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Google, Cisco share first place on Greenpeace's 2013 Cool IT list

<p>Despite some big gains, most high-tech companies still lag on clean power adoption and political advocacy for clean energy policies.</p>

That Google has reclaimed its position at the top of Greenpeace's sixth annual Cool IT Leaderboard ranking should come as no surprise, but this year it isn't alone -- Cisco has bounced back into a leadership position in a tie for first place.

The two companies both earned a score of 58, out of a possible 100, based on their strategies and policies across three areas:

  1. Efforts to offer "economy-wide technological climate solutions" that could help reduce global greenhouse gas reductions (40 points);
  2. Internally focused initiatives intended to minimize the environmental impact of its own operations and cut global warming emissions (25 points); and
  3. Active political advocacy aimed at supporting the emergence of "science-based climate and energy policies (35 points).

Last year, Google earned a 53, while Cisco rated a 49, so both companies improved their performance in the past 12 months.

In all, Greenpeace considered 21 well-known information technology and consumer electronics companies this year -- but the 2013 list omits (as it did last year) two of the biggest names in the high-tech industry, Apple and Facebook.

Two other companies that were included last year, Oracle and Tata Communications Services, were dropped due to what Greenpeace describes as a "significant decline in performance." The organization also "suspended" its inclusion of Sharp because of structural instability at the company.

Three separate category leaders

Cisco's gains largely were tied to the IT energy impact area, where it was No. 1. The company recently revised its greenhouse reduction goals to target a reduction of 40 percent below 2007 levels by 2017.

"Cisco returns to the top of the Leaderboard with an updated set of targets for its operations, along with a performance-based commitment to move away from coal," writes Greenpeace in its executive summary.

Google's strength was advocacy, and it won that individual category. Since 2010, the company has invested an estimated $1 billion in clean energy, notably wind generation technologies. More recently, it issued a $2.5 million grant to the Energy Foundation, an organization that supports intelligent energy reform.

And just last week, Google announced that it would collaborate with Duke Energy to create a new renewable electricity program in North Carolina. The move is related to its plan to double its data center location in the state.

"As Google rapidly expands outside of the U.S. as well, most recently in Asia and Latin America, it will be critical to the company's 100 percent renewable energy goal that it brings the same combination of investment and policy advocacy to bear in these expanding markets," writes Greenpeace in its analysis. "Google can also bring that combination to bear in specific regions of the U.S. where it has data centers but faces monopoly utility companies who offer little in the way of renewable energy to its customers, such as Duke Energy in the southeastern U.S."

Fujitsu, which emerged with the fourth highest overall score (51), was the leader for the most heavily weighted category, focused on climate solutions. The company is involved in a wide range of solutions – from transport and shipping logistics to building efficiency technologies.

"Fujitsu still possesses well developed case study data of its solutions with fairly transparent methodology, and is the leading company in terms of establishing ambitious and detailed goals for future carbon savings from its IT solutions," Greenpeace writes.

The company did backslide, losing four points overall due mainly to its weak adoption of renewable energy for its own operations.

It was one of four companies that lost ground. The other three were Vodafone, Dell and AT&T.

Ericsson, which placed third overall, ranked high (along with Fujitsu) in providing technology that communities and businesses can use to reduce their energy consumption and climate impact. For example, the company's mobile broadband technology is supporting a connected bus transportation solution in Brazil being used to optimize routes and reduce fuel consumption.

Big gain for Microsoft, Sprint makes impressive debut

Several companies managed significant gains on the 2013 leaderboard, compared with their performance on last year's list.

Microsoft gained 11 points to reach 34 overall, which isn't all that high when you consider that the perfect score is 100. The company showed improvement in all three areas considered, especially in its willingness to be an advocate for clean energy. Greenpeace's biggest ongoing gripe is that the software company still relies heavily on purchasing renewable energy credits rather than making direct investments in clean power, like Google and Wipro.

Speaking of which, Wipro was one of the other big gainers, adding 10 points to reach 43 overall. Among other things, the company has pushed hard for stronger policies supporting the adoption of solar energy and renewable power in its home country of India. What's more, it "continues to set the leadership bar for its comprehensive mitigation strategy of its own growing energy footprint."

Telefonica likewise gained 10 points this year to reach 21 overall, receiving recognition for the potential of its telecommunications services (sold predominantly in Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking nations) to help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions savings -- although the details on how it helps are rather vague.

Three newcomers to the 2013 Cool IT leaderboard were Sprint, which debuted with the fifth highest overall score and was cited for both its "robust" greenhouse gas emissions reduction target and its advocacy for the U.S. wind production tax credit; Toshiba, which was cut for the past two years but rejoined this year because of its investments in clean energy technology solutions; and Hitachi, which has become more transparent about its vision for addressing global warming.

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