Where Does IT Fit in IBM's Top Green Innovations?

Where Does IT Fit in IBM's Top Green Innovations?

IBM holds a lot of patents -- in fact, it earned the most of any organization in 2008, with 4,186 new patents to its name.

And as readers of our sites should know, IBM is focused in a big way on sustainability and the role technology can play in achieving greener operations in any number of arenas, from water to supply chains, data centers to traffic.

But a new announcement from Big Blue this week serves to underscore the shifting role that technology can play in environmental issues, and how IBM is changing its own role to focus on that shift.

IBM yesterday announced the top five technologies developed under its Corporate Environmental Innovation Program in the past year, the five solutions that can have a significant impact on energy efficiency or environmental impacts.

Of the top five, only three are traditional IT-related technologies, with the remaining two falling under what has become known as "Green IT 2.0," or technologies that can be applied to business operations beyond the data center or computer fleet, putting computing power to work on the firm's environmental footprint.

"Part of IBM's credo is 'innovation that matters, for our company and for the world,' and that's especially relevant to protecting the environment," Wayne Balta, IBM's vice president of corporate environmental affairs and product safety, said in a statement announcing the list. "The five innovations we've selected exemplify the very best of this belief in action. We hope they inspire other IBM employees to apply their talents and ingenuity to these and other conservation and environmental challenges."

The full list is as follows:

• iDataPlex Server, a highly energy efficient, high-volume server;
• Systems Director Active Energy Management, a data center energy management program that IBM says can cut facility energy use by up to 30 percent;
• Measurement and Management Technology, a real-time data center temperature and humidity management program;
• SmartBay Galway, a water-quality monitoring program in Galway Bay, Ireland; and
• the Stockholm Congestion Pricing Solution, a traffic-monitoring and reduction system that has cut congestion by 18 percent in the Swedish city.

With pure IT plays making up just over half of the top five this year, I wonder how that list will look in the future. With IBM putting big money and big brains behind its Smarter Planet and Big Green Innovations projects, I wouldn't be surprised to see data center hardware and software fall into the minority in next year's list.

One item that neither made the list this year nor is likely to make the list next year, but which is nonetheless deserving of some attention, is the Eco-Patent Commons, which while not exactly an in-house IBM innovation, was spearheaded by IBM and takes these ideas even further.

Rather than limiting innovation to "green IT 2.0," the Eco-Patent Commons could be the first step toward something we could call "green IP 2.0," where companies can share the innovations that have helped them achieve environmental successes can be applied and even expanded to fit organizations of all sizes and in any industry.

When I interviewed Wayne Balta right after the launch of the Eco-Patent Commons, he mentioned this point exactly:

Matthew Wheeland: How does this fit into IBM's larger big green strategy?

Wayne Balta: Well, as I hope you know, we at IBM have been working hard to identify how we as a company can continue to help others innovate and succeed in addressing the environmental challenges they face. Now, you may know that IBM is a company that's driven by its values, dedication to every client's success, innovation that matters, and trust and personal responsibility in our relationship. If we look at the values by which we govern our company and if you look at our interest in what we've referred to as Big Green, an effort like Eco-Patent Commons clearly resonates with that. Because it goes part and parcel to our value of innovation that matters to our company and to the world.

If we're looking to meet others and collaborate with them to solve problems, it certainly goes to the heart of dedication to client's success. And we think there's also a resonance for trust and personally responsibility in our relationships. So as we try to roll out our continued efforts on environmentally effective technologies, products, and processes for all industries across the world; something like Eco-Patent Commons clearly has a place at that table.