Is IBM Greenwashing the US Open?

uso_green_00000g1.gifIBM made a respectable but surprising move when it sold off its PC hardware business in 2004 to focus on higher margin services such as consulting. In July, the information technology company even added corporate social responsibility (CSR) to its consulting services lineup. Yet, for a company that is endeavoring to help its clients understand and respond to their consumers’ concerns about the impacts of their activities on the environment and society, some might argue that IBM still has much to learn itself. In an announcement made this morning, IBM celebrated its energy conserving technology approach for, which will enable fans to get close to the action without putting their laptops aside. With, the event will hop on the bandwagon of highly publicized events that are creating deeper experiences for fans than those possible with their TVs and remote controls, such as those of the NCAA Final Four and the 2008 Olympics, which arguably failed to meet online watchers’ expectations.
The IBM-powered US Open site will offer real time stats, personalized views so you can track your five favorite players, and even a widget for Facebook (and iGoogle and Yahoo! for those of you whose employers block the popular social networking site). But behind all of the company’s claims of energy reduction percentages and cooling demand cuts is a lot of celebration about six servers. That’s right, six servers. Google has about two dozen data centers with hundreds of thousands of servers in each. While the temptation to attempt to stir up some green press for IBM may have been great, it should have been resisted.

A Greener Court at the US Open
During the two week event, more than 700,000 fans visit the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. According to the US Open’s site, they’ve hired a tennis sustainability consultant (who would have ever thought) and have been busy at work:

  • Partnered with Evian to place 80 Evian receptacles to aid recycling
  • Purchased Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) for the event’s energy requirements
  • Committed to 20% Lexus-sponsored hybrid player transportation
  • Recycling ball cans and donating balls
  • Selling organic cotton t-shirts and hats made of recycled material
  • Souvenir reusable shopping bags for $5
  • 100k Eco-Tip wallet cards with 21 tips
  • Incorporating environmental consciousness in Public Service Announcements

While IBM’s efforts to celebrate its energy conserving efforts may have been misguided shameless promotion of the company’s offerings, the US Open’s efforts to incorporate sustainability education into its highly publicized event are noteworthy, if they can be forgiven for the Evian-sponsored recycling containers. (Would it be too optimistic to hope that one day fans will bring cups or Nalgene bottles to sporting events as baseball fans do gloves?) Either way, the 127 year old tennis event isn’t GreenFest, so we probably shouldn’t expect it to be carbon neutral and waste free. For a mainstream event, the USTA is doing its part to raise awareness and is making significant efforts to put on a great, environmentally progressive show. Until then, maybe IBM should try to lure the USTA’s tennis sustainability specialist to join its lineup of high priced CSR consultants.

Ryan Mickle is a social entrepreneur, social media expert, and regular writer for Triple Pundit. He works with many of the consumer brands you know to advance their social responsibility through engaging stakeholders online. Ryan lives in San Francisco and can be reached at ryan at

Ryan Mickle is one of the partners and pundits behind 3p. He is a consultant, speaker, and passionate advocate for transparency, values-driven business, and empowering "consumers" to become evangelists in our new, decentralized media landscape. Ryan holds a BA in Economics from Berkeley, and he loves traveling, running marathons (love may be too strong a word), yoga, and contributing to the gross national happiness (GNH) in business and otherwise.

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