In Economic Downturn, Energy Efficiency and IT Take on Green

In some ways, the news from two reports on the economy and the environment are more of the same: Companies believe it's important to make their operations more environmentally friendly. About half of all companies do (or don't, depending on how you look at it) have a green strategy in place. And concerns about the cost behind implementing these projects dominate the list of obstacles.

But the silver lining in both of these reports -- one from the Economist Intelligence Unit, and another from Cisco -- is that both despite and because of the gloomy economy, companies of all types see the importance and benefits of taking on green practices at work.

In the Economist study, timed to the launch of its 2009 Sustainability Summit, nearly three-quarters of the executives surveyed said that energy efficiency will be a high or moderate priority in the next two years as a way of cutting costs. The study also found that 67 percent of respondents believed that climate change will become a lower priority to companies as they try to weather the economic climate. The report also found that just over half -- 54 percent -- of companies have a "coherent" climate policy in place.

"The Copenhagen conference in December will be a crucial time for climate-change negotiations. But set against a backdrop of significant economic stress, a key question will be to what degree concerns about the economy will weaken any possible progress," Robin Bew, Editorial Director of the Economist Intelligence Unit, said about the report. "This report shows that, although businesses will necessarily switch focus to survival mode, many firms are starting to embrace some of the short-term cost benefits of energy efficiency. A significant minority are also discovering longer-term business opportunities relating to climate change."

In a survey conducted by Zogby International on behalf of Cisco, 55 percent -- almost the same number of respondents as in the Economist survey -- say their firms have developed a green strategy. But the survey, which focused on information technology's role in improving the efficiency of a company's operations, found that executives are increasingly aware of the power of IT to make not just data centers and workstations more efficient, but also to help monitor, track and reduce energy use across operations.

In looking at budgets for IT purchases in the coming months, 54 percent of executives said that they're much more likely to buy technological solutions to help with their overall green strategies, and over two-thirds said they'd also consider adopting technologies to manage energy consumption within buildings.

"This survey demonstrates that U.S. business leaders see technology as a viable tool for addressing cost and environmental concerns, especially as they try to maximize their IT investments," said Laura Ipsen, a Senior Vice President at Cisco and the co-chair of the company's EcoBoard. "Cisco believes that information technology has the power to transform how the world manages its energy and environmental issues in everything from the data center, to the enterprise, all the way to the Connected Home."

These new studies come on the heels of an announcement earlier this week by a Canadian researcher, who found that, despite rising awareness of IT's potential to help achieve environmental goals, the electronics industry still has a long way to go before balancing the scales between environmental benefits and environmental impacts.

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