Nearly 82% of senior technology executives claim to closely monitor the issue of global warming, but 65% do not have a defined energy strategy to deal with it, according to a global survey by Hill & Knowlton Inc. And of those surveyed, 77% believe there is a need to expand the executive or "C-Suite" to include a chief energy officer to manage, implement and measure a company's return on investment in environmental technology, or return on environment (ROE).

The survey was conducted in March and April of 420 senior information technology (IT) executives in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and China by Hill & Knowlton with polling partner Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates. All of the respondents worked in companies with revenues of US$100 million and more, with half of the companies defined as Fortune 1000 (or U.S. equivalents). The survey was done to determine how businesses integrate economics and ethics when it comes to environmental issues.

"Despite the hype, few companies are plotting a measurable action plan to drive return on environment," said Joe Paluska, who heads Hill & Knowlton's Worldwide Technology Practice. "While the overwhelming majority looks to the CEO to own the issue, nearly two-thirds of those polled said no one within their organizations is tasked with defining the company's energy strategy. We expect reputation, risk and return to suffer until companies really stand up and take charge and industry as a whole sets the standard for measuring return on environment."

Of those polled, 77% of Chinese respondents said their firms have not yet defined an energy strategy. The United States was second at 67%, followed by Canada (62%) and the United Kingdom (51%).

Asked who was responsible for defining a company's energy strategy, the results indicated similar uncertainty. Sixty-five percent of those polled do not have anyone identified within their organization tasked with defining an energy strategy. In China, an organizational role is almost unheard of, with 82% indicating that no one in their company is responsible for developing an energy strategy. The United States fared only slightly better, with 70%, while in the United Kingdom, 57% said someone was in place to define their energy strategy.

"The research suggests that there is an opportunity to expand the C-Suite to include a chief energy officer," Paluska said. "There's a growing need for corporate accountability on energy performance as companies grapple with increasing complexity and expectations of governments, customers, shareholders and employees. Ultimately, companies will need to quantify the return on the triple bottom line -- people, profits and planet -- or their reputation and valuation will suffer."

When asked how best to measure ROE, more than half (52%) identified improved corporate reputation as the most important return on investment for environmental programs. Actual carbon emission reduction was the most important metric to 38%, and it was rated No. 1 in the United Kingdom. More traditional measurements -- such as return on equity, total cost of ownership and internal rate of return -- also scored reasonably well.

In the race to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the "green arms race," the United States, Japan and Germany were identified as the top three countries likely to contribute the most to clean technology breakthroughs in the coming years. However, respondents said it is their own country that is most likely to play the largest role in developing clean technology solutions. The exception to this nationalist trend was China, where 62% see the United States as leading the clean technology debate rather than their home nation.

As to which industries will gain the most from clean tech innovations, opinions vary. More than half of the Canadian respondents (55%) view the transportation industry as having the most to gain, U.S. and U.K. respondents view venture capitalists as benefiting, and executives from China think policymakers will be the clean tech winners.

The results are available at hillandknowlton.com/roe/

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