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Copenhagen Boosts Tech Companies’ Green Plans

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This week, the big news in the world of green has been the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP15), and Green IT companies are seizing the opportunity to show how they’re offering tools to support the policymaking underway.

Google on Thursday unveiled a tool to help researchers and policymakers measure rates of deforestation, a hot topic at the summit. Rival Microsoft isn’t sitting still, either. One of the projects Microsoft is highlighting at the Bright Green Expo this weekend, also in Copenhagen, is MapMyClimate. Developed with Danish partners, Microsoft is using mapping data to help users of the online tool visualize the impact of CO2 emissions in and around Copenhagen. (You can get a sense of the tool in action in this YouTube video.)

Both are clever uses of mapping and cloud technologies and can help further climate research. The trick, now, is for Google, Microsoft and others to conjure up products and services to help businesses and governments avoid a polluter’s penalty. And they may have a golden opportunity to do so; according to IDC, information and communications technologies (ICT), if used to their full potential, can spare our atmosphere nearly 6 billion tons of CO2 emissions by 2020. But to help businesses deliver on that potential – and profit from the exercise — IT companies will have to get strategic.

One area, central to the COP15 climate talks, on which IT can have an enormous impact is measuring greenhouse gas emissions using carbon accounting technology.

Take SAP, for example. Instead of building a carbon accounting business from scratch, the company bought its way into the space by acquiring Clear Standards this summer.  Now called SAP Carbon Impact, the European enterprise software giant boasts that it has attracted a handful of customers, including Intuit and Autodesk, with more on the way. This modest number of customer wins seems hardly worth the effort until you consider that SAP has over 90,000 customers for its enterprise resource planning, reporting and compliance software.

Even if SAP’s customers aren’t clamoring for carbon accounting software now, they soon will be. In the UK, a study conducted by the company revealed that two-thirds of companies that would be affected by the country’s upcoming Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) legislation don’t have suitable carbon accounting systems in place. It’s a safe bet that many of them are SAP customers.

But SAP isn’t the only player in this market. Of the many carbon management startups vying for success, Hara has made name for itself, most recently by landing News Corp as a high-profile customer. The media giant has stated its goal to become carbon neutral by 2010, and Hara is positioned to play a key role in meeting that target. This week, fresh from announcing a partnership with Sustainable Silicon Valley, Hara is at COP15 to show that software is not only critical for keeping tabs on carbon emissions, but that it can also serve as a tool that enables businesses to kick off carbon reduction strategies.

Firms that develop such tools will find no lack of opportunities in a market that will soon encompass thousands of carbon-constrained business worldwide, regardless of what sort of climate pact emerges from COP15.

Question of the week

Are emissions reduction technologies a worthwhile and profitable endeavor for IT companies?