BT in perpetual motion: Living Lightly and SMB greening

BT is on a roll at the moment. Shame we can’t package its perpetual green drumbeat as perpetual motion. Seriously- what other major FTSE company is doing so much to educate different sectors on greening issues?

A couple of days ago the firm was announcing the results of an Economist Intelligence Unit study it sponsored into corporate sustainability. Now BT informs me that its launched a new SMB program called Living Lightly. The simple but effective idea behind the slogan and campaign is that small firms can make a real difference to the national carbon footprint.

Its a core GreenMonk belief that small things add up (my favourite example is Google’s adwords revenues), and it seems BT is thinking the same thing:

“Small steps – when taken by a large number of individuals – make a big difference. With 4.3 million small businesses in the UK alone, the collective impact could be incredible.”

Amen to that.

At first glance the actions BT suggests look pretty self-serving:

  1. Take up conferencing
  2. Reduce unnecessary trips back to the office by using mobile communications technology
  3. Turn off office equipment at the end of the day
  4. Recycle
  5. Take-up flexible working

But as someone that has been to Lisbon and back this week for an IBM conference that could just as easily have been held in or around London, where the great majority European industry analysts seem to work, I think there is something to be said for looking at alternatives to travel. I am not alone- I heard the other day that PriceWaterhouseCoopers employees are now being asked to make personal steps to reduce their business travel.

Here are my own suggestions:

  1. Cycle to work
  2. Unplug your mobile phone chargers when its not in use
  3. Buy local services if at all possible

BT borrows heavily from the Pledgebank Model – Tell The World I Will Do It But Only If You Help with each pledge for sustainability growing the LiveLightly tree…

You on the move? “Drive more slowly – driving at 50mph uses 25% less fuel than 70mph.”

You at work? “Bring your own mug into work and don’t use paper or plastic cups.” What – why shouldn’t drink tea out of solidified petrol?

What can I say – this is goodness. Why do I big up BT so much? Why not- it should be encouraged to do more cool stuff.  In terms of using social software and quirky approaches BT is showing the way forward. Don’t hector- encourage. Green isn’t just for big companies. We all have to make a difference.


Greening the UK, carbon-busting through iGoogle

Google today gets all my love. They have just built a great interface and set of carbon-busting mashups, leveraging the AMEE back-end. You can calculate footprint, but also post videos through Sky about your own carbon-busting efforts.

According to AMEE:

Google’s implementation is based on the underlying Act on CO2 data provided by Defra and others. It makes some additional assumptions (based on data from the Energy Saving Trust) to get the number of questions down to a “manageable” few pages (specifically around appliances).

I am particularly pleased to report this initiative is driven by Google UK. sweet. Anyway- go check it out.


Toyota as a case study in complexity. Is prius just a greenwash halo?

Great piece today at movementdesign’s re*move blog about Toyota. It tells us a lot about bright green, and the danger of kneejerk reactions. There are plenty of lessons for any industry there.

Right now there’s a petition going on in the States, calling for Toyota to support a proposed bill requiring ‘CAFE’ fleet average ‘gas mileage’ for cars and small trucks, to rise to 35mpg by 2020.  Toyota is doing its green image absolutely no good by trying to derail this bill, and supporting an alternative, which calls for the average to rise to 32mpg. Could it be that the self-styled green giant Toyota, is not as green as it likes everyone to think it is?

It seems its all about the trucks, with Prius as nothing more than window dressing.

Sadly, like everyone else auto-wise when it comes to the United States market, Toyota is actually rather keen on truck sales – specifically its big Tundra truck – which it recently launched a new version of. While Ford and GM have been taken to the cleaners by greens and press alike over their poor gas mileage, and reliance on selling inefficient trucks and their lack of hybrids, Toyota has sailed merrily on, positioning itself as the big green giant, basking in the halo effect of the Prius.

Joe though avoids knee-jerk conclusions. Its not either, or.

So although this fuel economy episode is unlikely to do Toyota’s green image much good – and although it indeed seems rather hypocritical of them to oppose the tougher gas-mileage bill, I wouldn’t kick Toyota too hard. They are ahead of the game – in terms of alternative power plants, advanced research and future mobility ideas. Just because they oppose the regulations now, doesn’t mean they won’t hit, or even exceed the legislation come 2020.

Toyota is of course undoubtedly a leader in green automotive technology, and green automotive sales, but we have to remember the company’s job is to sell as many vehicles as possible. Until it becomes deeply embarrassing to drive one of those huge trucks in environments where they aren’t absolutely necessary people will keep buying them. Toyota it seems to me is a company we should be encouraging to do better. But then signing the petition is perhaps a way to do just that.

Somehow I can’t see a computer company lobbying to reduce energy consumption targets on servers, but stranger things have happened. Environmental leadership is complex and only going to get more so.


The Carbon Cost of The Surveillance Society

One of the things we’ll need to do if we really want better environmental outcomes is to understand the cost of things that we wouldn’t ordinarily consider, what are known in economics as “externalities”. All the stuff you don’t have actually to pay for. Fast-moving consumer goods companies (FMCG) and their packaging. Oil companies and the environmental legacy of their drilling platforms. And so on.

I found a great example of considering unexpected costs on Chris Dalby’s political rants blog. All these surveillance cameras- how much energy do they consume?

So we got all these cameras and elecronic devices like traffic ligts requireing energy being installed. This constantly increases the carbon offset requirments of the UK and drains energy sources. I have a problem with this from an environmental point of view. Just how much carbon is required to power a camera? Is this extra carbon footprint on the UK justifiable

I know I had not never considered the impact of our creeping surveillance society on UK carbon emissions. This endgadget blog mentions there being 4m such cameras in the UK (the best a quick Google search came up with). Assuming average power consumption of 50watts, that’s 200 Megawatts (MW) for UK surveillance, which is… certainly measurable. Obviously if anyone has insights into these numbers I would love to hear from you.

Chris goes on to consider street lamps too. But he also goes on to make a suggestion – compulsory solar panels on cameras and street lights. Of course these would need to charge batteries or something. There is an obvious flaw in solar powered street lamps (especially in the UK)…. but the idea of distributing power generation to take the strain off the national network and lower total emissions is basically sound.

The civil liberties crowd should maybe get out their wattmeters. One thing CCTV is really good for. Edgy self-portraits. Thanks andyrob for the main illustration!

See more on flickr here. Bonus portrait below by s j b


Europe’s Second Largest Web Host Goes Carbon Neutral. Sun helps.


STRATO, Europe’s second largest web host, is becoming the first company to power its high performance computer centres entirely with renewable energy. From January 2008 STRATO data centres will be 100% C02 free, enabling STRATO to reduce its CO2 emissions by approximately 15,000 tons per year.

I first met the folks from Strato as alpha customers for Sun’s lower pow consumption Niagara/T1-based multicore servers. The company data center is based on the banks of the Rhine, which gets really hot in summer.  But how do you keep servers cool when its hot outside? One method is to build a state of the art air cooling system, which Strato is doing.

I love the fact Strato has done the maths, and decided to pay more for carbon-neutral electricity, knowing its going to save enough in other areas to more than compensate for the slightly lower margin.  I haven’t talked to them about this yet, butI see a follow up and some RedMonkTV in our future.


Fantastic Serendipity: What’s Your Global Action Plan

Anyone that uses social software tools knows how they sometimes create interesting coincidences. Someone will write about the same thing, on the same day, and mention you, say, when you blogged about them without seeing their post first. That kind of thing.

I was really pleased, and not a little bit surprised this morning when i went over to check out the ComputerWorldUK Green zone, where this blog is syndicated, and came across a call to action from Global Action Plan.

GAP is carrying out a survey – let’s hear your green plans. So please fill it in here.

This survey, by the newly formed Environmental IT Leadership Board, aims to find out the level of awareness of IT impact on the environment that exists between IT managers.

Chaired by the environmental charity Global Action Plan and backed by internet solutions provider Logicalis, the Environmental IT Leadership Board is the UK’s first end user green IT team. The group is comprised of members from Lloyds TSB, British Medical Association, John Lewis Partnership, E. ON UK and others, making up a diverse and influential group, committed to creating a positive change in the IT sector.

The Environmental IT Leadership Team aims to create an independent expert user group focused on exploring and publishing best practice sustainable IT strategies. While there have been other groups driven from the manufacturer side, this is first from the user perspective.

It is brilliant to see major UK organisations showing this kind of leadership.

You’re probably wondering what is the big coincidence? Well, about a month ago I volunteered to help GAP with a couple of projects, and seeing them here at my digs at ComputerWorld dovetails so brilliantly with that. I am looking forward to working with them.


Introducing AMEE, the avoiding mass extinctions engine

Its a core Greenmonk idea that open data will be crucial to the success of environmental initiatives. We need a scientific, commons-based approach, rather than proprietary data, in order to work effectively on the really big (and really small) problems.

A great example of this kind of thinking is AMEE, the somewhat scarily named Avoiding Mass Extinction Engine, which is a an open source back end data service for calculating carbon footprints. One of the really interesting elements of the AMEE model is the fact the UK public sector is getting involved in the shape of DEFRA, and Hertfordshire Council. The Royal Society too.

AMEE uses the GNU Public License and Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike licenses to ensure its data can’t be strip mined. What’s not to like? Certainly it would make a great deal of sense if competing Carbon Calculators out there used the service rather than build their own models and databases. I wrote up AMEE in a bit more detail over at GreenForge.


Green From The Ground Up: On your Bike

Some people argue that we can’t make a difference, that only corporations or governments have the muscle to work on the huge ecological problems we’re all facing, that carbon emissions are someone else’s problem. So its refreshing to see someone that sees things differently and acts on the difference. Credit to 21st Century Citizen for writing about someone worthy of the name: Steve Loo.

We’re all part of the problem, so therefore we must be part of the change.

Pedal power – that’s roots. Here are Steve’s trails to sustainability:

1. Using my bike as my main form of transportation including winter time (I still drive once a week through carsharing)

2. Using less paper (in fact, I haven’t bought any new paper in 3 years);

3. Having not just shorter showers but also having staggered and fewer showers; recently we bought a dual flush toilet. Woohoo!

4. Creating my own artistic notebooks reusing old materials

5. Becoming more integrated with my local economy – not just local foods but also locally made products and services (yay Calgary Dollars)

6. Organizing and promoting documentary screenings focusing on social justice and environmental issues, and showcasing local activists working on local causes

7. Gardening (with mixed success but still trying)

8. Questioning and challenging our politicians, journalists, teachers and other “professionals” (along with fellow students) regarding government policy and media portrayal of all the issues

9. Encouraging my friends to take up more sustainable lifestyles while emphasizing that this is progression rather than perfection.

Just because the world is speeding up doesn’t mean you have to.

Photo courtesy of sandcastlematt. This post is nigh on perfect for the car obsessives over at Re*Move.


Go Green Nippon Style: Turn Your Server Off at Night

I recently met with Fujitsu Siemens Computer about green data initiatives, based on what the joint venture calls IT with a sense of responsibility. The underlying hook to the narrative is Japanese/German engineering excellence (not a bad peg, I am sure you’d agree).

Bernhard Brandwitte, director of product marketing for FSC and perhaps more importantly in the context of behavioural change an excellent story-teller, told me something that really rocked me on my heels: in Japan its common to turn production servers off at night. Yup- apparently the Japanese insurance industry tries to avoid fires in plants at night by offering much cheaper cover for companies that power down after dark.

What does that mean in practice? A much more coherent backup and recovery strategy for one. A commitment to not 24/7, not follow the Sun, not have uptime for its own sake.

I have been thinking about this issue for a while, but it was a tweet from Chris Dalby this morning that pulled the trigger:

yellowpark is going green. I’m turning my server off each night 🙂

Chris is someone I deeply respect. Another cool thing is that he won’t shop at supermarkets- all his shopping is packaging free, from a local farm shop. When he tweets a delicious lunch menu you know the vegetables were never wrapped in plastic. That is a pretty good metaphor for Chris: He is very real, very passionate, and focuses on local issues. He is all about change from the grassroots.

Chris’ commitment to server-off computing is cool because he is an expert in technologies such as Windows Small Business Server, which he sells into small and medium-sized businesses. I wonder if he could set up a service helping SMBs become more green, given his bona fides?

All I know is that much as we should all turn off our appliances at night, and our cellphone chargers, so we should ask – do we really need that server on all night?


picture credit: Chris’s dog, from his moo cards, saying… “Turn that bloody server off, I’ll be your watchdog…”

disclosure: Chris is a friend.


Why Don’t You Just Turn Off The Television And Do Something Less Boring Instead?

From 21st Century Citizen come suggestions for small things that could make a difference in the fight against global warming. One of the suggestions is turn off the TV and do anything. Join the Anything But TV club. Seems fair. We need to engage with challenges, not just watch them flickering past.

My own favorite small thing to make a difference is turning off the plugs at the wall when I leave the office, and when we turn off the TV in the evening at home. There is no need to power all of those appliances-or more pertinently their power supplies-overnight. Its good to turn off the plugs rather than just devices because otherwise you forget about phone chargers and so on…