IBM: Building a Smarter Planet
This year IBM moved from No. 3 to No. 2 on CRO Magazine’s “100 Best Corporate Citizens” list. IBM is the only company on the list to achieve a Top 5 ranking in each of the last four years. How is one of America’s largest public corporations also one of its most value-driven? In this post, we’ll look at IBM’s corporate citizenship work, and also think about how IBM manages to cut through the status quo and create real leadership.
I imagine few corporations take a slogan as seriously as IBM takes “Smarter Planet.” It’s notable how much the employees of IBM regard this as an honest directive to make a smarter world. A typical example is IBM’s Smarter Planet blog, which provides thought-provoking questions and ideas. Taking an uncommon approach, IBM did not make asmarterplanet.com a corporate blog. Pooling authors from both inside and outside IBM, the blog is a forum for original and authentic content, addressing human and environmental issues.
That IBM promotes this kind of authentic material is probably one of the main reasons the company is well appreciated by the corporate responsibility community. What’s more, this acceptance of open communication is not new for the company. IBM created an internal discussion forum for its employees as far back as 1970, and has encouraged open access to the internet from the beginning. When many companies limited their employees’ access to the internet starting in the late 1990s, IBM has continued to encourage their employees’ use of it. As of 2012, IBM estimates that over 20,000 of its current employees use Twitter, and that there are thousands of individual IBM bloggers.
IBM’s commitment to a smarter planet goes beyond promoting good ideas. The company’s initiatives also reflect the kind of strategic thinking that is, quite frankly, smart. For instance, many companies donate to philanthropic initiatives – but IBM has gone beyond the pale with its strategic donations to entrepreneurialism. For instance, in 2010 IBM named Streetline Inc. their Global Entrepreneur of the Year. After the award, Streetline partnered with IBM, expanding its applications for finding empty parking spaces in dense urban areas. IBM is banking on these kinds of relationships to help keep it on the cutting edge of new technologies.
Using the BCLC’s Business for Good Map, we can see two other smart initiatives that IBM is putting forward. These projects highlight a few of the ways that IBM is leveraging their core competencies to build a truly smarter planet.
Nearly 1 million people in Austria do not have enough to eat. At the same time, supermarkets have to pay for disposal of countless tons of unsold food, sending it to landfills instead of hungry people.
Wiener Tafel, a not-for-profit organization in Vienna, currently collects leftover food from supermarkets in Vienna and distributes it to more than 80 social organizations, ensuring that the food gets into the hands of those who need it most.
Through an IBM Centennial Grant and the help of IBM volunteers, Wiener Tafel is developing a Smarter Logistics project that will increase the amount of total food delivered by 20 percent. The project, part of Wiener Tafel’s larger Smart Food Project, is using the principles and goals of IBM’s Smarter Food initiative, which strives to make safer, more affordable and sustainable food with a more efficient, transparent supply chain for the entire planet.
IBM volunteers in Burlington, VT, with the help of an IBM Centennial Grant, are partnering with Vermont State Colleges to help reduce the energy usage by 5% or more each year of two nonprofits, Vermont Technical College (VTC) and HowardCenter Inc.
In order to reduce energy usage over the one-year course of the project, more than 100 IBM volunteers will assist in areas of energy management, project management, construction management, facilities engineering, logistics, communications and more. Portable and installed electric meters will collect data on power usage, trends and seasonality. The data will be used to understand the electrical demand and changes, and to provide feedback and predictions regarding the overall usage reduction goal.