throughout the organization and throughout the organization’s supply chain.

18 comments on “The Many Shades of Green

  1. Ariella
    April 6, 2011

    There's mint green, olive green, grass green… But for many companies, I think the real green is the shade of greenbacks.  For example, I score essays for Pearson, a for profit education company that has the contract to score standardized tests that involve hand written essays.  The company boasts of “scoring green.”  How green are they really?  The company claims it's saving the planet by insisting on direct deposit and not sending out any paper checks or “advice” statement of payment. But the real motive there is substantial savings on postage costs for thousands of pieces of mail. The scorers don't use paper because all the papers are scanned into to be viewed over the internet. Yet, we are encouraged to print out the “anchor set” of papers to review them throughout scoring. So it doesn't really boil down to eliminating all paper, only the paper that the compnay would have to print and mail.  

  2. Barbara Jorgensen
    April 6, 2011

    I think the problem across the bord is the lack of a standrd or definition for what is “green.” It may mean each industry has to come up with its own rules and defintiions, but that would go a long way toward separating the rhetoric from the achievement.

  3. Jennifer Baljko
    April 7, 2011


    I realized I inserted the wrong link for Gartner's Stokes. You'll find it here, on the right side of the page.

  4. Ariella
    April 7, 2011

    But I would suspect, Barabara, that then that the companies that dominate theindustry would come up with a definition that allows them to claim their business to be “green.” Perhaps we need some type of general guideline about avoiding waste of paper and energy.

  5. Barbara Jorgensen
    April 7, 2011

    Excellent point!

  6. Anna Young
    April 7, 2011

    Barbara and Ariella, I agree with you that Green is subject to varied interpretations across the board. Frankly, I call it money saving ventures – whichever way or angle you want to view it.

    Seriously it is high time government legislate around this issue and ensure that there are clear guidelines, definition and clarity as to what green entails for “sustainability of Green IT” to continue, thrive and become effective.


  7. itguyphil
    April 7, 2011

    I'm not a Republican but I feel that the less government intervention in non-life threatening business practices, the better. Once they get their hand in 'legislating' what's considered green & what's not, the lobby pool will be filled with sharks of all kinds. The business folks will do what's best for their bottom line but as long as the environment is helped, I'm all for it.

  8. Jennifer Baljko
    April 8, 2011

    I tend to agree with pocharle about keeping government out of defining the next phase of the green electronics supply chain. We already have a laundry list of international laws dictating recycling, hazardous materials use, and take-back programs. I don't think more legislation – at least at this current inflection point –  will take us to the level where the supply chain really should be heading.

    What we need are truly innovative-minded companies and cross-industry expertise to seriously re-evaluate existing “green” limits, assess  environmental and business gaps on much deeper level, and stretch well beyond one-off solutions that minimally address complex issues or only superficially seem to earn a green tag.

  9. elctrnx_lyf
    April 10, 2011

    It is really a broad topic since last few years where many governemtn agencies and voluntary environment protection authorities started raising questions about the green portion of the elctronic products. I feel the organizations are certainly taking big initiatives to actively make this as part of strtegy to develop products running on alternative energy sources or running woth lesser power. Even though this is not on the agenda to save planet, but to actually develop better products as per the customer demands.

  10. Kunmi
    April 11, 2011

    Green has no other definition than an indirect way of saving the cost, control the budgets and design a new way to better manage life and business. In many organizations today, they advocate “Going Green” and as result, paper trail is being reduced and electronic systems are being introduced; especially in Healthcare and Pharmaceutical industries. Records, Archiving and other processes are going electronic. It works but the issue is the affordability of what it entails to meet the regulatory requirements. This is where the issue of mint green, olive green, grass green may set in according to Ariella's contribution. There are aspect of “going green” that must be regulated most importantly issues that pertains to confidentialilty.

  11. Ariella
    April 11, 2011

    elctrnx_lyf, I don't usually see the green initiatives as aimed at developing better products as per customer demand.  Usually companies that eliminate paper and promote paperless billing, for example, do it not because their customers ask for it but because it saves them money.  Some of the more “efficient” products developed actually are not what customers want at all.  For example, washing machines are now far more efficient, meaning they are designed to use less water and less energy than the old ones. However, many people complain that these machines do not get the clothes clean, and the sensor systems can be frustrating and very prone to break.  The washing machine I use now is over 30 years old.  The washing machines built today are designed to last no more than about a fifth of that time span.

  12. saranyatil
    April 12, 2011

    Definitely but at the end this will indirectly save planet.

  13. Eldredge
    April 16, 2011

    I tend to agree – legeslation and regulation alomost always lead to inefficiency – the opposite of the effect that is desired.

  14. t.alex
    April 22, 2011

    Good point. Green is still a slogan.

  15. Kunmi
    April 25, 2011

    I do not think that regulation and legislation always lead to inefficiency. There is always a room for control and guideline. It helps nost of the time but it is not all in all.

  16. Kunmi
    April 25, 2011

    T Alex, I agree. Green is the slogan but not the actual

  17. Eldredge
    April 25, 2011

    There are similar complaints related to dishwasher technology.

  18. Eldredge
    April 25, 2011

    There is a place for regulation/legislation, to be sure. However, they become big problems when they are implemented based on dubious science, becasue then they place raodblocks on genuine progress, and don't accomplish the goals they were intended to achieve.

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