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Greenpeace Downgraded Tech Companies on Weak Advocacy

The Greenpeace Cool IT Leaderboard assesses the external impacts and internal efforts of 21 global IT companies to mitigate climate change. While the list has grown, several major companies like Apple and Facebook are absent. The Leaderboard originally took the unique approach of identifying by name each company's chief executive in its listings, but backed off in April 2010. Several years of improvements vanished in 2012, largely due to weak scores for political advocacy. Scores continue to be low in 2013, although most companies did improve.

The Challenge uses a 100-point scale, adding together performance in five categories. In the first round (May 2009), no company scored scored above 30 and four scored below 10.

In the second round (Oct 2009), five scored above 30, with IBM and HP scoring in the low 40s. Only one was below 10. 40 out of 100 is not great, but a definite improvement over 20.

The third round (Apr 2010) shows even greater improvement. Four scored in the 62-41 range: Cisco (62), Ericsson (53), IBM (42), and HP (41). None scored below 10 this in this round and only three below 20. Software/online/services companies are as evenly distributed across the rankings as hardware companies.

In the fourth round (Dec 2010), we have three companies scoring above 50: Cisco achieves an impressive 70, followed by Ericsson (57) and Fujitsu (52). Three other companies score 45 or better: Google (47), IBM (46), HP (45). Every company in this round which was also in the previous one improved its score except Microsoft (31 to 29) and SAP (22 to 21).

The fifth round (Feb 2012) shows a dramatic drop-off in scores. Scores for all participants from the fourth rounds fell except for SAP (21 to 23) and Sharp (27 to 38) and fifth round leader Google (47 to 53). Greatest plunge was fourth round leader Cisco (70 to 49). Why the overall drop? Greenpeace says, "there was a notable drop in scores on political advocacy across the industry. With the urgent need for cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions, tech firms are failing to speak up against that dirty energy companies guilty of stalling climate change policy debates at all levels of government. This is troubling; the IT industry is full of environmental rhetoric but simply doesn’t seem to be taking any real action. This is not tenable - the industry expanding too fast, and has too much potential for helping cut global emissions to just stand in the shadows." Greenpeace did not comment on Cisco's dramatic drop.

Cisco regained the #1 spot in the May 2013 sixth round. The overall level of scoring did not appear to have improved much over 2012, although most companies improved at least a little. Three companies scored over 50: Cisco (58), Google (58), and Ericsson (51). Best improvements came from Microsoft (+11 to 34), Wipro (+10 to 43), and Telefonica (+10 to 21). Biggest drop was Vodafone (-5 to 40). Sprint is the most impressive newcomer at 43.

Past years' comments on ranking challenges

What about Apple and Facebook? Greenpeace noted in February 2012, "Apple was not included because its efforts do not meet the Leaderboard criteria. It has not demonstrated leadership or elected to pursue market opportunities to drive IT energy solutions that many of its competitors have, despite record profits and large cash reserves. Facebook was not included in the previous Leaderboard for similar reasons, but has recently changed its policies and committed to a renewably powered Facebook , and announced a partnership with Opower to use the Facebook platform to help its users compare their energy usage. Facebook will be included in next year’s Leaderboard."

Every ranking uses different criteria, scoring, and populations. This is clearly illustrated when we compare the Challenge to Greenpeace's 16th Guide to Greener Electronics. Released in October, it ranks consumer electronic companies on a different, but overlapping, set of green criteria. Nokia tops the Guide, yet Greenpeace's Challenge places the same company in the middle the pack with a score of 37. Apple is ranked in the Guide, but is absent from the Challenge.

Also, compare Greenpeace's listings to the tech segment of the Newsweek Green Rankings 2010. Newsweek ranks Dell as #1 in its USA listing, but while the Guide places Dell in the middle of its international rankings. Newsweek's USA and international ranking both award HP the #2 position supports the Challenge's high assessment of HP, while both Greenpeace assessments rank the company relatively lower.

This all presents a considerable challenge to a customer, shareholder, or other stakeholder who is trying to do the right thing. Is it time for the green ICT community to agree on a common system that provides both an overall assessment while breaking out specialized assessments for different stakeholder groups, such as equipment lifecycle sustainability for customers?

Greenpeace and Facebook