Sustainability


following Monday’s insight from the analyst community on the trends and expectations for the year ahead (check out the full post here), we thought we’d have a bash ourselves at predicting the future. so here are our suggestions for the year ahead – let us know whether you agree with us, or think we’re miles off the mark…

(also – to anyone reading this in December, you have *not* got an eye condition; those floating white dots across the screen are snow. it’s festive.)

…and we’re putting together a mobile special in case you think it’s a bit thin on mobility right now – watch this space in Jan for the 2011 mobile outlook according to Edelman Tech…

Predictions for 2011:

Larry picks a fight…with God

Larry Ellison will never be accused of being the shy retiring type. In fact one of the well known legends is that he bases a lot of his modus operandi around ‘The Art of War’ and over the years he has picked a fight with pretty much everyone in the industry. Bill Gates, Ray Lane, Craig Conway, Tom Siebel and more recently SAP and HP. Frankly there isn’t anyone really left to fight so the speculation surely must be that the only person worthy of a challenge is God. Given the old joke – "What’s the difference between God and Larry Ellison?…God doesn’t think he’s Larry" – this may not be the case.

Facebook emerges as a powerful content player

Just a stab in the dark, but I’d hazard that before 2011 is out we’ll see Facebook commissioning its own content – or co-creating content at least. The ‘Like’ function is powerful – whether for selling products or amplifying conversation around content. We know that young audiences are watching more online. I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook will start working closely with production companies to push something like KateModern into stratospheric proportions – the first social entertainment blockbuster.

‘Do no evil’ Google becomes ‘Bad Google’

In some respects it seems almost stereotypical that a company that was once the darling of the industry is now beginning to look over its shoulder, as the mutterings begin to increase. Like Intel and Microsoft before then they have incurred the wrath of the regulators and how the company reacts next year will be interesting to watch.

Hopefully it will have learnt from the mistakes of others, but there’s the danger its senior leadership team has drunk a little too much of the ‘Kool Aid’.’There is no doubt that the ‘noughties’ belonged to Google and today it remains one of the key drivers of the IT industry, but it needs to sustain that growth to justify its market cap. As a result its moved into a number of different areas with mixed results…Google Wave (#fail), Android (#successtodate), GoogleTV (#waitandsee). Similarly it has had the high profile embarrassment around China, which has severely dented its reputation and competitors like Facebook, Youtube and even Microsoft are beginning to make in-roads on its heartland. 2011 may be a sticky year for Google.

We will all be buying coffee via our mobiles by the end of next year

Whether paying for stuff with your mobile, buying online credits, or using Square we’ll be seeing a lot more money changing hands, without touching hands. Much of the rest of the world already is – Africa and Asia are well ahead of Europe and US in this field, (indeed Gartner predict that 60% of this market in 2011 will be in Asia). But there is some key technology coming that will make phones that much smarter and make it that much easier for us all to get involved. Google has confirmed the next version of Android will support NFC (near field communication) chips, and it’s rumoured that iPhone 5 will have this functionality in-built. Nokia and RIM are both also expected to follow-suit.

Creative Agency "ownership" of social media

This year the classic PR v marketing battle was augmented by the arrival of "customer services" onto the scene. The range of customer and support services using social media to support their communications and contacts has led to them claiming ownership (and budget). A valid claim (like all the rest).

Next year customer relationship management (CRM) will join the fray under the moniker "social" CRM, linking customer databases with social media to define whether, when, how often, on what medium companies communicate with their customers.

I see loads of privacy and "ownership" issues but for any company who gets this right it could be huge.

There are however always pitfalls, and twitter is flooded with examples of companies ‘doing’ social media very well and responding to customers and issues, but the actual customer service department in the clients’ back office not following up. To avoid this becoming a fad or people losing faith in social media platforms as a channel, companies need to place the same focus on the back office customer services departments as they do in keeping pace with an external zeitgeist.

Gamification of Life

There’s a lot of chat about the ‘gaming of everyday life’. Truth is ‘social games’ like Farmville  actually aren’t very social (people tell their friends there are playing, but are they playing with friends and telling others? I think not). FourSquare is often touted as the best example of the gamification of life but personally, I don’t think it is a very good game.

To its credit I think it’s a very promising form of direct marketing and I’m sure we’ll see more coupons next year. More interesting – if more niche – social games are playthings like Chromoroma. These sorts of initiatives will continue to garner interest from the press and trend watchers. Whether or not they will engage enough people to become ‘mainstream’ is perhaps unlikely.  But in a game of influencing the influencers – this sort of creative approach will be a top scorer.

Murdoch will just give up with his paywall.

Personally I think it’s all a little too little too late – the industry has sat back and watched itself be destroyed – news on the internet will be, and will always be, free. If you can’t get what you want from The Times you’ll go somewhere else to find it. The quality argument, for me personally, doesn’t stack up, people generally will accept a lower quality if it costs them nothing.

Mobile and application based news might be a short-term saviour, and there will be winners and losers in this area next year. It’s perhaps true that people are prepared to pay for innovation and the novel – but even then, the future of the mobile experience looks set to be a browser/cloud based model. Mobile applications will go the same way as desktop applications at some point in the not too distant future (let’s say 2013 for arguments sake).

News will become hyper-local & hyper-social. A location based service will join forces with a news site for location centric news – what’s happening where you are right now….. bringing you nearer to……

……‘Where’s that ambulance going?’

I don’t think 2010 has quite been the year of location, as many though it might be. Less than 4% of mobile users are using this feature. It’s growing though and expect next year – with the rise in popularity of Foursquare and Facebook places (sorry Gowalla you missed the boat) – for the term “where am I now” to be more popular than ever.

Combine this with the fact that media is looking to innovate, to tap into the power of social, than I can see a very logical next step to be a combination of owned and user generated news to be pushed to users based on location.

What is happening in the world you’re in right now. Whether this is in combination with one of the aforementioned services or a plug-in to a site like the BBC, Digg or the Guardian, I think we’ll start to see this as a powerful service. Indirectly, this may then only serve to fuel citizen journalism, as people are alerted more easily to incidents / events happening close to them.

Someone will figure out how to give everything, no matter how small, an IP address

Long shot this one, and is based on boozy conversations with colleagues on the outerweb and the internet of things, that this could be the next big breakthrough – giving everything a link to the internet.

This could be as simple as me seeing a sofa or salt shaker and “liking” it in real time or adding instantly to an Amazon wish list via a connection to my smartphone. It will happen, perhaps not next year, but it’s always good to have an outlandish prediction – and hell most food products do now have a link to the web via barcodes.

Videogames will shift from products to entertainment services

By the end of 2011, most blockbusters games will turn into an subscription-based service instead of releasing a new iteration each year (i.e.: the Call of Duty franchise). We’ve already seen this happening with the Steam platform offering games as uploads, and annoying retail outlets in the process, but the next year could see this become even more prominent. Gamers are currently predominantly ‘owned’ by their console (although multi-console owners are increasingly more common), but game manufacturers could see a niche in the market for tying them into series through exclusive uploads, game advances and new episodes. Given the dedication the most successful games generate, this would seem a seamless next step.

Cloudy outlook;  another year of unfulfilled promise, the return of hardware storage, and Everything-As-A-Service?

Seriously, can someone just make the cloud revolution finally happen? It’s been on everyone’s lips for years – YEARS – but is 2011 the year the cloud actually becomes the tech saviour it’s lined up as? Granted, there are already plenty of services claiming ‘cloud’ services, but on closer inspection many of these are simply network servers – can we finally envisage a true cloud? If we are to do so, the main obstacle is going to be keeping such services reliable and absolutely, unrelentingly secure – it’s the security issue which has held adoption up in many instances.

And if the security issue does remain unconquerable, we could perhaps see the return of hardware storage with servers and SSDs, as the perceived risks around cloud computing create too many anxieties to warrant full adoption.

If the cloud DOES finally break loose, expect ‘EaaS’ – Everything-as-a-Service – a growing offers with more collaborative tools and more complete applications to be proposed; everything becomes “on demand” with the cloud.

Social media will finally arrive in the enterprise

We’ve already witnessed the growing adoption of social media in the enterprise – for both internal and external usage – and we can expect to see more of the same as IT decision makers start to impact the business strategy discussions.

Once the C Suite understand the role social media plays in business, and how it can (positively) impact business efficiency, we’ll see this boom. Social media is currently viewed as a distraction to staff, but once this misapprehension is dealt with, and its proper adoption, integration and monitoring is understood, enterprises will rush to get involved.

The key issue which needs tackling in 2011 is to dispel the perception of social media adoption being simply an ‘allow or deny’ decision. It is simply not that black and white, and different employees require differing access and controls. The workforce coming into industry now is that which has grown up with the likes of Facebook, and they’ll expect the same in business – and if they don’t get it, they’ll find a way around security to use it none the less. “Allow or deny” is no longer a valid debate.

and the consumerisation of IT won’t be restricted to social media…

…Bring-your-own

We can’t get enough of having a familiar device in our pocket, even in the workplace – we’re moving into the age of ‘bring your own’- your own technology, that is – into work. With more Millennials/Generation Y/the L’Oréal generation, whatever you want to call them, coming into the workplace, we’ll see a shift in the technology we use and how we use it altogether. Businesses will support the idea – in theory. Employees using a familiar device has the obvious efficiency advantages. However, whether organisations, and infrastructure, will be able to support alien devices is another thing. After all, there’s the usual security, technical, data protection and legal issues that cloud computing has been dealing with for years. It will certainly be a step in the right direction, but we may very well get there at a snail’s pace.

with thanks for the following for contributions:

@RogerDara

@cairbreUK

@LukeMackay

@JustinWestcott

@LucyDesaDavies

@wonky_donky

“Why Cloud will only see widespread adoption if the IT industry has a Stock Market-style crash”

Given that my job is providing PR consultancy to the IT industry I appreciate the absurdity of recommending some kind of Stock market crash as the way forward for the IT industry. I went through the dot com bubble – it wasn’t pleasant. However, I am not making this suggestion because I enjoy scaremongering or want to see anyone out of a job, but because I am at a loss to understand how else we can correct and move beyond this ‘Age of Institutionalised Complexity.’

Enterprise IT departments, ever since the early days of mainframes, have built up stockpiles of hardware and software, which I would contend they rarely fully use. Sure, technology has pushed greater integration and commoditisation, but major organisations are left with bulky IT infrastructures creaking under the weight of their inefficiency.

Yet models exist which could enable CIOs to become more agile and responsive, but adoption – although on the increase – is not widespread.

It would appear to the cynical eye that enterprise IT environments have become so institutionalised by this complexity that wholesale change isn’t possible without some kind of dramatic event, such as a crash.

“Why isn’t every IT department moving wholesale to the Cloud?”

Ok, perhaps I’m being a little too impatient for change – and probably only have a superficial understanding of the technical requirements – but enterprise customers, in particular, are not grabbing the opportunity of Cloud Computing to move wholesale away from hereto expensive and restrictive relationships with their existing IT providers (as Ray Wang highlighted last year at the SAP UK User Group).

If we believe the analysts Cloud is heading in only one direction with revenues soaring and yet we’re still having a debate about the theory of Cloud – how it should be applied, etc (single tenant, multi-tenant, private cloud, public cloud).

Surely the long-term benefits far outweigh the challenges? Yes, cost is stripped out of IT structures, but more importantly it should create IT environments with the flexibility to respond to ever changing business conditions.

Call it resistance to change, fear of the unknown, or plain stubbornness – there is a need to overcome such blockers as the IT industry will collapse under its own complexity unless it adopts new models such as Cloud.

“Stupid is as stupid does…”

Despite the traditional IT vendors taking flak from every angle for their poor innovation (you only have to read Vinnie Mirchandani’s book, which suggests a lot of the innovative application of technology is being done by non-IT companies) we’re still moving quite slowly given that ‘Cloud’ has existed in some form for quite some time. (Simon Wardley suggests the concept first appeared in 1968).

In moments of greater frustration it seems the only conclusion is that humans really are as stupid as some believe. Thankfully, though, further investigation leads me to a different conclusion, one prompted by a term referenced by Dennis Howlett on Cloud – ‘Institutional Memory’.

Like Dennis I reviewed the excellent keynotes by Mark Masterson and Simon Wardley at OSCON and started to build a clearer picture of this notion of ‘Institutionalised Complexity.’

Both speakers underlined the fundamental in the clash between innovation and the desire to achieve predictable success in business. Masterson applies this view to the previous decade, describing an era he calls the ‘Age of Productivity’ which was focused on reducing the likelihood of failure and cost of failure in return for predictable business success.

The outcome has been that companies focused on initiatives – both in business and IT – driven by this need for predictability and as a consequence pushed IT products/service development towards commoditisation. As Wardley explains this creates a fundamental issue for innovation, because it requires a risk-taking, uncertain environment to prosper.

Wardley’s solution for IT vendors and their customers wanting to reinvigorate innovation is to recommend they analyse where products and services have already been commoditised. He highlights functions, such as HR, CRM, and Finance – all mainstays of ERP – as prime areas for exploitation. Areas where value has been eroded so much that they are ripe for the Creative Destruction process. Masterson sees breaking free of the constraints of the ‘Age of Productivity’ as the opportunity for open source software and argues that companies should be focused on the ‘Age of Growth.’

“Trapped in an Institutionalised Mindset”

Logically that should mean the time is right for mass adoption of Cloud Computing. Yet I have a concern that most enterprise IT departments simply aren’t prepared or willing to enter this ‘Age of Growth’ because they’ve become so institutionalised in their adoption of IT. Cloud Computing challenges this mindset at every level, in terms of how IT is acquired, supported and how its success is measured. JP Rangaswami even suggests that attempting to apply traditional measures such as Service Level Agreements (SLAs) is wrong, that IT departments need to be designing their IT infrastructure for a ‘loss of control.’ Applying the linear models of the ‘Age of Productivity’ is wrong, companies need to be thinking in terms of language such as ‘self healing,’ ‘self aware’ and ‘heuristic.’

Having grown up being driven by the need for risk aversion and predictability it will be difficult for any IT department to cope with such significant change, particularly at a time when there is even greater pressure on IT leaders to demonstrate value to their business peers. Therefore I contend that the easiest way for such technologies to gain much wider adoption is that the IT industry has some kind of implosion with both vendors and IT customers being forced to start again.

I appreciate this is slightly insane, well possibly very insane, but let me cite two reasons why:

1. All good things come to an end because they become too complicated: Clay Shirky has written about a book by Joseph Tainter, “The Collapse of Complex Societies.” In it Tainter analyses why supposedly sophisticated societies such as the Romans and the Mayan Indians eventually implode. In his view complexity has stifled each of these societies and it leads Shirky to suggest:

Complex societies collapse because, when some stress comes, those societies have become too inflexible to respond…When the value of complexity turns negative, a society plagued by an inability to react remains as complex as ever, right up to the moment where it becomes suddenly and dramatically simpler…Collapse is simply the last remaining method of simplification.

2. History is repeating itself: a quick look at any number of examples demonstrates why this logic is applicable to business and therefore IT. The automotive industry went from innovative to commodity driven by Henry Ford and hung on for dear life, until its recent collapse due to the stress of the global economic crisis and changing attitudes to the environmental impact of car travel. While some of the incumbents fight on (eg: Honda, who’s tagline has been ‘dream the impossible’) a range of new manufacturers are emerging. For many the well-publicised collapse of the Financial Services industry has been due, largely, to the complexity of its products and the inability of regulation to cope with this complexity. The Media and Entertainment industry is in the throes of a similar challenge, with various sectors in different stages.

“An alternative solution would be to simply embrace the chaos”

The simplest conclusion for the IT industry is to embrace collapse and its accompanying chaos, but perhaps we don’t have to see Rome burning. Rather enterprise IT users should prepare for a period when IT structures and their accompanying ‘rules’ have to be reset. Cloud Computing is the vehicle for that change and there is a significant opportunity for Cloud vendors to help their customers move towards this ‘post-proprietary’ era of adoption.

To encourage change Cloud vendors need to follow a number of steps, mainly to appeal to the current institutionalised mindset, but also to lead their customers to place where they believe that risk-taking isn’t dangerous.

Step one – build trust: recognise that technology> won’t lead to change alone – accept Simon Wardley’s point that it is only one of four triggers that drive uptake. Unless the concept for a new technology is clearly defined, unless the customer recognises its suitability for its environment and the customer has been convinced to change their attitude, the technology will always sit on the shelf, no matter how good it is.

Step two – change the benefit discussion around Cloud: both Nicholas Carr and Paul Strassmann have said – in one form or other – that there is little value in IT spend and in fact Jevons Paradox showed that technology adoption increases consumption, rather than saves money. There is a need to appeal to the predictability mindset, because cloud will never achieve widespread, commoditised consumption – similar to other utilities – unless vendors show how Cloud can bridge the default position regarding risk aversion and the desire for repeatable solutions. But making  a conversation solely about cost reduction will never move IT users out their comfort zone to experiment fully with the Cloud.

Step three – embolden customers to take risks: for me this is encapsulated by provoking customers to respond to Shirky’s question: “Would this be an interesting thing to try?”

It goes to the heart of the point about moving the discussion beyond cost. If Cloud vendors can show the benefits of piloting their technologies can be done at minimal risk, they can begin to break down linear approaches to IT adoption. However, to do this they must bring customers on a journey that explains what their roles will be in the future, because a guaranteed blocker to change is an IT Director, who sees his or her role being replaced by a new technology. (Classic example – which I’ve witnessed – try selling database automation technology to a room full of Database Administrators)

Cloud Computing suppliers are beginning to reassure more and more enterprises that they have a role in their IT infrastructure, but they are yet to build significant trust among the broader ‘Church’ of the enterprise IT industry. The danger is that the traditional vendors are not only feeding that hesitation, they are using this period to catch up, so the Cloud specialists don’t have long to drive their advantage home.

For this ‘Age of Growth’ perhaps the new motto should be: “Go on failing. Go on. Only next time, try to fail better.” (Samuel Beckett)

Or as Mrs Doyle said it more succinctly, “Ah go on, go on, go on…”

@cairbreUK

In the swanky central London offices of a leading law firm recently, at an event held by BABi, Stephen Leonard chief executive UK, Ireland IBM UK Ltd., reviewed the outcome of an IBM survey investigating whether technological complexity was an opportunity or a threat.

Perhaps not unexpectedly IBM and the views of its existing and prospective customers, comprising 1500 chief executives across 60 countries, supported the notion that existing complexity might be better harnessed with the introduction of additional layers of technology that ‘abstracted the complexity’ from the system.

Without wishing to reiterate the whole presentation – which was compelling – simply put, Stephen postulated that there are now more transistors on the planet than grains of rice. That the disparate systems that use these transistors – everything from CCTV, through traffic, transport, motor vehicle, GPS or smart mobile devices – are complex but disjointed and that by abstracting and integrating the useful information from these systems and combining them together mankind will enjoy a period of sustainable social, environmental and economic well being.

In the UK we’ve suffered a litany of high profile government IT projects either being delayed or going belly up or both placing the onus for overspent and waste on the tax payer.

Surely the answer is fewer systems that are better written, better connected and infinitely simpler rather than more? Whilst this might not be in the most immediate interest of generating short term revenue for Big Blue failure to grasp this will, I fear, find us playing second fiddle to third world countries that are already leap-frogging our old legacy systems – for example going straight to mobile versus fix line phones – challenging our technology thought and industry leadership and positioning the UK, Europe and the US as net importers of technology savvy.

Given the choice of a bowl of transistors or a bowl of rice which would you choose?

@mattwarder

Yes I realise it doesn’t quite sound as gripping or recognisable as sustainability or cleantech (ok my fellow geeks, I’m relying on you now!), but I attended a ‘master class’ today with Professor Robert Eccles, Harvard Business School, which addressed the key environmental issue companies are facing today, i.e. how they justify and embed sustainable practices into their core business. Many boards are grappling with this question, but most appear frozen with terror at the potential size of the challenge and the fundamental impact it will have on their culture – as Bob suggests the massive leap required is one of “reconceptualising the role of corporations in society.”

The answer is Integrated Reporting, which Bob Eccles is championing through his book  and website He has studied this area for some time and has begun to see a change in the general mood music around the subject. As he says, “When an idea’s time has come it shows up independently in different places.”

And that is certainly happening among a broad group of companies spread around the world in markets as diverse as the US, UK, Japan, Brazil and South Africa.

The time is right for this concept for a number of reasons. First and foremost it is a simple one – combining financial and non-financial data to produce a consistent picture of all relevant company information. A good example of a company attempting this significant change is Ricoh, which  is treating the collection and reporting of non-financial data in a very transparent manner.

Ricoh’s aim is to integrate its reporting processes, but it recognises it has a steep mountain to climb between now and 2020, because sustainable business practices lack general social consensus. Despite the fact that consumer pressure for change is now spreading to the financial community with banks such as New York Mellon Bank highlighting its commitment to environmental, social and governance (ESG) screening there is still a long way to go.

Aside from the major issue around company culture and social consensus there is a big sticking point regarding the quality and control of non-financial data. As Bob’s presentation describes it ‘closing the books’ for non-financial information is not as rigorous, which leads to the other key challenge that of auditing non-financial statistics. Clearly if Integrated Reporting is to succeed it will require integrated auditing. BASF is an example of a company addressing this issue with its ‘materiality matrix’ outlining both economic performance and environmental/social performance.

Sadly not many companies have progressed this far and perhaps that is because there is a poor understanding of the relationship between financial and non-financial performance information. While Bob confesses to being a ‘free market man’ he does believe that the markets alone are not going to be able to encourage adoption of integrated reporting on their own, it will require legislation. There are potential blockers within organisations to look out for, especially the CFO and General Counsel, whose roles make them understandably reluctant to adopt such practices. Yet hopefully we will not have to wait for a disaster such as the Great Depression for change to happen. This led to the foundation of the Securities and Exchange Commission and initial attempts to create generally adopted accounting standards.

There are some positive steps being taken by visionaries like Bob Eccles, including the recommendation to form the International Integrated Reporting Committee by the Prince of Wales’s project team ‘Accounting for Sustainability.’  They have some ambitious goals and in the coming year they will make some significant announcements. Similarly Harvard University will be running an event on Integrated Reporting in Autumn 2010, so this is definitely an area to watch.

Yes I realise it doesn’t quite sound as gripping or recognisable as sustainability or cleantech (ok my fellow geeks, I’m relying on you now!), but I attended a ‘master class’ today with Professor Robert Eccles, Harvard Business School, which addressed the key environmental issue companies are facing today, i.e. how they justify and embed sustainable practices into their core business.

Many boards are grappling with this question, but most appear frozen with terror at the potential size of the challenge and the fundamental impact it will have on their culture – as Bob suggests the massive leap required is one of “reconceptualising the role of corporations in society.”

The answer is Integrated Reporting, which Bob Eccles is championing through his book and website. He has studied this area for some time and has begun to see a change in the general mood music around the subject. As he says, “When an idea’s time has come it shows up independently in different places.” And that is certainly happening among a broad group of companies spread around the world in markets as diverse as the US, UK, Japan, Brazil and South Africa. The time is right for this concept for a number of reasons.

First and foremost it is a simple one – combining financial and non-financial data to produce a consistent picture of all relevant company information. A good example of a company attempting this significant change is Ricoh, which is treating the collection and reporting of non-financial data in a very transparent manner. Ricoh’s aim is to integrate its reporting processes, but it recognises it has a steep mountain to climb between now and 2020, because sustainable business practices lack general social consensus. Despite the fact that consumer pressure for change is now spreading to the financial community with banks such as New York Mellon Bank highlighting its commitment to environmental, social and governance (ESG) screening there is still a long way to go. Aside from the major issue around company culture and social consensus there is a big sticking point regarding the quality and control of non-financial data. As Bob’s presentation describes it ‘closing the books’ for non-financial information is not as rigorous, which leads to the other key challenge that of auditing non-financial statistics.

Clearly if Integrated Reporting is to succeed it will require integrated auditing. BASF is an example of a company addressing this issue with its ‘materiality matrix’ outlining both economic performance and environmental/social performance. Sadly not many companies have progressed this far and perhaps that is because there is a poor understanding of the relationship between financial and non-financial performance information.

While Bob confesses to being a ‘free market man’ he does believe that the markets alone are not going to be able to encourage adoption of integrated reporting on their own, it will require legislation. There are potential blockers within organisations to look out for, especially the CFO and General Counsel, whose roles make them understandably reluctant to adopt such practices. Yet hopefully we will not have to wait for a disaster such as the Great Depression for change to happen. This led to the foundation of the Securities and Exchange Commission and initial attempts to create generally adopted accounting standards.

There are some positive steps being taken by visionaries like Bob Eccles, including the recommendation to form the International Integrated Reporting Committee by the Prince of Wales’s project team ‘Accounting for Sustainability.’ They have some ambitious goals and in the coming year they will make some significant announcements. Similarly Harvard University will be running an event on Integrated Reporting in Autumn 2010, so this is definitely an area to watch.

I’ve been reading a book I got for Christmas called ‘Home’ by Yann Arthus-Bertrand (the Earth from the Air author).  I thought it looked a bit cheesy, but either way it’s got me thinking.  Mostly about what we do as Communications/Marketing professionals and what our clients and other brands are aspiring to do in maintaining consumption patterns and reaching new markets – particularly BRIC and developing.

Some of the stats in the book are incredible.  It states that Humanity’s footprint currently exceeds the capacity of the planet to regenerate itself and to absorb pollution by about 30% (Global Footprint Network).  It adds that if the entire population of the world lived like the USA we would need six planets to meet demand, if everyone mirrored European consumption we would need three planets.  You can see the potential for growth and development given that in 2008 only 5% of Africans had access to the internet as opposed to 73% of North Americans (international Telecommunication union).  Average energy consumption patterns of individuals in given countries help demonstrate the issue: US 13,088 kWh; South Asia 483, Central Africa 110.  What happens if we all mirror the US?  That’s a lot of energy.

As ccommunicators in the IT industry why should we  care?  IT has great potential for good (a mobile phone can change a community and empower them with the tools to do business and make a living) but also harm.  Electronics is one of five major sources of hazardous waste containing arsenic, PCB Chemicals, Cadmium, Lead, Mercury, Chromium
(Basel Convention 2002).  Oh and there is the small matter that the IT industry is responsible for the same level of
greenhouse gas emissions as the aeronautics industry.  So what do we mean by Sustainable IT in real terms?  Is any of it truly sustainable?

So as communications professionals and marketing people promoting IT goods and services in new markets and driving consumption patterns in the West – what responsibility do we have in the council we give clients?  Would we ever consider the agenda of a prospect and decline based on their ethos/record?  I’m just not sure an agency would turn business down, we’d just change the messaging.  Or should we just not think too much about it?  I mean there is a
recession on, people need jobs, countries should be allowed to develop.  I’m increasingly finding it hard to not think
about it.  Your thoughts?

@MattJHurst

I was given a lecture last week on the theme of why we should not be motivated to address climate change by the desire to do good but rather because of a specific business case.  While the green equals green back narrative is an alluring promise from a rational perspective, in many instances it does appear to completely miss the point.   Surely if we avoid the idea that it is a good thing to work for a sustainable environment for future generations and other species then we have lost the battle before we begun.  The response of industry appears to be falling for this beguiling but misleading approach and the technology sector is no exception.

 

In terms of Clean tech developments the industry can clearly point to a growing area of innovation, new business models and potential solutions that show a responsible reaction to climate change. Governments around the world have pledged to spend around $165bn on stimulus programmes to promote the adoption of renewable energy, according to London-based New Energy Finance, and the International Energy Agency predicts investment to the sum of £10 trillion in clean technology is necessary over the next 20 years to have an impact on global warming.

 

The challenge is that Clean technology, while offering great promise in terms of renewable energy sources, has not really begun to tap into deeper innovation resources and solutions the industry has to offer. By simply pointing to renewables as industry’s response we also risk missing the point that even these technologies have an environmental footprint and indeed the term is a misnomer akin to saying ‘clean dirt’.  The industry needs to embrace the challenge to invest heavily in the future of cleaner technologies and there is no immediate solution such as clean technology but a need to improve the way technologies create a better more sustainable world.

 

Technology does a great deal of good for society. The high regard for the industry sector as shown in the Edelman Trust Barometer reflects the way innovation has been directed at Education and wellbeing.   However, the very technologies that deliver this create a sustainability issue themselves.  For example the Internet, a tremendously beneficial tool for society at large, consumes large amounts of energy; a Climate Group report from 2008 estimates that broadband could account for nearly 50 million tons of emissions by 2020, but there is little industry discussion or initiatives on how we can innovate to minimise this impact. 

 

If technology is to truly present a Green face it needs to move beyond housekeeping and green supply chain initiatives to create IT solutions that allow more sustainable IT solutions.  If the industry claims to be Green then it must move quickly to deliver these solutions as a priority.

 

Perhaps most frustrating is the fact that if there is any industry sector that has developed specific skills in R&D, speed of innovation and change it is the IT and broader technology categories.  In the UK alone, £1.75 billion has been invested into the research and development of clean technologies, according to the Carbon Trust. The industry has powerful and complex models of innovation, funding, product development design and marketing which, if they were brought to bear on sustainability issues, could clearly make an impact and possibly in the limited time available facilitate the sheer scale of change our economics requires.  Surely it would be a good thing for the technology industry to commit to doing the good thing and work on the longer term business pay off which must be huge?

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