IBM Launches 2nd Annual Smarter Cities Challenge

At a time when corporations’ misdeeds are under a bright spotlight (and rightfully so,) we needn’t overlook the few companies that are working to bring innovation and technology to cities across the planet in desperate need of modernization. One of those companies is IBM, which is currently working on its 2nd annual Smarter Cities Challenge.

The program for this year will include a $50 million grant to cities to help improve infrastructure, technology, and energy efficiency. From a press release on this year’s program:

This highly successful grant program provides select applicant cities with access to teams of elite IBM employees with expertise on a variety of urban-related matters, such as finance, sustainability, public safety, and citizen services. They devote weeks of their time analyzing unique opportunities and challenges facing municipalities, particularly within the context of today's challenging economic climate. After conferring with officials, citizens, businesses, academics and community leaders, the IBM teams recommend actions to make the delivery of services to citizens more efficient and innovative. Issues addressed include jobs, health, public safety, transportation, social services, recreation, education, energy, and sustainability.

Earlier this year, IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge announced its 2011 grant winners, which included grants for much-needed environmental improvements in developing areas. For example, the city of Antofagasta, Chile received grants to help improve their irrigation systems, a social media infrastructure to voice environmental concerns, and an sustainable green energy program that will pull in government, academics, and private sector companies to help shift the city to cleaner, renewable energy programs.

The city of Boulder, Colorado was awarded for their clean energy efforts, as well. Their projects include green infrastructure management, helping small and medium-sized businesses with energy efficiency, and helping create awareness of and interest in solar and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Townsville, Australia was also among this year’s winners, receiving grants to help improve solar energy technology and penetration, as well as other smart grid technologies.

Some reporters have pointed out that the program is a means for IBM to help spread their own technology into areas, as a way to bolster their market penetration. This may be true, but they also point out that it is difficult to deny the effectiveness of the program. Whether or not IBM’s philanthropy will influence other businesses to do the same remains to be seen.