Microsoft, Clinton team launch green venture

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An organization backed by former U.S. president Bill Clinton and Microsoft Corp. are collaborating on creating software tools and Web applications aimed at helping cities monitor carbon emissions and develop “green strategies.”

Part of the Clinton Foundation’s Climate Initiative, the program was unveiled by Clinton at the C40 Large Cities Climate Change Summit in New York Wednesday.

The software products will enable municipalities to create standardized means of measuring their greenhouse gas emissions, a Foundation statement said.

Toronto’s environment chief and Canadian IT industry analysts welcomed the announcement, which shortly followed reports that the foundation will also launch a project in the city aimed at retrofitting old buildings to make them more environmentally friendly.

With a common standard, cities would be able to monitor the effectiveness of their carbon-reduction programs, the foundation statement said.

The “greenhouse effect” refers to the process of infrared radiation in the atmosphere warming a planet’s surface. Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and sulfur are considered as major contributors to the greenhouse effect.

Greenhouse gases from industry, transportation and agriculture are likely the main cause of recently observed global warming, according to various environmental groups. Urban areas eat up about 75 per cent of the world’s energy resources and generate 80 per cent of greenhouse gases.

“This new software tool will be an important tool in our work with cities around the world to fight global warming, in practical, measurable and significant ways,” Bruce Lindsey, chief executive, Clinton Foundation, said in a statement.

Lindsey said Microsoft will build the tools using knowledge gathered by ICLEI – Local Government for Sustainability and the Centre for Neighborhood Technology (CNT).

The ICLEI is a Toronto-headquartered international association of local, national and regional governments committed to sustainable development, while CNT is a Chicago-based group that helps urban communities pursue environmentally friendly growth.

Details have not yet been finalized, but the tools will take advantage of Microsoft’s SQL Server and incorporate features from SharePoint and Office, according to Lindsey.

The tools will also include applications accessible through an Internet browser, and will be provided to municipalities for free when it becomes available by the end of 2007, “The central challenges for the project will revolve around data consolidation and analysis,” said Mauricio Rodriguez., senior analyst, Info-Tech Research Group Inc., in London, Ont.

Rodriguez speculates that Microsoft will dip into its business intelligence (BI) tool kit to develop the new applications.

The ability to instantly share data with other municipalities involved in green projects sounds appealing to Lawson Oates, director of Toronto’s environmental office.

“Being able to gather information on trends, compare strategies, and find out how other people are dealing with their emission issues can help in fine tuning our own initiatives,” he said.

Lawson said Toronto has been monitoring its carbon emissions since the 1990s – perhaps even earlier – but it is exploring the possibility of developing software that can provide more accurate readings.

He said regular monitoring, reporting, and comparative studies of emissions are important in determining the effectiveness of environmental programs.

When reports are made available to the public, they provide an incentive for behavioural change, Lawson noted.

Currently Toronto produces about 20 million tons a year of carbon gases. That “compares favourably with other large municipalities in Canada and North America,” according to Lawson.

A recent city report said at least 1,700 deaths and 6,000 hospitalizations in the city can be attributed to poor air quality.

These numbers are expected to double by 2050. W

idespread deployment of the emissions monitoring tools also benefit Microsoft, says Nauman Haque, research analyst with Info-Tech.

He said Microsoft is currently trying to enter the BI market but is overshadowed by more mature vendors.

“This will provide Microsoft with a highly visible testing ground for it products and provide their BI applications with much needed visibility.”

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