Fear factor driving tech companies green

Tech companies are going green through fear of customers and governments, a report reveals. They also cite money-making opportunities, high energy costs and attractiveness as employers to target graduates as motivating factors.

Nearly half of tech company executives questioned cited their green efforts as being driven by market opportunities, 36 percent said customers were demanding it and 27 percent admitted to being concerned about regulatory backlash even though 71 percent don’t believe their products cause any environmental harm.

The PWC report, Going Green, Sustainable Growth Strategies, asked: “Is the pursuit of anything green by the technology industries little more than a feel-good exercise resulting in higher costs and possibly insignificant environmental benefits?”

According to the report, an un-named spokesman from a large European technology manufacturer said: “There could be many reasons why we say it’s important. It could be because our customers and investors feel it’s important.

It could be because we don’t want so much restrictive regulation, as it is better if we as an industry self-regulate. You know, a lot of this is defensive; even though we are not a big polluter or energy user, we still need to be taking steps just to be on the safe side.”

Rick Hind, a legislative director for the toxics campaign at Greenpeace, said: “Liability is unpredictable, and it can balloon quickly.” Hazardous materials in technology products or carcasses of used computers piled in town dumps mean “the potential for liability is a great motivator” and the tech companies “will go green because they see it’s the way to reduce liability and avoid regulation,” he said.

Companies offering a “green-branded” set of products or services will surge from 7-percent today to 40-percent over the next two years.

Fifty seven-percent of respondents said that demand for green technology from government customers is very strong (17 percent) or strong (40 percent).

Within two years technology executives expect this to rise to 76 percent, with 34 percent saying there will be a very strong demand for green products and 42 percent predicting a strong demand.

A spokesperson for a large US-based computer maker said “a growing number of government procurement officers in the US and Europe are now being told they have to buy green whenever available.” In business customers, 48 percent said green demand is very strong (6 percent) or strong (42 percent), a figure that rises to 75 percent (27 percent very strong and 48 percent strong) in the next two years.

Tom Georgens, executive vice president of product operations at Network Appliance, said: “The power density and the power consumption inherent in a datacentre is just staggering.” All these network components and associated services use a great deal of electricity.”

Georgens sees only market growth for green servers and related technologies as customers “need to cover the ongoing electricity bills, which are just huge.”

The report said “Chip makers and manufacturers of technology products pay much greater attention to green demand and green operating issues than do service-oriented businesses such as software makers, content developers and related entities.

Forty-seven percent of manufacturers describe the arrival of the green movement as a significant opportunity for their companies, compared to only 37 percent of non-manufacturers.”

One HR spokeswoman for large manufacturer said her tactic to attract staff on campuses was to tackle the issue through humour by saying: “Yes, we are a contributor to environmental demise.

The company’s products draw power, use plastics which are derived from petrochemicals, and not everything we use is recycled or even recyclable. We are a terrible burden on the planet. But computers and computer peripherals and networking equipment - none of this is going away.”

The concept of the triple-bottom-line is emerging in the technology industries said the report. This approach focuses on the economic value of an entity (the financial report) as well as the company’s environmental and social impacts (the sustainability reports). PWC conducted in-depth interviews with 148 senior technology industry executives.

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