On Monday, Newsweek released their inaugural Green Rankings, and interestingly, HP finished at the top. In an article, titled "The Greenest Big Companies in America" they explain they decided to publicize this list to recognize the efforts of companies, and how they ranked companies in industries as diverse as high-tech and mining.
Some are critical about the way this was done, Rose Gordon in PRWeek for example, points out that "ranks are fraught with subjectivity, or incomplete and self-reported data", but recognizes this is "a best first effort".
HP's position is due to its long term commitment to reducing the environmental footprint of all its operations, and not based on carbon offset or any other substitution program. The environmental subject is an emotional one, but reading through some of the blog comments, I realize many HP programs are not known and not visible to most. Indeed, our objective has not been to market green, but rather to become greener. HP is mainly working in three spaces:
- Reducing the environmental impact of a product throughout its whole lifecycle, from design to recycling
- Reducing the environmental impact of HP's own operations and facilities
- Helping HP employees reduce their own environmental impact
Each of those subjects is worth a whole dissertation, and it is not my plan in this entry to review all measures taken and describe every internal policy, this would take us way too far. However, I would like to highlight some very practical examples that may help you understand what we are trying to do.
Let me first highlight a program, called Design for Environment, we embarked on several years ago. The objective of this program is to include the environmental aspects right from the early design stages of the product. It addresses the impact of the product during manufacturing, during usage and at recycling, so, all the way through the lifecycle of the product. Aspects such as packaging, materials, energy consumption, supply chain impacts, ease of reuse/recycling are all taken into account. Obviously tradeoffs have to be made to ensure quality and ease of use of the product, as our customers do not expect HP to lower their standards.
Let me give you some examples. About one year ago, HP designed a notebook for Walmart, shipped in a stylish bag made out of 100% recycled material, reducing packaging with 97%, and winning Walmart's Design Challenge along the way. Another example is the increased use of recycled material in the production of Inkjet Cartridges. These are just two examples in a series. I will come back to the DfE program in a future entry.
And let me take a minute to urge you to recycle your cartridges and HP products. You can find information on the program in your country here.
To reduce its environmental impact, HP is addressing multiple aspects at the same time. And here is where, a partial view does not allow a real understanding of what is happening. For example, when HP announced the doubling of Green Energy Use in late 2008, we received negative comments from some of our competitors, and that's fine. In the mean time, we are well on the way to reduce our total Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from our facilities to 16 percent below 2005 levels, by the end of 2010. Our current performance can be found here. We are consolidating buildings; increase the use of renewable energy, decrease emissions per unit of floor space etc. But we are also ensuring our company car fleet uses more efficient cars (reduction of 8% of GHG emissions from 205 level, and 24% from 2006 level in Europe alone) , we are reducing travel and have implemented Halo telepresence studio's in all major facilities. We have also consolidated our IT datacenters resulting in drastic reductions in energy consumption, and are working at consolidating our printing environments.
In many countries programs exist to help employees reduce their environmental impact. In my own country for example, a program for acquiring rooftop solar panels has been implemented. Environmental tricks and tips are available on the intranet to give another example. And HP goes even further, trying to incent its customers to reduce their carbon footprint. The "Power to Change" program, launched last June, is one of the examples. To address the widest possible audience, the program is on facebook and twitter.
Becoming "greener", and I use this term rather than the term "green", as I strongly believe companies can always reduce their environmental impact, is not a big bang announcement, but an orchestration of many small steps that each add to a common goal. Caring for the environment has been in HP's DNA for a long time. Our first recycling program was started in 1966, to recycle punched cards. Most of you probably do not even remember how they look.
We are committed to continue our efforts to reduce our environmental impact. If you are interested in reviewing how we progress, check our environment pages.
A couple days ago I received a quick note from one of my colleagues concerning an activity initiated by the UK government, the "Greening Government ICT: Efficient, Sustainable, Responsible". In this initiative, they aim at making energy consumption of their ICT systems carbon neutral by 2010, and making them carbon neutral across their lifetime (including manufacture and disposal) by 2020. This raised the question of carbon neutrality in my mind. I have heard a number of companies claiming to be carbon neutral, but frankly have never been sure what this meant.
According to an Ezine article, Carbon Neutral - What does it mean?, carbon neutral does not mean that no carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, but rather that the carbon dioxide emitted is balanced by equivalent reductions somewhere else. This can be by using biofuels, which are considered carbon neutral although they release CO2, or by using energy that does not generate CO2, such as wind, solar, hydroelectric or even nuclear. Unfortunately, in the case of biofuel and nuclear, the emissions generated to manufacture the fuel in the first place is not included in the calculation, so this is already a first approximation to remember.
There are three approaches to reduce CO2 emissions from fossil origin, and these are:
- Reduce the amount of energy consumed all together. And this is obviously the best way. I always like to refer to a quote from Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, vice chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "The best energy is the energy that is not used", seems so logic that the question should be raised why there is not more focus on this approach. According to a study of the WWF, buildings in the US consume twice the energy of similar ones in Europe.
- Replace fossil energy by energy provided from other sources such as wind, solar, wave power, water, biomass etc. Actually the Sun provides the earth in one hour more energy than we require in one year. So, it would seem easy to resolve the CO2 problem, unfortunately not enough investments are made to capture the solar energy. Through increasing those investments, companies can become carbon neutral.
- Buy carbon offsets, this means in simple words, continue emitting as much carbon dioxide as usual, but pay somebody else for capturing a similar amount of CO2. The most common project type is renewable energy, such as wind farms, biomass energy, or hydroelectric dams. Other common project types include energy efficiency projects, the destruction of industrial pollutants or agricultural byproducts, destruction of landfill methane, and forestry projects.
- Scope 1: all direct emissions generated by the company (typically petrol, diesel, refrigerant leaks, process waste and emissions)
- Scope 2: emissions from purchased energy (typically electricity)
- Scope 3: emissions from other indirect sources (typically from purchased material, products or services): these emissions are direct emissions of the suppliers/subcontractors and can be controlled by supply chain management criteria requiring these suppliers/subcontractors to also be Carbon Neutral.
A number of electronic companies have claimed to be "carbon neutral" at this point in time. They typically aim for scope 2. However, knowing that the same companies increasingly outsource their manufacturing, logistics, repair and recycling operations, one could ask what the real impact is of such claim. On top of that, a number of them achieve this through the use of Carbon offset which are actually put in question by a number of studies. Some even go as far as talking about the "Carbon Neutral Myth". So, the question about whether such claims are made more for marketing purpose rather than any other. To somehow illustrate this, Gartner released a study "How Green is the IT Industry", where it analyses progress made by ICT companies in reducing carbon emissions, which should be the ultimate goal isn't it? Well, at least one of the companies claiming to be "carbon neutral", was at the bottom of the list.
So, what is more important for the planet, becoming more carbon neutral or reducing the overall carbon emissions in a company value chain. Frankly, I am voting for the latter. So let's hope that the UK government, in its laudable effort, focuses on reducing the emissions of CO2 from fossil origin, and is not limiting its effort to the purchase of carbon offsets. The planet will be greatful.