IBM Corporate Responsibility Report: Being Honestly Green

At some point, we have all been critical of corporate greenwashing. It is common to hear reports of companies adopting eco-friendly technologies for good PR or to benefit from government incentives. Some of these firms dubiously publicize their production process as being ‘green’ without actually endorsing the initiatives that they promise to undertake — there is a wide gap between supporting a green technology and adopting it. Further, with the economic meltdown hammering stock markets across the world, most of the global-scale private firms have toned down their investment in green technologies. For these reasons, it is heartening to see that IBM has taken the initiative to honestly and reasonably present its green efforts for the 2008 – 09 fiscal.

IBM has always been at the forefront of reducing energy use in its workplace and production environments, not to mention its efforts to use innovative technologies to curb greenhouse emissions and reduce hazardous wastes being dumped into landfills. The company started the trend of owning-up to its individual performance from a green & sustainable business practice perspective as a part of its annual Corporate Responsibility Report.

What is remarkable is that the Report does not try to promote the fact that it is sincerely committed to the cause of making itself environmentally compatible. Instead, the Report merely tries to educate people about the progress and even the drawbacks that IBM came across when trying walk along the greener route of conducting its business. The Report is truly exhaustive in its nature, spilling over more than 43 pages. It is precise in accounting for the performance of every green initiative across a wide array of company functions, from the supply chain, to community-cause related endeavors, to corporate governance, right down to among the employees. The Report highlights IBM’s efforts to  develop a more responsible global brand, supporting water conservation and helping develop energy-efficient workplace communities, while presenting an honest reflection of IBM’s slow transformation from energy dependent to truly “green.”

The noteworthy performance indicators of the Report are:

Conservation of Energy
•    Savings made by continuing with conservation projects have gone past the annual goal of 3.5%
•    Energy savings equaled 6.1% of the total energy use for 2008.
This translates into savings of:
235 million kilowatt electric hours
6.3 million gallons of fuel savings
215,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions

Overall, the total savings made through various conservation methods yielded $32.3 million in energy cost savings. Most of the energy saving projects were executed in IBM’s data centers that have conventionally used high-energy server operations.

Controlling Greenhouse Gas Emissions

•    Purchase of renewable energy increased to 450 million kWh in 2008
•    This equals 8.6% of IBM’s global electricity use for the year
•    This means a total reduction in CO2 emissions, due to energy use, by nearly 1.6 %

IBM has already been sensitive to its CO2 emission levels and it reduced the same by nearly 40% from 1999 to 2005. Not satisfied with this, the greenhouse gas emission reduction percentage has now been projected at 12% by 2012.

Controlling PFC Emissions — toward the end of 2008, the PFC emissions in CO2 were down by 30.4% in comparison to the 1995 baseline. PFC (Perfluorocompounds) is released during the production of semiconductors and IBM seeks to reduce it by another 25 % by 2010.

Managing End-of-Life Products — IBM produced 42,302 metric tons of waste products in 2008 that were further processed for proper disposal. Only 0.6% of it found its way to the landfills or got smoked in the incineration facilities. In 2007, this figure was a bit high at 0.8%. This means that in 2008, IBM was able to recycle or re-use more than 99% of its products that had reached the end of their lifecycle.

Recycling Plastic — Annual goal of recycling used plastic products is 5%.
Figures for:
2007: 10.6%
2008: 10.3% (a shortfall of 0.3%)

Minimizing Hazardous Waste — in 2007, hazardous waste products were reduced by 8,400 metric tons.
2008: 10,900 metric tons

Recycling Non-hazardous Waste — Annual goal for recycling non-hazardous waste products is 75%. Figures for:
2007: 78%
2008: 79%

Water Conservation — The figures released for conserving water are based upon IBM’s performance in its microelectronics manufacturing process. The annual goal is to conserve about 2% of the total volume of water used for this process, over a period of five years.
Figures for:
2007: 6%
2008: 4.6%

If you choose to be critical, it can be observed that in terms of year-on-year progress, IBM has not taken any substantial steps for endorsing newer, more innovative technologies. Most of the conservational technologies used earlier have been continued with, albeit their effectiveness has increased in some cases. However, it should be understood that given the size of IBM’s worldwide operations, it is comparatively difficult for it to adopt new conservation or recycling methods across all its facilities. Nearly every new technology that it adopts needs to be radically modified for vastly-different regional requirements.

What should be complimented is that even during an economically-challenging environment, the company has sustained its efforts towards actually adopting environmentally-responsible, greener business practices. IBM’s ability to sustain its progress on a greener path while keeping its business practices equally profitable should be a role model to smaller businesses that argue about the impracticalness of adopting greener production/manufacturing technologies. Further, IBM’s method of publicizing its green performance on an annual basis should influence other companies to come forth with their own honest progress reports. Perhaps, then, all businesses can learn from the successes and failures of their neighbors, and the business sector can make legitimate movement towards a sustainable economy.

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