How Is IBM America’s ‘Greenest Company?’

After reading The New York Times expose about the incredible amounts of energy wasted in the data centers of “environmentally friendly” Internet juggernauts like Facebook and Google, we have to admit we’re a little surprised to learn that tech brands dominate Newsweek’s list of the “greenest” companies in America year after year.

This year, in fact, IBM and Hewlett-Packard retained the top two spots, followed by Sprint Nextel and Dell. We had to check our calendars: Is it 2012 or 1997?

How did IBM achieve its somewhat enviable position atop the green heap? We won’t get into Newsweek’s extensive methodology, but the report notes two particular projects: The Smarter Planet initiative helps IBM clients analyze their consumption of resources in order to make for more environmentally efficient businesses, but we’re more interested in the company’s Zurich Research Laboratory.

In 2008, the Swiss techies pioneered a “zero carbon emission data center” that works by redirecting the massive amounts of waste heat generated by all those buzzing hard drives and using it to regulate the temperatures of buildings and create a “municipal heating network”. Most importantly, the system uses the heat to more efficiently cool the chips themselves–so IBM truly recycles its own energy.

OK, that’s pretty cool.

Turns out these old-schoolers are more environmentally responsible than the Millennials, who are supposedly the “greenest” generation OF ALL TIME. (Whoops–looks like they talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Can’t say we’re surprised.)

Maybe Facebook and Google could learn a few things from the geezers.

The big question: What’s the real-world PR value of these rankings? How many Americans consider environmental concerns when deciding where to spend their tech dollars? Do they even realize that IT accounts for 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions, making it one of the least efficient industries in the world?

Also of note: A follow-up post on The Daily Beast claims that green rankings don’t mean all that much for many companies, because they can score highly on related analytical scales even while their representatives lobby congressmen to pass environmentally unfriendly legislation. Sounds like a mixed bag, no?

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