Helping clients with 'green' issues means avoiding tokenism

IT servers and PCs account for 0.75 per cent of carbon emissions, compared with airlines' two per cent, says Nick Rappolt.

A friend of mine recently changed his status on Facebook to 'Paul is mostly made of carbon'. It reminded me how the debate on global warming is really touching consumers - even those with no background in technology or environmental science.

A report into consumer attitudes to technology companies, commissioned by Bite Communications, found that 'green' is now the third most important purchasing criterion after price and features.

'Green' is here to stay, but consumer and business opinion are moving so quickly that companies must act fast or be left in the cold. This green revolution is different from that of the 1960s, when the term 'greenwashing' was first coined.

This time it is driven by financial and environmental pressures, but it is also further compounded by legislative changes. These, in turn, drive consumer and business behaviour.

Today's world is a place where technology firms can be seen as both a problem and solution to climate change. IT consultancy Gartner estimates that, during operation, today's servers and PCs account for approximately 0.75 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

This doesn't take into account other consumer power-based products and applications, nor does it include the energy used in PC cooling. It is a surprisingly high figure that is growing rapidly. As a point of comparison, the global airline industry accounts for approximately two per cent per year. Now are you shocked?

Working in this area is a new challenge for tech PROs. However, as an industry with an ear to a multitude of stakeholders - consumers, business, the media and politicians - it is one where we have a central role to play.

We need to take a close look at the services we offer as agencies and how we can help businesses communicate green issues from the inside out.

Consumer apathy, the growth of the internet and speed of market change mean that token gestures to the environment such as carbon offsetting and the words 'carbon neutral' are misleading. They are not sufficiently linked to a company's brand to make a difference in purchasing or market share.

The challenge of tempering the rate of climate change will lead to new and exciting services in the tech PR sector. It will force PR agencies to add management consultancy to their offerings, which will enhance the impact of traditional PR programmes. Climate change is a done deal, but technology companies have a key role to play in reducing its impact.

Nick Rappolt is director of planning at Bite Communications' Cleantech Practice.

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