Tuesday Dec 04, 2007

Supply Chain Reporting

cdp_logo.gifYesterday Dell announced that they were going to join the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Supply Chain Leadership Collaboration. I happened to have been talking with Paul Dickinson about this at the GeSI board meeting last week, and I think that this a good idea.

As we have been saying in the past, alignment among the key players in the electronics supply chain is going to be critical for making deep progress. In particular, I'd like to see EICC (the group formerly known as Electronics Industry Code of Conduct) adopt this (or some variant) and standardize the specific info that will be requested of the electronics supply chain. (Note: this is my opinion, and may or may not reflect Sun's official position within the EICC).

openeco.gifBut this idea also highlights the need for OpenEco. If all of the thousands of organizations in Dell's supply chain need to teach themselves about GHG emissions, or go hire expensive consultants, or buy a proprietary software package, this is going to be a costly endeavor. There's nothing magic to reporting carbon emissions, and we need to all work together to make it as easy as possible. Hopefully OpenEco will help some companies get started (US now, other geos coming soon). The easier this gets, the more data will be surfaced, and the faster we'll collectively figure out how to improve.

Thursday Nov 29, 2007

"The Six Sins of Greenwashing"

If you get a chance, read Two Steps Forward: The Six Sins of Greenwashing by Joel Makower. It is the other side of my recent post on the rights of consumers.

These are two sides of the same discussion for the following reason: most of these eco product claims are failing because they are trying to give consumers the answer, instead of the data. Instead of saying "Here's the data on the impact of this product", they want to jump to the conclusion, saying "This product is green. Believe us, if you could see the data you'd agree."

Programs like Energy Star have been successful and effective in trying to simplify complex stories in order to help customers make better decisions. These types of summaries, when done right, can be useful and effective. We can't stop there and think that that's enough, though. Only when we provide open, accurate data on all of environmental aspects of products will we get the kind of green procurement and consumer behavior that we really need.

Thursday Nov 15, 2007

Energy and the Rights of Consumers

You're aware of our climate challenges, you're not super rich, and you're out looking for a new car. Its a pretty safe bet that you're taking a look at the stickers on the car windows that tell you how many miles per gallon you might get. In the US there's two numbers, 'city' and 'highway', but you have a good sense of your driving patterns so you know how to weigh these numbers in your decision. And the good thing is that there's a double win - a more efficient car lowers your environmental impact and you'll save some cash in the process.energy-label.jpg

Next on your shopping list is a computer. Maybe you're buying a server for your company or a PC for home. There's already lots of eco rating schemes (almost all for PCs): Energy Star, 80 Plus, EPEAT and now Climate Savers Computing. With all of these rating systems, it must be easy to find out how much power a new PC will actually use, right? Turns out that the answer is no.

And not only is it difficult to find real power numbers for desktops, but also for servers as well. Not only does this make it harder to make good purchasing decisions, but it makes it hard to accurately size the cooling and power distribution in the datacenter, so people add in fudge factors and guess high to be safe. Unfortunately, datacenter infrastructure runs less efficient at lower utilization, so not only are people buying more than they need, but what they get isn't as efficient as it could be.

I've heard a couple of arguments about why this data isn't available. The first is that the power varies by application. That's true for cars as well, and the answer there is to provide more than one datapoint and let customers extrapolate their own experience. This seems reasonable for computers as well, and the success of server performance benchmarks is another good sign. The second is that the power varies by utilization. Again, I think that customers can deal with the data - lets give it to them.

The last two are that a) there's no standards, and b) configuration options make it too complex. We agree that standards would be great, and there's good progress on that front, but we don't believe that there's a need to wait. Our strategy is to put out power calculators that help people compute the expected power of specific configurations, which helps deal with challenge (b) above. When standards emerge, we'll adapt our processes and data to be aligned with those.

At this point we've got calculators out for some of our higher volume products, and are in the process of working our way through the whole product line. For example, check out the calculator for the Sun SPARC Enterprise T2000 server or the Intel-based Sun Fire x4150. We don't have full utilization graphs yet, but those will start to be available at some point as well.

We believe that with our customers facing numerous energy challenges, ranging from practical power and cooling issues to economic issues to environmental issues, they deserve to have an accurate estimate of how much power the products that they buy will use. We are committed to providing that data, and to supporting processes to standardize that data.

Take a look at what we're doing today and give us some feedback.

Wednesday Nov 07, 2007

Double Carbon Neutral - A Reality!

I was tongue-in-cheek when I originally wrote about the idea, but Fiji water has made it a reality!

I'm not sure if I like their name ("carbon negative") or mine ("double carbon neutral") better.

So, what's better for the environment - drinking "carbon negative" water that's bottled in Fiji and shipped to your store in plastic bottles, or drinking "carbon positive" tap water? You make the call....

Tuesday Oct 16, 2007

Carbon Redux

With the release of our CSR report two weeks ago, we've had some renewed attention on our overall carbon strategy.

As we have been, we're currently focused on lowering our actual carbon footprint as low as possible. We have been making good headway, and have a long list of projects still to go which we know will have a good return. And with this long list, our investments in carbon reduction will continue to focus on these projects as opposed to investing in offsets.

At some point the list of projects with clear ROI will start to shorten, and at that point we'll take a look at offsets as a way to continue to allow us to make headway. Is that point in time three years from now? Two? Five? Not sure yet, but we'll be open about our approach.

There is a cost to this strategy, and that cost is that we can't claim that we're "carbon neutral". Right now that's a cost we're willing to live with.

Because we've been willing to talk about not being carbon neutral, I find myself in interesting discussions. Here's some thought-provoking questions that have come up. They aren't meant to prove any specific point, but I think they're useful in helping understand the nature of carbon offsets.

What about the other GHGs? If carbon neutrality is a good idea, what about nitrous oxide neutrality? Methane neutrality? Water vapor neutrality? And beyond the GHG's, what about fresh water neutrality? Is this a mechanism that we want to scale, or is carbon unique in some way?

Can you be "double carbon neutral"? If it is good to offset your emissions, is it even better to offset your emissions twice? Is there a name for this? Anyone want to give it a try?

What happens if the externality cost of carbon gets priced into the market by some mechanism? If a CO2 tax comes into being that represents the impact of emissions, am I automatically carbon neutral, assuming I pay my taxes? If a CO2 cap and trade system is instituted do companies stop offseting?

Let me know how you'd answer these questions!

Monday Oct 15, 2007

Eco Travel: Good and Bad

One of the major ironies of my job is that I end up traveling too much, resulting in a non-trivial carbon footprint. Last week, for example, I had the opportunity to speak before over 4,500 people, and to meet with a major energy producer, but the trip required four different plane flights, hotel rooms and a series of limos and rental cars. On one leg, in particular, citation_photo_02.jpg Jonathan, John Fowler and I were going between the same two events, so I hopped on the company plane with them, and was razzed the whole trip. Pictures of me drinking bottled water on a private jet should hit the internet soon...

On the trip I saw some interesting eco-related activities, some good, some bad.

  • At our multi-day Customer Engineering event in Las Vegas, they handed out nalgene drinking bottles to everyone on the first day. There were water coolers everyhwere, and no bottled water. I'm not sure how many plastic water bottles equal one hiking bottle, but it seems like a really good idea in general. We also had a huge reduction in paper at this event, which is great to see.
  • At our Forum 2007 storage event in Denver, our organizers asked the hotel to not turn on TVs and lights in the rooms prior to everyone's arrival. I've always wondered about this strange practice - it was great to see someone step up and put an end to it, at least in one hotel. We also handed out nice notebooks that included recycling tips. However, the notebooks are spiral bound in a way that makes it hard to see how to recycle the notebook itself! Kind of destroyed the good feeling for me. Finally, we did see some nice paper reductions for this event as well.
  • My pet peeve of trip was with Avis, who had my car running for me when I walked out into their lot. I'm sure they knew I was on the bus and just turned it on, but it was 50 degrees out so absolutely no benefit to me to have the car running.

Travel should be slowing down a little the rest of the year - the planet and I both need a rest.

Thursday Sep 20, 2007

Please Stop!

Dear {name of organization},

I know {PICK ONE: from your previous work, from our conversations, from your reputation} that you are passionate about addressing our climate challenges. As such, I was very surprised at the contents of the large {PICK ONE: FEDEX, Express mail, mail} package that recently arrived for me.

While I'm sure that your {PICK ONE: marketing collateral, report} is interesting and informative, I have to tell you that I recycled it to the best of my ability without reading it. All of the information that you chose to send to me (remember, I didn't ask for it), is already available online or could easily be put there. That way I could access it for effectively zero environmental cost, compared to your approach, which was far more wasteful. In addition to the impact of shipping your package, your material {CHOOSE ALL THAT APPLY: used non-recycled paper, is printed with inks that will make it hard to recycle, is bound in a way that makes it hard to recycle, has lots of environmentally unfriendly glossy pictures, included excess packaging, was shipped by air even though it wasn't time critical}.

As Marshall Mcluhan said, the medium is the message. Your message to me was that you only care about the environment when its convenient. I doubt that is the message that you really wanted to send, but that's what arrived in my mailbox.

If you'd still like me to take a look at some of your stuff, I'll look forward to an email with an attachment or link to the material.

Regards,

Dave


I just arrived back from an series of trips to find about a foot of mail, and the bulk of it was stacks of unsolicited material from supposedly sustainable organizations. Presumably you know who you are and can customize the letter above appropriately.

For the rest of you, feel free to reuse this letter yourself. Let's put an end to the insanity!

Thursday Sep 06, 2007

Carbon Pseudo Science

As self-appointed eco watch dog for scientific accuracy, I can't help commenting on Adam Stein's "Science corner: why carbon sequestration and clean energy are equivalent" on the TerraPass site.

I agree that sequestering a ton of CO2 and avoiding emitting a ton of CO2 can be viewed as scientifically equivalent, assuming that both activities happen within the same period of time. However, Adam ignores this time stipulation, and unfortunately the common practice in forest-based sequestration is to ignore it as well.

Here's the issue. Many tree-based carbon sequestration programs use the money to plant a tree, which will then sequester the targeted CO2 over a period of years. However, that period may be a long time, such as the 70 year period targeted by Dell's Plant a Tree program. That means that 35 years from now, only half of the CO2 will be sequestered.

If someone argues that we can wait a few decades to do something about CO2 emissions, alot of us, including, presumably Adam, would have a fit. However, the forest-based sequestration crowd follow Adam's argument and are somehow comfortable with sequestration which has 2/3 of its effect over 20 years from now.

What we really need is a net present value (NPV) of CO2, just like we have with money. A dollar in the future isn't worth as much as a dollar in hand today, so a discount rate is applied to the future dollar to give you a current value. Similarly, a ton of CO2 30 or 40 years from now isn't as value as a ton of CO2 today. In fact, I could argue that its worth a lot less, if in fact we are faced with a 10 to 20 year horizon to really make a real dent in our atmospheric CO2.

Unfortunately, since we have no NPV for carbon, and the idea of it isn't widely understood, people are putting programs into place that pretend that the value of a future ton is worth a ton today. And when defenders of sequestration-based offsets apply flawed reasoning, and worse yet call it 'scientific', it only lessens my already weak faith in the offset system as an element of a functional and effective carbon market.

Note: I've ignored another potential issues with Adam's argument. He is assuming that investments and circumstances cooperate in order to keep sequestered CO2 sequestered. Our ability to do this at massive scale still seems a little dicey to me.

Friday Aug 03, 2007

Do you put your feet up on the tables at home, too?

Sorry for the silly title, but felt like a good summary for a survey that we published the results of this week.

Since we get a wide range of responses when we talk to employees and customers about the environment, we thought it would be interesting to try to get to their underlying opinions. The first result was that most people want their company to be eco responsible - 73%. That's the good news.

But those same people were then quick to admit that they fail to engage in basic energy conservation activities at the office, while they readily do it at home. As an example, 52% said they turn off lights when they are done using a room at the office, while 92% said they'd do it at home.

When asked why the difference in behavior, the respondents were given a range of options. The most common by far was "Not sure" (so you can understand why we didn't put that in the release - not very conclusive!). My guess is that its a combination of feeling like its someone else's problem, and not seeing any direct payback (more money in the budget?) for changing behavior, but that's just a guess.

Companies are only as good as the people who make them up. This poll made it clear that there is an eco-gap at the office, and that its not a matter of knowledge, but of willingness and motivation. Send me your thoughts - I'd like to understand this better.

Thursday Jul 05, 2007

Talk Like a Corporate Environmentalist

It's a holiday week here in the US, so a good time for a lighter topic, namely how to talk like a corporate environmentalist. This is a topic which I've done extensive research over the last year, having attending dozens of environmental conferences, having given dozens of talks myself, and having listened to many dozens more.

Its also a timely topic, because at current growth rates, by 2010 there will be over 1,000 conferences with environmental themes each week in the US alone. This means that one out of every 7 US corporate employees will need to be giving environmental talks in order to staff all of these conferences, so its important that we start training those speakers now!

So here's two important techniques to being able to talk like a corporate environmentalist. Try these in your next talk - they'll guarantee that you'll be a hit!

#1 - Focus on The Improvement, Not What's Left to Fix

You'll never hear a corporate environmentalist get up and say "We've cut our methane emissions from 423 to 420 gzillion tons per year". People back at HQ will freak out if you say something like that. Instead, focus on the positive: "We've made dramatic methane emissions reductions of 3 gzillion tons per year!". Doesn't that sound better?

#2 - Make Emissions Accessible, but Not Too Accessible

It's really hard to visualize a ton of CO2 or a gigawatt of electricity, so its important to give your audience analogies that help make your statistics real. The basic approach is to compare to things people know, like cars or houses, as in "This reduction is the same as taking 13,000 cars off the road for a year", or "That's enough electricity to power 10,000 homes for a month. The problem is that someone in the audience might actually know some of these factoids, so you have to actually do the research and the math to make sure your comparisons are accurate - yuck!

Instead, experienced speakers will make comparisons which sound real, but are much less likely to ever be checked. The key is geographic locations and timescales which will demotivate even the most ardent fact checker. Recognizable, but not huge cities (e.g. Topeka, Milwaukee, Edinburgh, Columbus, Dresden), Canadian provinces and recently formed Eurasian countries are all great targets. "That's enough energy to light the homes in Estonia for 16 months" - wow! "That's the same as taking all of the cars in Alberta off of the road for a fortnight" - incredible!

Friday Jun 22, 2007

Eco Vices

As I've become more aware of the environmental impact of things I do, certain things from my day-to-day life jump out at me as being totally environmentally irresponsible. And you know what? I'm probably going to keep on doing them. They're my eco vices.

Here's three of them:

Skiing trips - pile the family into a large SUV (need 4WD and room for lots of gear), and drive into the mountains during the harshest conditions. Spend the day on a mix of manmade and natural snow (what's the carbon and fresh water impact of manmade snow?), hang out in a lodge heated to 60 degrees over the outside temperature, and get pulled up the mountain numerous times by a huge electrical pully system. Best family time we have, wouldn't miss it for the world. (Note: golf and waterskiing are probably in the same bucket)

Reading the newspaper - each week part of my trash ritual is getting the recyclable paper out to the curb. Generally its a big recycling bin, most of which is newspaper, full of ads and information I could easily get online. The paper is created (huge water usage), printed, driven to my house in the middle of the night, I read about 5% of it at most (all of which is now on the web somewhere), and then its put out to be driven somewhere else to be recycled. But there's something about sitting down in the morning with a cup of coffee and having the newspaper in your hands.

Heiniken - How absurd is it to sit down at night and drink a beer that was brewed in Holland, or Japan, or where ever? A bottle of fermented water was shipped by multiple means of transportation to your favorite restaurant or beer distributor. In the end the bottle (and the beer) hopefully get recycled, 10,000 miles from where they were produced. Sure I support local breweries, but sometimes there something about a particular beer...

One thing that all of these show is how our current economy doesn't really account for the environmental impact of many products and activities. Its amazing (at multiple levels) that you can brew beer, make a bottle, package it up, ship it to me from Holland, and I can buy it at a store for around $1, and that money is enough to cover all of the costs and a little profit for all of the people and processes who touched it along the way.

So what are your eco vices?

Wednesday May 09, 2007

James Lovelock

I'm at the TTI/Vanguard conference and have just had the honor of hearing a presentation by James Lovelock, one of the historical leaders and visionaries of global environmentalism.

His message is pretty straightforward. I'll try to paraphrase it here: We've screwed things up so much that we have to start thinking of big things we can do to counteract the mess we've made. Nothing we can do as humans can operate at a large enough scale and fast enough to stop the processes we've put into place. What we need to do is use the power of the earth itself to correct the problem.

He's proposing a systems approach to the earth, and with radical ideas like large scale heat pumps. He believes is that we're already making dramatic changes to the earth, so the risk of other radical changes is negligible compared to what we're already doing.

Saturday May 05, 2007

Eco Live 2007

Spent most of the day at Eco Live 2007. Got to spend a couple of hours with RFK Jr. this morning, then did a short speech and introduced him as the main speaker. An honor to meet him, and personally exciting to spend some time together. We had a little less than 1000 in the audience, but it was a great and very interactive crowd. Mr. Kennedy talked a lot from his latest book, but added on some great comments about the role of the wilderness in religion and the role of the environment in American history. I think both of our talks got taped somewhere, and if I find them I'll link to them here. We talked about how to use sensors and real-time websites to start to raise awareness about the changes that are happening in the environment. We both thought this might be a good fit for his work with our nation's water resources. We also got a Flex Your Power award today, which was awesome! Now at the airport for the redeye trip home - looking forward to getting there in the morning.

Monday Apr 30, 2007

The New Accounting

When I recently blogged (here and here) the question of how much energy it takes to build a car, the obvious question is how about a server?

We're starting to do a deeper dive on the complete environmental life of our servers. The big picture is pretty straightforward, and isn't really specific to servers. In short, we're thinking of six distinct phases of a a product's life where energy and natural resources are used:

  1. Design the product
  2. Manufacturing of the product
  3. Package and deliver the product
  4. Operate and maintain the product
  5. Collect the product at end-of-life
  6. Recycle the product

I'll be coming back to this list over and over in the coming months, but at this point I'll just make some high level observations. First, the energy and natural resources to design the product are probably not significant for a high volume product, but for low volume or one-off products, it could be very high. By the time you spend server time on design, build prototypes, do lab tests, etc, this may be higher than the cost of the product itself in many cases. I bet this is true for the space shuttle, for example.

Three and five are interesting, as they include issues such as product packaging, shipping, and a number of supply chain activities. Number 3 may also include documentation and other things that are delivered with the product, but which aren't the product itself. More on them in future posts.

Finally, there's recycling, which is one of the most important parts of this cycle. If you're involved in products and you haven't read Cradle to Cradle by McDonough and Braungart, make sure to pick it up. Recycling starts with design - if you didn't design a product to be recycled, its very unlikely it can be effectively. And its not just whether you can recycle, but how good the materials are that you end up with, and how much energy it takes to do the recycling.

I suspect that this will end up being one of the big differences between today's product engineers and those fifty years from now. Between laws and social responsibility expectations, future engineers will be required to do a complete accounting for their products at design time. They'll be far more attuned to the various material and chemical options for their products (and more, better options will be available, see here), and they'll be able to account for the impact of their choices.

I'll post more as we go through this process ourselves.

Sunday Apr 22, 2007

Happy Earth Day 2007

One random thought on Earth Day (US version): I think we need a second one that falls on work day. I believe that over the next few years we're going to find that, for many people, the biggest environmental impact they can have is related what happens at work, not at home. It's just a hunch, but in this consumer and service driven economy, I bet I'll be proven right.
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