HP last week revealed it is ahead of schedule to achieve its target of reducing carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2010 with progress to improve the company's environmental sustainability being made across all its business units.
Speaking at a roundtable event, HP's managing director for UK and Ireland Steve Gill said that the company's most recent measurements showed it was "ahead of the game" to hit its emission reduction target of a 20 percent cut on 2005 levels by 2010.
Gill and his executive team also argued that the emission reductions were being achieved right across the company's operations, supply chain and product portfolio and that the progress made in the UK was representative of HP's reforms worldwide. "We have manufacturing, operations, sales and R&D all in the UK and Ireland so it provides a good microcosm of HP's operations globally," explained Gill.
Central to HP's emission reduction strategy, argued Gill, has been its plan to slash the number of datacentres it operates globally from 87 to six, which aims to reduce from from four to two percent of revenue the amount HP spends on IT; improve service levels; and build in environmental best practices that will deliver improvements of up to 40 percent in energy efficiency.
"Our IT challenges mimic those of our customers, so [a consolidation project of this scale] helps prove that a large company can do it," he added.
The datacentre consolidation programme has also provided HP with the perfect large-scale case study for its own power saving consultancy services and technologies, ranging from energy efficient systems, such as its recently launched C-class blade servers, to smart dynamic cooling infrastructure that the company claims can be targeted so precisely that cooling levels can be adjusted to meet the demands of individual applications.
Outside the datacentre the company insisted similar reforms were being undertaken to reduce the firm's carbon emissions. Kirsty McIntyre, HP's takeback compliance manager for the UK and Ireland, said that the company had achieved a significant reduction in emissions by changing the power management settings on all its employee's desktops and laptops at the start of the year, and had cut its footprint further following the recent consolidation of its Reading and Bracknell offices.
Meanwhile, Gill said that internal use of HP's Halo telepresence system had led to a reduction in corporate travel, slashing the number of flights taken in association with one project by half and resulting in the project reaching completion four months early.
However, perhaps the most significant reductions in carbon emissions delivered as a result of HP's new green drive have been achieved through the company's commitment to cutting the carbon footprint of its supply chain. As Gill explained 90 percent of HP's overall carbon footprint is generated not by the company itself but by its supply chain partners and as a result slashing its own emissions by 20 percent, while welcome, could soon be negated by any worsening in the performance of its partners.
As a result, Gill said the company was talking to all its major suppliers about them improving their environmental footprint and was issuing them with advice on green business best practices and how such investments can save them money.
Furthermore, the company has set itself a target of auditing the environmental and social impact of all "high risk" product materials, component and manufacturing suppliers' sites by the end of 2007. Gill added that HP was also ultimately willing to use its $52 billion worth of purchasing power to apply a bit of pressure on suppliers to meet its new supply chain standards, although he added that with so many firms now committed to improving their environmental sustainability "the conversation doesn’t often go that way".
Of course, it is excessive to suggest that in a few short months HP has miraculously transformed itself into a beacon of environmental sustainability.
During the roundtable each department head was asked to outline their environmental work over the last few months and while the talk of streamlined take back schemes, new green data centre services and workplace reforms were impressive other departments had less to bring to the table.
The imaging and printing group's new technology for ensuring retail branches can print out their own promotional material may take a few delivery vans off the roads, but it is hardly going to lead to a massive reduction in carbon emissions and it would have been better to hear a more convincing commitment to reducing paper consumption.
Similarly, the prediction from one HP exec that the company is likely to lead the industry in the shift towards low energy thin client devices would sound more plausible if HP was not a) the world's biggest PC vendor and b) coming off the back of an advertising campaign that proclaimed that "the computer is personal again", surely the antithesis of the whole thin client computing philosophy.
Equally it would be good to know exactly how heavily HP is leaning on its supply chain. Competitive necessity means vendors always keep details about their relationships with suppliers close to their chest, but it would be good to see greater disclosure about precisely how the company is imposing environmental best practices across the supply chain.
But those reservations aside, the scale of HP's green business ambition and the level of senior executive buy-in remains impressive, and the progress being made appears both genuine and gratifyingly speedy.
Several years ago a former colleague of mine attended an HP event in an airport hotel somewhere in Europe where the company outlined its somewhat ill-fated Adaptive Enterprise strategy. It all had something to do with "flexibility" and "responsiveness" and "adaptability" and other such buzz words, and after several sessions of listening to marketing fluff my former colleague approached an exec in HP's printing division who had just delivered a presentation on printing and the "Adaptive Enterprise".
"What," he asked, "has the Adaptive Enterprise got to do with printing?"
In a disarmingly candid response the exec admitted he wasn't exactly sure, he'd been told the Adaptive Enterprise message had to be tied into every presentation, and he'd crow-barred it in as he'd been told.
It was an exchange that seemed to embody the lack of clarity and direction behind HP's messaging and indeed Carly Fiorina's stint as HP top dog.
This little vignette came to mind as the various HP execs last week expounded on their green initiatives in a manner that could not be more different from HP's briefings just a few short years ago. Each exec spoke with a clear sense of urgency, commitment and clarity creating the impression that HP's green transformation is a big, serious, coherent project with high level support and corporate-wide buy-in – something the ephemeral Adaptive Enterprise strategy never really achieved.
HP's green progress may remain somewhat uneven and the company may be at the beginning of a very, very long journey, but overall the vendor so frequently joked of as the firm that would market sushi as cold dead fish is doing a pretty good job of getting its green message across.