Tag Archives: Sustainability

Winds of energy change blow through Germany and China

By David Bicknell

Change in government priorities and policies can drive structural change that generates significant investment and growth. That is now particularly the case in energy production projects in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.

From this article on Business Green, it appears that Germany  is set for a significant investment in wind power with the setting up of a number of offshore wind farms with new hydroelectric power plants in the offing too.

German energy companies and investors are ready to plough up to €60bn into overhauling the country’s power infrastructure, following the government’s pledge to phase out nuclear reactors.

The energy and water industry association BDEW issued a report on the first day of the Hanover industrial fair revealing that plans are underway to build or modernise 84 power stations with a combined capacity of 42GW.

As Business Green says, the report also provides one of the most detailed insights to date on how the German energy sector plans to cope with the government’s commitment to phase out nuclear capacity in the country post-Fukushima.

Another recent article shows that China is making similar investments in wind energy, spending the equivalent of £4bn in the North-Western Gansu region.

As Jonathan Watts reports, “Wind turbines, which were almost unknown five years ago, stretch into the distance, competing only with far mountains and new pylons for space on the horizon. Jiuquan alone now has the capacity to generate 6GW of wind energy – roughly equivalent to that of the whole UK. The plan is to more than triple that by 2015, when this area could become the biggest wind farm in the world.

“Although it is the world’s biggest CO2 emitter and notorious for building the equivalent of a 400MW coal-fired power station every three days, it is also erecting 36 wind turbines a day and building a robust new electricity grid to send this power thousands of miles across the country from the deserts of the west to the cities of the east.

“It is part of a long-term plan to supply 15 per cent of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2020. Most of that will come from nuclear and hydropower, but the government is also tapping the wind and solar potential of the deserts, mountain plateaus and coastlines.”

Meanwhile, Britain could pump £13bn into the economy and create up to 10,000 jobs by upgrading its power distribution network with smart grid technology, according to a Reuters report.

The technology has the potential to transform the way electricity is generated, distributed and consumed just as the Internet transformed the way the world communicates.

The idea is to create a communication network to maximise efficiency in supply and demand and to cut costs for homes and businesses.

Related Reading

UK smart grid could create jobs, help economy

How a Dutch SME is helping make software energy efficient

By David Bicknell

It may take a little time, but in the future organisations will be able to track the energy efficiency of their software and know how much it is costing them to run.

It follows an idea developed by a Dutch SME that specialises in the quality of software. Amsterdam-based Software Improvement Group (SIG) has partnered with the nearby Hogeschool van Amsterdam (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences)  to create the Software Energy Footprint Lab (SEFLab).

SEFLab is now setting out to establish how the quality of organisations’ software code affects their energy consumption. The work will couple SIG’s knowledge and expertise in software monitoring  with the enthusiasm and technical expertise of the local university students.

Campaign4Change asked Dr Joost Visser, SIG’s Head of Research how it is going about tackling the energy efficiency of software, and what elements of the problem it needs to examine.

Joost Visser: There are basically two types of this problem that you can break this down and look into. One is across the software lifecycle. So just as with software defects where the later you find them the more expensive they are, so with energy efficiency, if you try to optimise your software once it’s already in production, you may have to make an explicit investment that might not provide an adequate payback. But if you already know what requirements you need to keep in mind at the design stage for energy efficiency, then, for example, you might actually choose a different communication protocol which can improve your efficiency. At each of the development process, there are things to do: in requirements, in the coding and in the testing.

Another issue is the hierarchical level of software. The thing you might see as the consumer is the application. But actually that’s not the first level that impacts energy efficiency. The first level is the user themselves. In a car, the person that is actually touching the accelerator has a lot of influence on how much fuel you would use. To reduce your fuel usage, you may need to change your (driving) behaviour. The same thing applies with users of software. If they know what the consequences are of clicking here and searching there, they might behave slightly differently and it might have an impact on energy efficiency. If you give people feedback, they will behave differently.

C4C: What sort of user feedback have you had?

JV: We did a survey around 9 months ago where we asked a lot of users about these types of things and the overwhelming conclusion of that survey was that, ‘Yes, we would like to change our behaviour but at the moment we have nothing to go on. We don’t know how to make that change.’

There is a premium on green products. People want to be green – but they have to be able to make a meaningful choice. There are various elements to consider. First there is the application layer. Then we have the various components from which the software application is built: a database; a runtime environment framework, and Java as a virtual machine. Then underneath there’s the operating system. Microsoft has made a big effort in its operating system to take energy efficiency into account but I think there are many more steps to be made there. Then there is communication. You have to think about your mobile device uses radio to communicate when you’re browsing. You may have to make an explicit switch to a Wi-Fi network which might be more energy efficient. Is it more energy efficient than 3G? We don’t know yet. That is one of the things we’re going to find out.

C4C: One of the areas that many organisations are talking about is the impact of consumerisation and the use of touch devices creating a new user interface that organisations’ applications will have to be rewritten for. What does than mean from an energy efficiency perspective?

JV: One of the very very real challenges now is that we want to go to those new devices with mobile strategies but time to market dictates how we think about energy efficiency. So you might choose to do develop once on different devices but on many devices, there’s no accounting for the energy consumption. You might go to HTML5, for instance, but it might consume much more energy than when you create a native application. I think by making the choices visible, we will enable people to choose. We will take away the time-to-market issue and people will be able to say,’ OK, we can have this a couple of weeks later and still make things provably more energy efficient’, which consumers will appreciate.

C4C: Will we get to a stage where the consumer will think about the energy efficiency, or are they really only going to be thinking about the coolness of the product i.e. I want an iPad and I don’t really care what the energy efficiency is?

JV: Let’s be realistic about this. Consumers want to get hold of new things. They’re right – they’re consumers. So the coolness of the device has to incorporate the energy efficiency. It’s a lifestyle product. If you offer that, they’ll want it.

C4C: But in the corporate world previously, the IT department would buy the product. Now the user, the consumer, is buying the product and he or she wants a cool devices and they don’t really know about the energy efficiency side of things.

JV: If you compare it to other types of products, fridges, for instance, suppliers do compete on energy efficiency. They all want to be rated A, and that’s partly to do with regulation and partly to do with the demands of the customer. But an essential thing to make that work is that there is a measurement, a consumable rating, that’s meaningful. And now with software, we are developing the science behind it.

Is it about green hardware? Or is it using an energy efficient battery? Or just using a bigger battery? It gives you as a consumer the incentive to use it.  There is also the recycling of the batteries to be taken into account, of course.

C4C: Going back to the way the user is using the software. If you take the car analogy, ultimately there is a cost for you if you’re not driving efficiently. How do we portray those costs in terms of energy efficiency of software?

JV: Maybe you should get feedback about your consumption, not in terms of the litre of fuel you used, but in terms of euros. You want to make that last step. Similarly in software there is a lot of knowledge about CPU cycles and megabytes. But in the end you want to know what is the calorific value of what you’re doing. And that has to be put into some perspective.

C4C: If you were to take it to the nth degree, would you be able to get an idea of how much electricity or energy you had used in your browsing session?

JV: If you keep all your tabs open, do you as a user know if that has any impact, or is that negligible? If you knew it was consuming energy, maybe you’d take the trouble of closing them because it has value for you. Energy consumption goes further than simply your own device. If you’re browsing, you’re pulling information in, and the server starts doing things for you and data starts being generated. It might be stored, consuming energy, for the next 50 years. And it makes a difference how it gets archived or stored. All of this has to be made simple for the consumer to comprehend. Then there’s the organisational side, those organisations that have bespoke software built for them.

They might be interested in ‘green’ from the idealistic point of view. Their clients are interested too and they want to be socially responsible. But those organisations are also very much interested in the cost aspect. Energy costs are rising and it’s not just costs, but scarcity too. If more work implies more energy, at some point you may not be able to get it as easily as before. Either you will get it back in higher energy costs or it just won’t be there.

C4C: Is there any way you can create a benchmark or figure that talks about how much inefficient software usage can cost?

JV: Not yet. For data centre efficiency, there is the PUE. It has lots of drawbacks as well. But is has had a good impact and made choices more clear. We are working on it. We have some development of KPIs. But it’s hard. There’s a real research challenge here. One reason is the mapping of software applications to hardware. It’s not one to one. We may have one software application running on many pieces of hardware and due to virtualisation and other techniques, we have many applications running on the same hardware. With the hardware you can map how much energy goes through it. But how do you map that to the consumer of the energy i.e. the software? That’s a very difficult puzzle.

Another thing is that we’d all like to have a benchmark. To have a benchmark, you need comparable things. But think about it. You have online payments for a bank versus using a browser. The type of work you do with the software, the user transactions, so to speak, is completely different.  If one consumes a certain amount of energy and the other consumes double that, what does that mean? Does that mean the one that consumes more is worse? Not necessarily. It may simply be doing more work. So we have to develop KPIs that allow meaningful comparison. One suggestion is to how much energy per function point. That sounds good, but actually it’s completely wrong, because a function point is about functional size and how many features you offer.  Yet it doesn’t have anything about the workload in it. You have to involve the workload into the KPI otherwise it cannot work.

Now workload is something that’s completely different between different vendors and operations systems and end users. Comparing an operating system to an end user application will not work. That’s why we’re trying to build these up through the lab.

C4C: You could end up having two years of discussions between vendors over what would be an appropriate standard for energy efficient software, couldn’t you?

JV: The way to make these protracted processes shorter is to have people with lots of initiative who just go for it in their own sphere of influence, and show that it can be done, and create a reality that others can follow. International standardisation processes take a long time, but you shouldn’t wait for it. You should go for it.

Links

Software Energy Footprint Lab

8 ways to make your software more energy efficient

Some success in cutting Whitehall costs

By Tony Collins

The coalition government, Cabinet Office, Treasury, departments and agencies have succeeded in cutting central government costs, according to a National Audit Office report published today.

The NAO found that “in particular, large reductions have been made in spending on consultants, temporary staff, property and information technology” in 2010-11.

Departments cut their spend on consultants by £645m in – a real-terms reduction of 37%, said the NAO which also identified “£537m reduced capital spending on IT-related items”.

Unlike some previous reports of the NAO that have questioned the credibility of officialdom’s claims of savings, the NAO’s latest report “Cost reduction in central government: summary of progress” found that the savings claimed by the Cabinet Office, Treasury and government were usually genuine.

Where departments have cut costs by cancelling IT projects or having contracts renegotiated – as opposed to simplifying and streamlining the way they work – the NAO was unsure whether the savings could be sustained.

Said the NAO

“Central government departments took effective action in 2010-11 to reduce costs and successfully managed within the reduced spending limits announced following the 2010 election.

“This resulted in a 2.3% real-terms reduction in spending within departments’ control, compared with 2009-10. Some £3.75bn or around half the reduction was in areas targeted by the Efficiency and Reform Group for cuts in back‑office and avoidable costs.”

Are IT cuts sustainable without a change in working practices?

The NAO said:

 “The fall of 35 per cent in IT capital spend is partly the result of decisions to permanently halt or reduce spending on specific projects, and partly the result of action to reduce the costs of IT products and services including through contract renegotiation.

“However, it is unlikely that IT capital spending will remain at this lower level in total, given the key role of IT and online services in increasing productivity.”

The NAO mentioned the actions of some departments by name.

-          The Home Office cut costs in part by “significant reductions in IT, estates and consultancy spending”.

- HM Revenue & Customs, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Defence aimed to secure the bulk of cost reductions from within their organisations. HM Revenue & Customs has established comprehensive governance arrangements to reduce costs, with a central team and programme management infrastructure. The Department for Work and Pensions put in place a transformation programme board in May 2011 to oversee the redesign of its corporate centre and broader cultural change. “However, it cannot finalise plans beyond 2011-12 as they depend on the future business model after the introduction of Universal Credit,” said the NAO. The DWP’s finance team has provided ‘What the Future Holds’ updates and interactive briefings for staff.

- The NAO said it “identified strong leadership as a key factor in the success of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s cost reduction efforts”.

- The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Services within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs “held sufficiently detailed information to be able to challenge its project managers to reduce costs without affecting services”. The NAO said the “resulting savings identified from some 200 projects made up 30 per cent of the Agency’s efforts to meet their efficiency savings target”.

In July 2011, the Cabinet Office’s Efficiency and Reform Group reported to the Public Accounts Committee that it had helped save some £3.75bn through various initiatives. “Our analysis of the audited accounts of the 17 main departments confirms that spending in the areas targeted was reduced on this scale”, said the NAO.

Comment

The NAO report shows that within some departments officials are cutting costs by simply reducing grants but some parts of central government are making an effort to do things differently.

We hope the coalition and Cabinet Office keep up the pressure for cost-cutting because, in IT alone, the potential savings are in the billions. The NAO report shows there has been a good start. We hope that the officials who are achieving lasting success will pass on their learning experiences to those who are struggling to make cuts sustainable.

NAO report Cost reduction in central government – a summary of progress

What sustainability – and business – leaders should learn from Steve Jobs

By David Bicknell

It’s a couple of weeks since Steve Jobs left us. Many tributes have been paid. With sustainability in mind, I liked this blog post from Andrew Winston entitled ‘What Sustainability should learn from Steve Jobs.’

It’s not so much about Apple and sustainability. But it’s about Steve Jobs’  eye for innovation and one important lesson that sustainability-minded leaders can learn from Jobs’ legacy: you should lead your customers and show them a better way.

Winston, who writes regularly for the Harvard Business Review, suggests that most large companies today are “fast followers” –  with ‘fiscal and strategic conservatism breeding a culture where execs prefer to wait and talk to customers before doing anything drastic. Of course customer (and other stakeholder) perspectives are critical. But as with tablet computers, when it comes to sustainability, often the customers don’t really know what they need.

“Companies often gather data on what their business customers think a sustainable product should be, and the survey might show that including recycled material is important, even if that’s a tiny part of the real footprint story. Nobody knows the value chain of your product and service as well as you do (or if someone else does, get them in the room pronto). So figure out where the impacts really lie and what you can do to reduce your customer’s footprint in ways they hadn’t considered. This might require asking heretical questions about whether the product should even exist in its current form or should be converted into more of a service.” 

Winston believes the next generation’s Steve Jobs is likely to focus on sustainability since that’s where the largest challenges and business opportunities lie.

I like Winston’s thinking on “fast followers.” It’s far easier to be a follower  than to take a lead, get out there, take a risk and make a market. That’s fine, as long as second place is somewhere, and not nowhere.

As well as sustainability and business leaders, maybe there’s also a lesson here for those who aspire to create public sector mutuals: to take a lead and show that there’s a better way.

Why corporate sustainability strategy is now part of the CFO’s role

By David Bicknell

The organisational politics around sustainability are an ongoing issue. So far the need for a  sustainability strategy has touched those responsible for corporate social responsibility (CSR),  marketing (because of the brand and reputation implications of Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) league tables) and IT and Facilities who are having to manage and measure energy usage.

Now, an Ernst & Young report recommends, it is the CFO’s turn to pick up the baton.  As this piece suggests, sustainability trends are shifting the role of the CFO in three key areas:

  • Investor relations:  “Shareholders are speaking much louder and much more stridently than they did just a few years ago.  During the 2011 proxy season, 40 percent of shareholder resolutions were related to ESG issues. And over a quarter of ESG-related resolutions gained a 30 percent “Yes” vote, which Ernst & Young describes as a critical threshold (other observers say anywhere from a 10 to 20 percent vote can motivate companies to rethink their policies).  Mutual fund companies are paying more attention to sustainability related issues, and the rating companies (which have received, ahem, a fair bit of scrutiny lately) are directing more focus towards ESG matters as well.  All this leads to a shift in the duties of companies’ investors relations staffs; and CFOs, according to Ernst & Young, will lend more than a few hands with the demands placed on IR departments.
  • External reporting:  More than 3000 multinationals issue sustainability (or CSR or ESG) reports, and many of these companies now provide more than static or trite glossy PDFs.  Companies including UPS, Timberland, and Microsoft are raising the bar in offering frankness while encouraging increased stakeholder engagement.  To that end, more companies are having their sustainability reporting audited by third parties (such as the Carbon Disclosure Project for carbon emissions performance).  And that experience with third party performance falls into the CFO’s lap because they know how to balance the challenges and opportunities that arise from third-party verification.
  • Operational controllership and financial risk management:  Early last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued guidelines to companies on how to disclose risks possibly related to climate change.  Carbon data, and more frequently, water data, is becoming financial data because of these resources increasing price.  What was once tangential to the costs of running businesses has and will be central to the financial risks that come when running a company.  Whether evaluating the costs of large capital projects or ascertaining the reliability of sustainability data, CFOs and the departments they head will be careful when ensuring that all this data is accurate.”

Admittedly, currently this is probably a more US-focused development. But then it’s probably only a matter of time before CFOs here have to start considering the sustainability implications of their job, if they are not doing so already.

Here are five immediate actions CFOs can take to enhance corporate value through sustainability:

• Actively pursue a sustainability and reporting program.
• Ensure that those responsible for sustainability matters do not operate in isolation from the rest of the enterprise — especially the finance function.
• Enhance dialogue with shareholders and improve disclosure in key areas, particularly those related to social and environmental issues.
• Ensure that directors’ skills are relevant to the chief areas of stakeholder concern, including risk management tied to social and environmental matters.
• Consider using nontraditional performance metrics, including those related to environmental/sustainability issues.

Ernst & Young report: How Sustainability has Expanded the CFO’s Role

Carbon Disclosure Project report discusses energy saving and low carbon benefits of Cloud Computing

David Bicknell

One of the most informed and engaging writers around sustainability and business is Andrew Winston, who writes a blog called Finding the Gold in Green and writes for the Harvard Business Review as well.

His blog discusses  a new report from the Carbon Disclosure Project about the sustainability benefits of Cloud Computing

Here’s the intro to the report:

Across business, executives are looking for ways in which they can operate more sustainably and thereby increase their competitive edge. Information Communications Technology (ICT) is seen as a key area of focus for achieving sustainability goals. This report shows that business use of cloud computing can play an important role in an organisation’s sustainability and IT strategies: improving business process efficiency and flexibility whilst decreasing the emissions of IT operations.

This study used detailed case study evidence from 11 global firms and assessed the financial benefits and potential carbon reductions for a firm opting for a particular cloud computing service. It also demonstrates how projected cloud computing adoption could drive economy-wide business benefits from a financial and carbon reduction perspective in the US.

The results show that by 2020, large U.S. companies that use cloud computing can achieve annual energy savings of $12.3 billion and annual carbon reductions equivalent to 200 million barrels of oil – enough to power 5.7 million cars for one year.

The report also delves into the advantages and potential barriers to cloud computing adoption and gives insights from the multi-national firms that were interviewed.

Why CIOs can become corporate sustainability heroes

By David Bicknell

Technology has always been a driver of business change. Indeed it’s been said that the best Chief Information Officers (CIOs) are looking beyond the tactical duties of their  jobs to “enable new business models and help the CEO use technology as a  competitive weapon.” And that certainly applies to the most successful corporate sustainability programmes.

An excellent recent blog post by Heather Clancy on ZDNet recently summed up the challenge – and opportunity – facing CIOs – in both the public and private sectors.

Clancy suggests there are several reasons the CIO should be central to advancing the corporate sustainability cause. She explains them like this:

* IT is the one role within most companies that touches every division. One of the fastest growing software application categories today is  enterprise carbon and energy management. You can think of this sort of like ERP for electricity and greenhouse gas emissions data. I firmly believe that these features will quickly become integrated into the common operational tools use to run companies. That’s because what good is this data if it isn’t considered in context? The only way to get the complete context, of course, is by exposing that information across the company. That’s where the CIO comes in.

* CIOs are used to working across many different divisions in a “dotted line” role. Mark Greenlaw, the former  CIO-turned-sustainability executive for Cognizant, said one big example of this  is the insight that the IT team can bring to facilities managers who are trying to cut the electricity associated with lighting, drive smart building technology investments or address data centre power management issues.

CIOs know how to CYA. What team outside the legal department has borne the brunt of covering your company’s ass when it comes to  privacy mandates, corporate disclosure rules and other compliance measures? Yes, the IT team. Right now, many companies report their progress toward environmental, diversity and social goals voluntarily, but it is easy to foresee a day when that might become mandatory. There is no way that businesses can get around that challenge without using technology to collection and report that data — on a much more real-time basis.

* CIOs have been programmed to think sustainably. Greenlaw said he has called upon his knowledge of how to pitch large capital projects, a skill he exercised often as CIO, as a means of investigating the technology investments that Cognizant might make to operate more sustainably. Those investments run the gamut from alternative energy technologies such as wind generation to the business value of long-term service agreements to the appropriate lighting retrofit approach.

* Increasingly, the lines between business technology and information technology are blurring. There is probably no bigger potential example of the convergence of purpose-built business technologies and what we have been trained to think of as IT than building management systems. Although building management systems aren’t under the direct control of IT, there are myriad ways information technology can help optimise their performance—and more are emerging every day.

You can read Clancy’s complete piece here.

It’s also worth reading this excellent piece on sustainability heroes by Jo Cofino in the Guardian.

M&S, Ford reports discuss profitability from sustainability, show water usage now a concern

By David Bicknell

I came across an interesting piece regarding the savings Marks & Spencer (M&S) says it is making from its sustainable development initiative, Plan A.

According to this article, initiatives such as being more energy efficient in stores and distribution centres saved £13.5 million last year. It also saved £2 million by using less fuel, £1 million by recycling or reusing clothes hangers, and £11 million on reducing the amount of packaging it uses.

M&S’ total carbon emissions have been reduced by 13%, down by over 90,000 tonnes CO2e from 2006/07 whilst its sales floor footage has continued to grow.

There is a useful story here

You can read more from M&S itself on Plan A progress here

Another familiar name that is reporting on its sustainability initiatives is Ford. It released its annual sustianability report last week, with the highlights being:

* Carbon dioxide emissions for the 2010 model year have been reduced by 10.5 percent for U.S. products and 8.1 percent for European vehicles, when compared with the 2006 model year

* From an operational standpoint, Ford managed a 5.6 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions between 2010 and 2009.

* Ford has set a new goal for facility’s related carbon dioxide emissions: A reduction of 30 percent by 2025 on a per-vehicle basis.

One of its key concerns is around water usage, as this report from Smart Planet makes clear.

You can read Ford’s sustainability report here. There is much detail in a well laid out report, though at first sight, not a lot of references to any notable Green IT or technology developments beyond Ford’s core car business.

Grasping the CRC Sustainable Innovation Opportunity

By David Bicknell

I’ve just written a piece for the Guardian Professional Network’s Sustainable Business site, which discusses some recent work by Cambium in producing a report on how both suppliers and organisations can benefit from the Government’s CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme.

You can read the article here on the Guardian’s site. And you can find about more about the report from Cambium here.

Embedded sustainability as a driver for competitive advantage

By David Bicknell

I cam across an interesting piece on the Guardian’s Sustainable Business website the other day all about the concept of ‘embedded sustainability’ being used as a driver for competitive advantage.

The article, which is based on a new book by Chris Lasslo and Nadya Zhexembaveva, argues that that the incorporation of environmental, health and social values into core business activities (with no trade-offs in price or quality) is the answer for enduring profit and growth.

It adds that such embedded sustainability makes sense, leading to organisations having a “more decentralised handle on efficiency in its broadest sense, an in-depth awareness of environmental and social trends and related risks and opportunities, and may even lead to innovation and experimentation that encompass more bottom-line benefits.”

Moreover, it goes on, embedded sustainability offers employees and stakeholders new opportunities to find meaning in organisational life.

I guess the idea of embedded sustainability for competitive advantage appeals more to the private sector than the public sector, but in these times of mixed public/private sector/mutualised relationships, perhaps the concept has mileage here too.,