The company Intuit, known for its Quicken product and other popular software, is out with a new sustainability report that addresses a growing challenge for software companies: how to continue developing a sustainable platform as the world transitions to greater mobility and cloud computing. The transition means that companies like Intuit are investing in and building more data centers, which essentially means that they are taking on the energy consumption that individual users would otherwise be accountable for. With this new burden on their shoulders, companies that want to keep their greenhouse gas profile trending downward will need to be fast on their feet - and may need to become more involved in tailoring energy supplies to fit their goals.
Data Centers and Greenhouse Gases
According to a chart accompanying its new sustainability report, from 2007 to 2010 Intuit's biggest single chunk of greenhouse gas emissions came from its electricity consumption. In order to meet the growing demand for "always-on" connectivity and the greater use of portable electronics, Intuit has already invested more than $300 million in data center upgrades and new construction. Assuming continued growth in this direction, even with efficiency improvements the company's electricity consumption could increase. One permanent solution would be to build or retrofit data centers around the availability of alternative energy, a path already being taken by companies like Facebook, eBay, and Google (check out Intuit's blog for their take on cloud computing and greenhouse gas emissions).
Employee Engagement and Greenhouse Gases
While employees may not have direct control over a large portion of their company's electricity consumption, employee engagement is still a key element that can impact greenhouse gas emissions regionally. Intuit, for example, has initiated a company-wide sustainability policy that includes real estate and facilities management. The impacts can also ripple out to enhance employee engagement at other companies, as in Intuit's support for the social carpooling network Zimride, which is incorporated into its sustainability report.
The Supply Chain Route
Companies with a growing need for energy can also find ways to balance that increase by pushing for a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in their supply chain. However, the effectiveness of this strategy depends on the product. In Intuit's case, there is some wiggle room now - the company documents a 5 percent reduction - but software products are coming uncoupled from discs, packaging and other fabricated elements, so Intuit and companies like it may have to look elsewhere for further significant improvements.
The Product is the Sustainability
Intuit was an early adopter of sustainability concepts, and its products helped to pave the way for paperless paperwork. Now it has stepped up to the next level and is developing products that help reduce greenhouse gases in other ways. Its new Freecycle@Work product is not a one-off, but part of the company's sustainability goals moving forward, with a planned focus on providing Intuit customers with more tools to reduce their impacts.
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Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.