Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Were your gadgets manufactured with renewable energy?

Major brands are backing initiatives to promote renewable energy, with the spotlight particularly on IT companies.

Motorola, Lego and Deutsche Bank are just three of the major brands to sign up to a new scheme that backs wind power.

Many other companies, too, are finding competitive advantage in promoting the fact that they source green energy, while those which do not are experiencing a public backlash.

WindMade is a new label that you might start seeing on products, that will signify that they have been manufactured using electricity generated by wind turbines.

It is being launched by Danish turbine-manufacturer Vestas, through a non-profit organisation, also called WindMade.

Its mission is to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy by appealing to supporters to favour those products bearing the label when making purchases.

“Any company that uses at least 25% of wind energy can adopt the “WindMade” label, a company that recognises companies that focus on using wind as a renewable energy source,” Bragi Fjalldal of WindMade explained.

In support of its mission, Vestas' marketing chief, Morten Albæk, quotes the results of a survey the company has commissioned: "67 percent of 31,000 consumers globally have told us they would favour WindMade™ products, even at a premium,” he says.

Deutsche Bank's Group Sustainability Officer, Sabine Miltner, says that they have joined the scheme because “we believe clean growth is good economics”.

She says that Deutsche is “committed to leveraging our core business expertise towards a cleaner and more energy efficient global economy", and that the bank believes "in leading by example".

Deutsche Bank has increased its use of clean electricity from 7% to 65% over the last four years.

She says that the "market transparency" afforded by the label is important.

Other brands are recognising this too, as a means of gaining competitive advantage.

Unfriend coal

The highly visible campaign to get Facebook to "unfriend coal" has been remarkably successful.

Stimulated by the fact that the company chose to power its first two self-owned data centres primarily with coal, the Greenpeace-backed campaign was started a year ago.

It celebrated on 27 October when Facebook’s spokesperson Michael Kirkland announced that it has chosen a site for its new data centre in Luleå, Sweden, which "will be the first Facebook data centre powered primarily by renewable power. It's a really important consideration for us".

Facebook has yet to release more information on exactly how the centre will be powered.

Recent research by Justin Ma and Barath Raghavan from the University of California, Berkeley and the International Computer Science Institute, estimates that the internet consumes between 170 and 307 GW, or just under two percent of the entire world's electricity use.

Looking at the impact of the ubiquitous mobile phones and laptops they also estimated that a mobile requires 1GJ to manufacture and a laptop 4.5 GJ.

Yet the average smartphone is kept for just two years and the average laptop three years.

Greenpeace's Guide to Greener Electronics surveys top IT companies' environmental performance each year. It still finds that most electronic gadgets are made using coal-fired generators.

Dell and Hewlett Packard are the best performing manufacturers, sharing a target to increase their use of renewable energy to 100 percent by 2020.

Apple, on the other hand, is not a green Apple, because it has no external verification of its energy use and no target to reduce emissions.

Sony has also earnt the ire of green campaigners for actually lobbying against stricter energy efficiency standards in California.

Google is another firm taking the issue seriously. Its electricity use was 25% renewable in 2010 and it has a target of 35% in 2012. The search engine is investing heavily in renewable electricity, especially solar power.

Google recently released the environmental footprint of several of its data centres and “cloud” services in the interests of transparency.

It says its motivation is "to enable users to hold their service providers accountable for minimising their environmental impact, as well as to manage their own footprint", and clearly sees a competitive advantage in doing so.

Other brands from many different sectors, from vehicles to white goods, are promoted on the Top Ten USA website, which lets users choose the most efficient products and save energy and money in running costs using (except for vehicles) the Energy Star logo.

Motorola has also pledged to begin taking advantage of renewable energy sources, promising to acquire at least 25% of its energy from wind, as part of the WindMade campaign.

Its director for sustainability and stewardship, Bill Olsonin, said part of Motorola's motivation for participating in WindMade was to encourage greater use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar around the globe.

Other WindMade corporate pioneers and founders are: Bloomberg, LEGO, PwC, DK, medical technology suppliers BD, personal care product provider Method, Better Place, which makes electric car infrastructure, hearing aid manufacturer Widex, advertising agency Droga5, solar company G24 Innovation, textile producer Engraw, HVAC maker RenewAire, and communication technology supplier TTTech.

Bloomberg's head of sustainability, Curtis Ravenel, commented on the WindMade initiative that “the supply side of the clean energy sector can clearly deliver, but now it is time to galvanise demand. It is now up to the corporate community to demonstrate leadership by committing to clean energy development. WindMade™ provides us with a roadmap for achieving this”.

Any company or organisation that procures and uses wind-generated electricity as part of their global operations can apply for a WindMade label for their operations.

WindMade's Technical Standard for Products will be released in 2012.

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