Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What happens to green in an economic downturn?

The DOW continues to plunge. The $700B economic bailout begins. GM is screaming for assistance. CitiGroup files for bankruptcy. We have elected a new president. Words like recession, depression, deflation are making newspaper headlines. With the economic downturn what happens to all of the efforts and corporate commitments to green? Will green still be seen as gold, or just a waste of precious financial resources? President-elect Obama supported green during his campaign and it will be interesting to see how he could use governmental assistance as a means to promote green industry. He has close to $700B to make the greening of Corporate America a reality.

One consideration is to assist GM (and other US auto manufacturers) with government loans that require the auto giant to re-invent itself and re-tool so that it can manufacture energy efficient automobiles that people will actually want to buy. The factories could also become a target for green technologies that reduce waste and promote sustainability. Such an arrangement could reach far into the supply chain, labor force, and even dealerships.

GM has been in a death spiral for many years and is burdened with legacy costs that adds to cost but not to value.However, it is beyond this blog to say whether it should receive government assistance or not. GM has shown some efforts toward producing green autos with the introduction of the new environmentally friendly Chevy Volt . However, it is hard to forget that it was GM's Chairman of the Board, Bob Lutz who said that global warming was a "crock of shit". I wonder if Lutz still thinks American car-buyers are not ready for anything other that our SUVs.

This situation could turn out a few ways. The price for a barrel of oil is now again under $60 and with inexpensive gasoline flowing again, perhaps the Lutz legacy will be SUVs and Bankruptcy. However, House Speaker Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Ried are days away from proposing such a bailout and perhaps, just perhaps the legacy will go the other way and Lutz will transform GM into a big green car-making machine. Time will tell.

# 9 Google

Google has several "Green" efforts. The one that seems to be of most interest and applicable to the industry is its commitment to sustainable computing.

Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. Hundreds of millions of users access these services through the web, and supporting this traffic requires lots of computers. Google strives to offer great internet services while taking energy use very seriously. Almost a decade ago, they started efforts to make computing infrastructure as sustainable as possible. Today they operate the world's most efficient data centers.

Google-designed data centers use considerably less energy - both for the servers and the facility itself - than a typical data center. As a result, the energy used per Google search is minimal. In fact, in the time it takes to do a Google search, your own personal computer will use more energy than they will use to answer your query.

At Google, sustainability is about more than electricity, so they've gone beyond just reducing energy consumption. Before the end of 2008 two of their facilities will run on 100% recycled water, and by 2010 they expect recycled water to provide 80% of their total water consumption. They also carefully manage the retirement of our servers to ensure that 100% of this material is either reused or recycled. Finally, They are engaging users and peers to help build a clean and efficient energy future. They understand that the broader impact could be significant; if all data centers operated at the same efficiency as Google's, the U.S. alone would save enough electricity to power every household within the city limits of Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

Sustainability is good for the environment, but it makes good business sense too. Most of their work is focused on saving resources such as electricity and water and, more often than not, we find that these actions lead to reduced operating costs. Being "green" is essential to keeping their business competitive. It is this economic advantage that makes our efforts truly sustainable.