IBM cuts energy consumption, increases carbon emissions

Big Blue cites business growth as reason for C02 increase

Just because you find a way to lower your organization's energy consumption doesn't mean you'll reduce its carbon emissions. That lesson has been demonstrated by IBM, as seen in the company's 2007-2008 Corporate Responsibility Report.

Over the course of a year, IBM managed to reduce its energy consumption by 3.8 percent, beating its 3.5 percent goal. At the same time, Big Blue saw its carbon footprint swell by 5 percent.

IBM's Global Energy Management team managed to reduce energy consumption by developing energy efficiency best practice checklists for lighting, heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems, datacenters, and central utility plants. IBM also expanded its building recommissioning program which fine tunes building energy management systems to improve efficiency. In 2007, recommissioning projects saved nearly $1.8 million and 24,000 megawatt hours.

The total payoff: In 2007, IBM's energy conservation projects across the company delivered savings equal to 3.8 percent of its total energy use versus the corporate goal of 3.5 percent. These projects avoided the consumption of 179 million kWh of electricity and 2.7 million gallons of fuel, representing the avoidance of 111,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions. The conservation projects also saved $19.3 million in energy expenses. (Reductions in energy consumption from downsizings or the sale of operations are not included in the energy conservation goal.)

So why the increased carbon emissions? After all, IBM has set a goal to reduce the CO2 emissions associated with its energy use by 12 percent between 2005 and 2012, through techniques such as energy conservation, use of renewable energy, and/or funding an equivalent CO2 emissions reduction by the procurement of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) or comparable instruments. For example, in 2007, IBM increased its total purchase of renewable energy to 455,000 MWh, representing 8.5 percent of its worldwide electrical usage — up from 7.3 percent in 2006.

Despites its goals and efforts, IBM's net CO2 emissions ended up increasing by 5 percent between 2006 and 2007. The reason, according to the company: business growth.

Companies such as IBM have indeed got their work cut out for them in terms of figuring out how to fulfill their objectives of growing the business while also keep power consumption down and carbon emissions low. Given the amount of resources that IBM appears to have invested in these goals, they're not all easy to achieve at once.