Time for a cool change in thinking

Major firms putting money, effort into environmental causes

For evidence that media, entertainment and technology giants are spotlighting environmental and climate issues this year, you can look well beyond the recent Live Earth.

Among the key pushes for a greener industry this year, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. pledged in May to become carbon-neutral by 2010, meaning that the conglomerate will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and offset the rest by investing in environmentally friendly projects.

In unveiling the initiative, chairman and CEO Murdoch said: "Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats. We may not agree on the extent, but we certainly can't afford the risk of inaction." He later added, "We must do this quickly — the climate will not wait for us."

Since News Corp.'s push, others in the industry also have made high-profile moves.

In May, NBC Universal — whose corporate parent General Electric has made a more environmentally friendly approach to business a priority via its "ecomagination" campaign — launched its Get on Board program. The initiative focuses on reducing greenhouse gases across the company, including a commitment to environmentally conscious film and TV production, raising awareness about "green" issues and stimulating change across the industry.

"Now is the time for us not just to think green but to act green," NBC Universal president and CEO Jeff Zucker said in unveiling the program. "We must run our businesses in a way that respects and protects our most valuable resource: the environment."

The green wave that has been sweeping across the industry hasn't stopped with the Internet space, either.

Google Inc. also said on its blog that it plans to voluntarily cut or offset all of its carbon dioxide emissions by year's end.

"Climate change continues to be one of the biggest, most challenging problems our planet faces, and we know that a sustained global effort is needed if we're going to have any hope of reversing its effects," Google senior vp operations Urs Hoelzle wrote in unveiling the plans. "This is an important step in our long-term pursuit of holistic environmental solutions."

A key nonprofit partner and emissions adviser to several industry players, including News Corp. and Google, is the Climate Group.

To achieve their environmental goals, all these media, entertainment and Internet companies are investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources like solar. Plus, they will purchase so-called carbon offsets for emissions that they can't reduce directly.

Observers hope that changes will be more fundamental and affect the way entertainment and Internet companies do business.

"We see carbon offsets not as a permanent solution but rather as a temporary tool which allows us to take full responsibility for our impact right away," Google said.

European companies can buy carbon offsets through a Kyoto Protocol United Nations program, which the U.S. didn't ratify. However, some U.S. companies have begun to buy offsets on a voluntary, unregulated basis.

Media and online firms that have made climate commitments in recent months already have outlined a slew of more fundamental changes to the way they do business.

Starting with "Evan Almighty," its first carbon-neutral film, NBC Universal has committed to using hybrid or electric production vehicles whenever possible in its production work. It also has started instituting extensive recycling programs and maximizing the use of nontoxic cleaning products and low-emission paints, sealants and lacquers, the firm said on its Web site.

Similarly, News Corp.'s Fox broadcast network had its first-ever carbon-neutral upfront presentation in May, which included the use of hybrid vehicles and minivans as well as biodiesel generators.

Google also recently installed the largest corporate solar panel installation in the U.S. to date at its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters.

Finally, media biggies also feel they can increase consumer awareness by embedding environmental issues into their programming.

Besides its Live Earth coverage across several networks, NBC Uni also said that its NBC News arm has appointed Anne Thompson chief environmental affairs correspondent, and NBC Olympics will join in all green initiatives organized by the Olympics Organizing Committee, among other things.

On Monday, the firm unveiled its Green Is Universal initiative, a companywide weeklong programming effort to educate TV viewers and Web and wireless users on ecological issues. For the week of Nov. 4-10, green themes will be found on such shows as "The Office," "My Name Is Earl," "30 Rock," "Heroes" and "Deal or No Deal," plus in news offerings including "Today," "Nightly News," "Dateline" and on MSNBC and MSNBC.com.

Zucker said Monday in unveiling Green Is Universal: "This commitment to a week of programming is an incredible opportunity for NBCU to use the collective power of its platforms — broadcast, cable and film — and consumer expertise and reach to further the message of environmental awareness and change."

Said Murdoch in launching News Corp.'s energy and climate initiative, "We want to inspire people to change their behavior."