Remember the first half of 2008? Most developed countries and many emerging ones were taking action to comply with the Kyoto Protocol, and sky-rocketing oil, coal, iron, aluminum, and copper prices were making everyone conscious of the need to wisely manage and consume natural resources. Climate change was high on the agenda of most governments and CEOs; CO2 credits were traded at the Kyoto Stock Exchange; and plans were being prepared to reduce CO2 emissions in 2020 and 2050. Despite the subprime and natural resource crisis, it appeared that governments, enterprises and individuals could work together to avoid a major global environmental crisis happening in the next decade.
But then, in September came the bankruptcy of Lehmann Brothers followed by an endless flow of bad news that heralded the global recession spreading around the world. Moves to Chapter 11, bankruptcies, budget cuts, decreasing revenues, layoff plans, state deficits, stocks massacre, and profit warnings have been the top headlines since last October and are not going to disappear overnight.
If you meet a CEO today, the best case is that they will tell you that the future is unpredictable, that cash is king and that they have to move variable costs into fixed costs to face every eventuality. In the worst case they will tell you they are not sure the company will still be in business in three months from now. And if you knock on a CIO's door today and tell them that your communications solutions are 'green' and can save several dozens of tons of CO2, they will probably not be interested. Instead they want to talk about rationalizing IT infrastructure, reducing travel, transforming IT Capex into Opex, enhancing CRM tools, and out-tasking or outsourcing to refocus on their core business.
So, in the current business environment, should we put the environmental question to one side for the next 18 months to leave time for the economy to restart and for CEOs, CFOs and CIOs to think again of investing in the future?
I clearly think the answer to this question is 'no' and I would like to tell you why: the good news might be that many ICT solutions which are great for the environment are also great to help companies get quickly out of the crisis. Let's have a deeper look at the issues at the top of their minds:
1) Reducing the need to travel. We have plenty of ICT solutions that achieve this goal: from Telepresence to high definition video-conferencing; from unified communications to telecommuting; and from document sharing to audio and web conferencing. All these technologies reduce travel costs (to the tune of 20-30%); improve individual productivity and well being (through reduced time lost in traveling or commuting and increased time for team working); and also demonstrably reduce organizations' carbon footprint (Telepresence can save several thousands tons of CO2 every year). In short, ICT solutions can be great for the employee, great for the company's P&L, and great for the planet.
2) Virtualize IT. Cloud computing, grid computing, and thin-client architectures all help reduce IT costs and optimize resources needed for data centers. Through this technology, companies no longer need mega data centers that consume as much energy as a city with 50,000 inhabitants. In addition thin client workstations do not require state-of-the-art desktops, drastically reducing the volume of electronic waste. And you can get connected to your applications, securely, from any terminal anywhere in the world.
3) Vehicle fleet management. These solutions based on mobile and GPS technologies help optimize fleet routing for ground transportation with three positive effects: faster freight delivery, gasoline savings and CO2 emissions reduction.
4) Healthcare solutions at home. Telemonitoring (local treatment combined with mobile communication) allows patients suffering from diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure to be safely treated at home, without needing to drive to the hospital. Again, cost effectiveness, increase of health quality and well being, and CO2 emissions savings are here at stake.
All these examples (and we could provide many more, including supply chain improvements with RFID, and remote monitoring of homes or devices) have in common three positive factors: cost savings, CO2 savings, and a third business benefit such as shorter time to market, better group productivity, or increase of revenues with innovative solutions.
So I believe that in the current environment, green solutions are still very valid. What's changed is the reasons for their adoption and today these include cost savings, quick ROI, flexible cost structure and increase in productivity.
And we can be sure that as soon as the economic crisis is over - and this might happen sooner than expected - the main focus will be back on promoting solutions that will help our world to be a safe place to live in for the next decades. No doubt this will be the main challenge for the next decade - and as acknowledged by the Start 2020 report from the Climate Group, ICT technologies can save five times more CO2 than what they will generate in 2020. And no doubt Orange will be at the forefront of this new frontier!