What Does HP's Post-PC Move Mean for Green IT?

What Does HP's Post-PC Move Mean for Green IT?

During its quarterly earnings call last week, Hewlett-Packard CEO Léo Apotheker made a number of transformational announcements -- not the least of which is that HP is considering leaving the PC business.

Facing sliding profits from its personal computers, HP is exploring options to spin off or sell its personal computers business, which despite bringing in one-third of HP's revenue, is also increasingly squeezed on profit margins. The company will make a decision within the next 12 weeks.

In ditching personal computers, HP is instead shifting focus to corporate services, a move IBM made in 2005 when it sold its PC business to Lenovo to take on much the same focus.

And just as with IBM's renaissance as the herald of the "smarter planet," HP's reinvention could be good news for greening business.

HP is of course no slouch when it comes to green consumer electronics, with a years-long focus on greener PCs, and an even more intensive focus on green printing technologies. And although HP's post-PC shift won't affect its imaging and printing group, it's likely to have an impact on green PCs.

By handing over the reins of its PC business to another company, we're likely to see a slide in the cutting-edge green innovations from whoever takes over the reins. There are of course built-in demands for energy efficiency in portable computers, so focus on battery life will likely continue.

But when it comes to restricting the use of toxics in PCs, there aren't a lot of companies taking it as serious as HP. And although Apple has been busy touting the less-toxic nature of its devices for the last few years, HP is the highest-ranking computer manufacturer on Greenpeace's guide to greener electronics. (I know, it's far from a perfect metric, but still.)

And if you're talking about responsible supply chains -- for any industry -- you're talking about HP. Whether it's green chemistry in supply chains, managing supply chain emissions, to developing "conflict-free" supply chains, HP has been front and center on supply chain responsibility -- and that's not likely to carry over to whoever takes over the company's PC business.

"HP has the most thorough responsible supply chain operation in high-tech in my opinion," Christopher Mines, vice president and research director at Forrester (and a regular GreenBiz contributor) wrote in an email when I asked for his take on the news. "I'm doubtful that it will be carried out as diligently -- and spent on as lavishly -- by another corporate owner. This is not to say that green product attributes and green sourcing will not continue; they are table stakes in the PC business these days. But industry-leading? I doubt it."

So that's the semi-bad news if HP does spin out its PC and phone business. Is there a green lining? Yes, but.

With HP shifting toward more corporate services, we'll see a much bigger investment in enterprise carbon management software and moves similar to the partnership HP launched with Hara back in March.

That partnership was the first step in what Jay Allardyce, HP's Worldwide Director of Growth Initiatives, Energy and Sustainability Management, called at the time a "partner ecosystem." That ecosystem was intended to grow into a consulting-focused program that will bring in the best and brightest among HP's own staff and carefully chosen partners to help companies achieve their goals.

Of course, since March there hasn't been much in the way of growth in that ecosystem, but expect it to pick up as HP moves further toward a focus on corporate services.

That focus will bring it into the same sphere currently dominated by IBM and SAP -- and if HP wants to compete with those firms, HP faces what Mines described as "a long row to hoe."

But as with those two companies -- whose sustainability innovations, commitments and ambitions are nothing to sneeze at -- sustainability will likely be a prime focus for a revamped HP, and having more green IT leaders working with enterprises across industries can only be a good thing.

What do you think? How will HP's potential sell-off and strategy shift affect green IT and the PC market?

Photo courtesy of HP.