Microsoft: Democratizing data to protect the planet

Much conversation around the greening of information technology is, frankly, boring. Energy-efficient data centers, PCs that sleep automatically, cloud computing that uses server capacity more efficiently–all important, to be sure, but dull.

What’s more intriguing are the ways IT is being used to attack big environmental problems.

IBM has gotten lots of attention, and rightfully so, for its Smarter Planet campaign, in which data is used to help unclog traffic congestion or develop new types of biodegradable, biocompatible plastics. Google has its power meter, which helps consumers manage energy consumption, and RechargeIT, an effort to speed the adoption of electric cars. Not to be outdone, Microsoft has developed several consumer-friendly services that use the power of data to save energy and preserve the environment.

Hohm helps homeowners save energy and money. Bing maps with real-time traffic information help commuters avoid fuel-wasting traffic congestion. Eye on Earth, currently available only in Europe, provides gives citizens air and water quality information they can use to protect their health, and to become more politically active. [click to continue…]

Next steps: Climate action and green business

Under the category of shameless promotion of self and friends, I want to call your attention to three upcoming events where I’ll be asking questions of some very smart people.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, January 26), I will be moderating a webinar for my colleagues at The Energy Collective called Is Global Action on Climate Change a Pipe Dream? Breaking Down What Was (Or Wasn’t) Achieved at COP15.

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Next Thursday, February 4, I’ll be in San Francisco to join my colleagues at Greenbiz.com, led by executive editor Joel Makower, at their annual State of Green Business Forum at the PG&E Auditorium.

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The following Tuesday, February 9, Joel and I and the Greenbiz crew will reconvene for a State of Green Business Forum at the Chicago Mart Plaza.

Here are some details:

We’ve got a great panel for The Energy Collective webinar, which is free of charge. Robert Stavins, the Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government at the Kennedy School at Harvard, as well as director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. Prior to Harvard, Stavins was a staff economist at the Environmental Defense Fund. You can read one of his thoughtful blogposts about Copenhagen here. Aimée Christensen is an activist and consultant who’s worked in government, business, law and the nonprofit world on climate, human rights and development issues. She’s now got her own company, Christensen Global Strategies, which advises corporate, governmental,  and non-profit clients seeking to address the global challenges of climate change, ecosystem degradation, and resource scarcity. Her clients have included the Clinton Global Initiative,  Swiss Re, the United Nations Development Program, Virgin United, and Wolfensohn + Co.  Our third panelist will be Dirk Forrister, managing director at Natsource, a leading carbon finance company. Dirk previously worked for the Clinton White House and the Department of Energy, so he knows the Washington scene.  We’ll begin our conversation at 1 p.m. ET, and allow plenty of time for questions from the audience. You can register for the event here.

In San Francisco and Chicago, after Joel Makower and Greenbiz release their annual State of Green Business report, we’ll spend the day talking about where green business is going with an impressive array of business leaders. In San Francisco, they will include Carl Bass, the president and CEO of Autodesk, Rob Bernard, chief environmental strategist for Microsoft, entrepreneur and MacArthur fellow Saul Griffith, Rich Lechner, v.p. of energy and environment at IBM,  Rick Rommel, who leaders emerging businesses for Best Buy and Kevin Surace, CEO of Serious Materials. (Van Jones, the former White House green jobs czar, is also on the SF agenda, but he will be appearing by telepresence from Washington, D.C.) In Chicago, we will be joined by David Baum, president of the Baum Realty Group, Jim Davis, executive director for sustainability at SAP, Donna Ducharme of the Delta Institute, Rich Lechner, Sonia Medina, U.S. country director for EcoSecurities, C. David Myers, president for building efficiency at Johnson Controls, and Richard L. Sandor, chairman and founder of the Chicago Climate Exchange, among others. To register for either event, or obtain further info, visit the State of Green Business website. We’ll be talking about these topics:

Carbon Management After Copenhagen: How are companies considering carbon now that the Copenhagen summit is behind us? Hear how companies are viewing carbon as a strategic issue, implementing sophisticated new accounting schemes, realigning their products and processes, and preparing to compete in a low-carbon economy.

Green Marketing in the Age of Radical Transparency: In a world in which vast amounts of information are available about companies and products, the rules of green marketing have changed. Today, companies must respond to green ratings and rankings from websites, media companies, nonprofit organizations, and big players like Walmart. In a world where consumers have unparalleled access to data about products and companies, how does a company truly be seen as green?

Can IT Solve the World’s Problems? The information technology sector is responsible for 2% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but its impact on the other 98% is growing rapidly. Hardware, software, and service providers are creating new products and services that are enabling large and small companies to better measure and manage their environmental impacts.

When Green Business Meets Cleantech: It used to be that green business and clean technology were separate realms. No longer. Today, the two are converging, as global companies and start-ups alike are harnessing clean technology as the foundation for a new generation of green business opportunities. The result are some unlikely corporate players and alliances.

On a personal note, it’s been about a year since I began working with The Energy Collective and Greenbiz. Robin Carey at TEC and Joel Makower and Pete May at Greenbiz are great partners, and their support for my writing makes this blog possible. So, thanks guys!