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Prince Charles, Stephen Fry and IBM to save the planet

Big Green and Big Blue circle one another warily

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IBM UK yesterday proudly unveiled plans to host an invitation-only "Summit" on environmental sustainability later this year for "business and industry thought leaders". The plan is a cooperative venture between IBM and the Prince of Wales' "Start" sustainability initiative.

The summit will see IBM closeted with major players in potentially lucrative new ICT-driven greenbiz sectors such as smart grids, probably without any presence by other vendors.

"I am very excited at this exceptional opportunity," said Stephen Leonard, IBM UK chief, briefing reporters including The Reg yesterday.

"This decade needs to be one of decisions ... we need to ask not only what business can do for sustainability, but what sustainability can do for business."

The Prince of Wales will be throwing open his gardens at Clarence House for festivities accompanying the summit in September, and so will "his neighbours", as Start honcho Sir Tom Shebbeare puts it - that is the Foreign and Commonwealth office at Lancaster House and the Commonwealth Secretariat at Marlborough House.

All three mansions' gardens are normally closed to the public, but during the Start event people will be able to buy tickets for £15 per head. Various luminaries will be on hand to entertain and inform, including Jools Holland, Clive Anderson, Alan Titchmarsh, Vivienne Westwood - and of course the Twitterverse's favourite gadgeteer, Stephen Fry.

Behind closed doors in Lancaster House IBM will brainstorm with its selected corporate, political and "third sector" invitees. These will include Start partner companies such as Asda, BT, EDF Energy and Marks and Spencer. Topics under discussion will include smart metering and smart grids, smarter supply chains and "the information revolution - enabling sustainability through analytics, information and insight".

According to IBM marketing veep Caroline Taylor, speaking to reporters alongside Shebbeare and Leonard at Lancaster House yesterday, the Start event "isn't marketing led ... it's a summit, not a conference. People are conferenced out."

While the summit won't be open to the public, parts of it will be reported on by the media. Other sessions will be held under Chatham House rules. Reports detailing the work of the summit will be produced by ICT consultants The Bathwick Group, retained by IBM.

Asked if IBM would be inviting its competitors to the potentially lucrative summit sessions covering such matters as smart grids and the "information revolution", Taylor replied "not proactively, no". Pressed on this subsequently by The Reg, she said: "If someone, say a client, insisted that someone else be there, then fine. But in general I'm not sure why we'd spend a lot of money giving them the time."

At the moment the major green campaigning groups are conspicuous by their absence from the Start summit lineup. However "we wouldn't rule them out," Taylor (whose nom de Twitter is green_goddess) told The Reg.

There's some chance, of course, that major influential* green groups such as WWF would rule themselves out of a business-led event like the Start summit. We contacted WWF for comment.

"We're supportive of prosperity without [economic] growth," a spokesperson told The Reg. WWF would like to see the human race and its policymakers "steering away from this preoccupation with GDP ... is green growth possible? That's a running debate within WWF. There are other forms of progress."

IBM didn't appear willing to have much truck with the idea of abandoning economic growth, however.

"Economic stability requires growth," stated Taylor. "Without economic stability there won't be the money to pay for sustainability."

Leonard, for his part, assured The Reg that in many cases what's good for the planet is also good for the balance sheet.

"We've cut our corporate CO2 emissions substantially," he said. "And that's saved us money. We're a big corporation, it adds up."

WWF confirmed to The Reg that it is "in discussions" about joining in with the Start summit.

"We're all for trying to converge ecology and business," the campaign group's spokesperson stated. ®

Bootnote

*WWF reports indicating that the Himalayan glaciers will all melt in the next few decades and that 40 per cent of the Amazonian rainforest will disappear in forest fires even more quickly have been major factors influencing predictions and recommendations by the UN's International Panel on Climate Change. Unfortunately both those reports subsequently turn out to have been baseless, but their reception indicates the substantial clout wielded by WWF.

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