Turn Attention Outwards

Turn Attention Outwards

The IT sector must shift focus to effect change

“One of the rock stars of global warming” was how the FT described Nicholas Stern on the publication of his book in 2010. “A user’s manual for the planet” was how the Sunday Times described the work. The fact that the concentration of CO2  in the atmosphere passed the iconic 400ppm mark this year suggests that our “turn it on and read the manual later” approach extends to planet management as well as personal use of digital technology. This year’s International Energy Agency’s (IEA) publication, “Redrawing the energy-climate map” observes, as did Lord Stern, that energy-related sectors are by far the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for more than two-thirds of the total. Both publications identify energy efficiency as a primary target. The IEA have identified 4 policy measures that together would reduce GHG emissions by 3.1 Gt of CO2 equivalent by 2020, at no net economic cost. Energy efficiency measures could account for 49% of that 3.1 Gt. 

The OECD counted the number of government policy measures aimed at reducing the digital technology sector’s GHG footprint and the number aimed at using digital technology to reduce the footprint of other sectors such as energy-related sectors. Remarkably there are twice as many concerned with emission reduction of tech as there are by tech. It’s rather like trying to lose weight by switching from cabbage to broccoli but ignoring the consumption of potato chips and sugary drinks. Unfortunate and misguided though this is, it probably isn’t the major reason why progress has been slower than it could have been. The real culprit may well be the pace and approach to innovation in energy-related sectors. There are great stories – for example Finland is a world leader in NZEB or Near Zero Energy Building and has half the world’s market in the exotic but important fluid bed combustion – but globally, innovation in these sectors needs to be faster and more effective. Clues to how to achieve this can be found in something commonly known as Open Innovation 2.0.

The EU’s Open Innovation Strategy and Policy Group, chaired by Professor Martin Curley, Vice-President of Intel’s Labs in Europe, brought together a powerful group of “Open Innovators” in Dublin in May 2013 and Martin was kind enough to invite me to join them. Open innovation is already delivering. At its heart are collaborative eco-systems that draw together innovative people from different sectors and disciplines, including tech specialists. Mash-up, holistic and an inter-disciplinary approach are keywords. One example of open innovation in practice is Greentouch; a consortium of suppliers, telecoms operators and academics that is well on the way to achieving an ambitious target of an improvement in the energy efficiency of communications networks by a factor of 1000. In Dublin, Sean O’Driscoll, Chairman and CEO of Glen Dimplex observed that the energy sector was at a point of transformation similar to a point reached by the telecoms sector 25 years ago. We need energy-related sectors to catch up fast, focus on energy efficiency and use open innovation to get results– quickly.

About the author

John Higgins was appointed Director General of DIGITALEUROPE, the association for the digital technology industry in Europe, in November 2011 following nine years leading its UK member association, Intellect.

John is a member of the governing body of the University of Warwick and chair of its audit committee. John’s other recent committee chair roles include the cross industry association council of the CBI, a government/industry space committee and the global policy action committee of the World IT Services Association, WITSA. He is a board member of e-skills, the UK’s digital sector skills council and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He was presented with two personal awards for outstanding contributions; first to the association sector in 2004 and then to the IT industry in 2008. The Queen appointed him a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 2005 for his services to the UK IT industry. 



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