Green IT – Marketing Versus Measuring
A recent “green” marketing study has me wondering: assuming that many technology companies are indeed becoming better caretakers of the planet, is it more important for businesses to appear “green” to their consumers or to be leading the way in sustainable practices? I’ll take the thought leaders over the thought manipulators any day.
The recently released Green Factor study surveyed over 3500 IT professionals and found that Dell ranked highest in green technology. Dell has been compiling Corporate Social Responsibility reports since 1998 and should be applauded for the numerous steps they have taken to become more environmentally sustainable, especially for their robust recycling program. What sparked my interest in their new accolade is that Climate Counts, a non-profit that evaluates the efforts companies take to reduce their role in climate change, ranked Dell 10th out of the 12 electronics companies it researched.
Here are some interesting differences in how the Green Factor survey and the Climate Counts Company Scorecard approach their research and in the results they find. According to its web site, the Green Factor ” is a joint initiative between Strategic Oxygen and Cohn & Wolfe to illuminate ‘green’ marketing opportunities and further ‘green’-focused research on a global scale.” So, they want to help organizations cash in on the current “green” wave. I have no problem with companies promoting themselves based on their sustainable actions but I question a report whose main goal is to “illuminate ‘green’ marketing opportunities.” What does this do for the buyers who are about to buy a new piece of hardware? It shows them how successful marketing campaigns have made companies like Dell and Apple into “green” IT heroes. Hopefully these buyers are digging a little deeper before they make their purchases because not all that claims green is gold.
Climate Counts defines itself as “a collaborative effort to bring consumers and companies together in the fight against global climate change.” In pursuit of this end, they have a developed 22 questions worth a total of 100 points that evaluate what organizations are doing in four areas: measuring their footprint, reducing their contribution to global warming, supporting tough climate legislation, and publicly announcing their work in relation to climate change. Certainly a lot to live up to but IBM did not have a hard time topping the elelectronics category with a 77. Cannon was close behind with a 74, and scoring 70, Toshiba came in third. Dell’s score of 47 put it in 10th place, second only to Nokia, at 37, and Apple, 11.
Apple does not need any more attention drawn to their lackluster sustainability efforts, just Google “Apple computers, green,” but they provide such a great example of the difference between what these reports found that I can’t resist talking about them. Participants in the Green Factor placed Apple at number five out of almost 30 companies in terms of their perceived “greenness”. Climate Counts ranked Apple last out of 12 companies, noting that they lacked publicly available information about their efforts to measure their role in climate change.
The drastic difference in rankings is not surprising given the divergent missions of the authors but it highlights the main issue I have with a report like Green Factor. Apple comes out near the top because they have been able to portray themself as hip and green. They are so effective that most consumers believe they are doing all that they can to decrease their carbon footprint, increase manufacturing efficiency, and, in the end, reduce their contribution to global warming. But this is not clearly not the case and reading a report that shows Apple near the top of the green IT ladder is perpetuating the sustainably myth they have built.
I guess the Green Factor report helps shine a light on how to capture “green” marketing opportunities, something I fear is becoming more important than being measured by a third party who can truly illuminate the dark shadows and shining examples of real sustainable actions. I urge individuals and companies alike to seek out facts rather than listen to hype. Learn how an organization measures up to clearly defined standards rather than how effective it is in marketing itself using fuzzy imagery.