SAN FRANCISCO-While the IT world itself has been working for several years to reduce its carbon footprint and to cut back greenhouse gas emissions, other business sectors-such as auto manufacturing, oil and gasoline, electrical power and many others-have had their own incentives to do likewise.
Now it looks like these disparate sectors of the world economy are starting to come together to get serious about curtailing global warming and repairing the already damaged environment. And Cisco Systems is one of the leaders in this effort.
A group of about 150 international representatives, energy officials and IT executives met Feb. 20 at the new, environmentally-friendly federal building here on Seventh Street. The meeting was the first convocation of an 18-month-old coalition called the Connected Urban Development, spearheaded on the IT side by Cisco and its charismatic chairman, John Chambers.
The CUD initiative aims to create repeatable citywide communications infrastructures that show how network connectivity can reduce carbon emissions for cities, countries and individuals. In its first phase, CUD consists of partnerships with three pilot cities-San Francisco, Amsterdam, and Seoul-in order to apply information and communications technology to promote innovative practices for reducing CO2.
For example, all three cities have already installed, or plan to install, a next-generation broadband Internet infrastructure. All want to lessen traffic congestion, improve the use of mass transit, and upgrade the environmental aspects of all of their commercial and residential buildings, through using less electricity, for example, or by using better insulation.
Broadband to become San Francisco utility
“The Connected Urban Development concept complements San Francisco’s Climate Action Plan and will help make our carbon-reduction goals a reality,” San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, host of the event, told participants.
Newsom said that cities are the largest contributor to energy consumption and climate change.
“Cities are responsible for 75 percent of the planet’s energy use. Sixty percent of the world will live in cities by 2030, and global electricity use will grow by more than 35 percent,” Newsom said. “We’ve got to get something started now to hold off detrimental effects to the environment that have already begun.”
Newsom told eWEEK in a separate conversation that he sees the city’s three-year-old municipal broadband project-which had involved Google and EarthLink but since has been tabled with no resolution-eventually becoming a kind of city utility.
“With all the different ISPs now in use [in the city], we’re just going to have to find a way to get them to all work together so that the underserved in the community [who cannot afford to buy a connection] can also use the Internet for their own betterment,” Newsom told eWEEK. “It will eventually happen. I’m confident of it.”
CUD’s mission over time is to issue a set of blueprints of best practices and methodologies that can be used as a reference by other cities. These blueprints will be replicated to additional cities during the second CUD phase (to Madrid, Hamburg, Lisbon and Birmingham, UK), then scaled on a global basis in the third phase.
“It is our responsibility as global citizens to help address the challenges of climate change,” Chambers said in his keynote address. “Cisco is approaching this by not only reducing our own company’s carbon output, but also by helping our customers and partners use the network as a ‘green’ platform for sustainable business and government progress.
“If we are innovative and collaborative in our approach, ICT (information and communications technology) can dramatically improve how we manage our global environmental footprint and climate concerns,” Chambers said.
Initiatives to green IT
Key initiatives CUD is promoting, for example, include the following:
The Connected Bus is a prototype that demonstrates how to make public transportation greener. The hybrid bus has a mobile hot spot that allows citizens to work while they ride; a Global Positioning System gives commuters updated status of bus routes and connections; LED displays provide information on emissions saved through public transit; and an automated system that reduces the environmental impact of the bus through better maintenance. If deployed broadly throughout transit systems, the Connected Bus can significantly reduce carbon emissions in cities around the world.
Personal Travel Assistant is a pioneering service currently being considered by the city of Seoul for pilot testing. PTA improves transit within urban environments by empowering citizens to make more informed decisions on day-to-day options based on schedule, financial and environmental implications. Accessible from any Web-based interface, such as a mobile phone, PTA provides green route options, integrates with other communication needs such as calendaring, and enables city agencies to predict and manage evolving citizen transportation needs more effectively.
Smart Work Centers, an approach embraced by the city of Amsterdam, enables local residents to work in remote stations without having to travel into the heart of the city. The concept is based on a combination of technology and services that aim to deliver a true “connected neighborhood” experience, Chambers said. They will use video-voice-data streaming and will access local services such as child care centers, dining and banking, and available meeting rooms.
All three of these prototypes are being developed by Cisco Systems. Other IT companies, however, are expected to join with the initiative over time.
“Of course, it helps that Cisco Systems has been very, very profitable,” Chambers said with a smile. “This does allow us to embark on more projects like this, and enables us to show what good corporate citizenship really is.”
Chambers also said that his company’s new TelePresence systems-high-end, life-size, IPTV-connected Webcams that companies use for real-time meetings from locations all over the Earth-will play a big role in getting CUD participants at the “same table” to solve some of these environmental issues.
“Imagine the air travel time and effort, fuel and emissions we’ll save if more meetings were held using technology like this, which is about as lifelike a representation as you can get,” Chambers said.
Connected Urban Development was launched in September 2006 as part of Cisco’s commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative, a program initiated by the William J. Clinton Foundation to solve problems that affect the quality of human life. The San Francisco conference was the first meeting of all the original participants.