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Public sector beats businesses on sustainability

Could IT do more to help all sectors cut emissions?

Public sector organisations are more likely to talk about sustainability than private sector companies, according to a study of the participants in the government's Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency Scheme.

The research raises questions such as whether or not organisations are actually doing something about sustainability, as well as what opportunities there are for IT companies to help other sectors cut their emissions.

For its report, 'The Sustainable Innovation Opportunities Created by the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme', consultancy firm Cambium LLP, used four indicators to measure the sustainability of the 2,770 participants in the CRC Scheme.

It found that on average, the scores based on the four indicators for the public sector were higher than the private sector, with it performing best on the sustainability indicator.

Cambium used a web-based research approach to search for key terms related to each company, and measured them on sustainability - an organisation's general attitude to the sustainability agenda - and carbon management - the extent to which an organisation measures, reports and verifies carbon emissions.

It also measured companies on social awareness, which usually includes corporate social responsibility, and environmental return on investment, how much an organisation assigns a financial value to its sustainability efforts.

Cambium divided the participants into 19 industry sectors, and rated them depending on how many leaders, early majority, late majority and laggard organisations there were in each sector, against the four indicators, creating the Cambium Index.

Fifteen percent of organisations in the private sector did not mention any of the sustainability indicators, and overall, it had fewer leaders, just five percent compared to 42 percent, and more laggards, 57 percent compared to 11 percent, than the public sector.

However, the private sector performed better than the public sector on the carbon management indicator.

Most of the private sector leaders were found in the energy and services sector, while energy-intensive firms in the manufacturing sector and the food and drink sector had the lower percentage of leaders.

The ICT sector performed reasonably well in the Index, according to report author Iain Burns.

"ICT is pretty good. It's got leaders and not too many laggards.

"It is way beyond manufacturing but it hasn't reached the levels of the services and energy sectors because there's a large legacy of facilities in ICT, particularly data centres," he said.

However, he saw it as an opportunity for the IT sector to perhaps use more energy to develop products and services that enable even greater reduction in energy use across all the other sectors.

"We [IT] are one of the biggest levers to reduce the environmental impact of all the other sectors. We need to look at the energy the sector uses and how effective it is at reducing the energy elsewhere," said Burns.

The CRC Scheme's league tables are due to be published in October 2011, ranking the participants on their energy use. Cambium believes that comparing the Cambium Index with the league table will raise the issue of brand and reputation for organisations.

"Organisations will no longer be able to say one thing and do another. There's a reputational risk," said report co-author Tony O'Donnell.


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