Are Businesses Aware of Their Digital Carbon Footprints?

By Vaughan Lindsay, CEO of ClimateCare

You may have thought that with so many of us not travelling into work on a daily basis and with the complete shutdown of business travel, that business related CO2 emissions would have dropped right down. And whilst you might be right from a travel perspective, there is a perhaps a more silent contributor to emission levels that you may not have considered; our digital footprint.

Digital pollution is, in fact, a growing problem and in our rush to stream, send emails, store data and update our social media posts, we’ve lost sight of how energy-hungry the digital industry really is. And of course, during this unprecedented time of Zoom calls, video conferencing and work from home policies the problem is yet even more exacerbated.

You might also be surprised to learn that the internet and digital technology involves far more than just the energy required to run our devices too. Rather, the storing of data, otherwise known to us all as ‘the cloud’, is one of the worst offenders of all. Far from being invisible, the cloud and the technical components to run it, generate extremely high emissions.

The communications and technology industry alone produce more than 830 million tons of carbon annually. But what does this figure really mean? Well it means that the energy used in our digital consumption collectively emits the equivalent amount of carbon as the entire airline industry; a fact that until recently has remained unnoticed.

But Why Should We Care?

Frankly, we all need to start taking responsibility for all our emissions and certainly a collective response is required if we are to truly reach NetZero. However, it’s fair to say that businesses of all sizes also have a big role to play in this. They need to take responsibility for their entire carbon footprint (whether this be emissions from their business premises, their employee’s business travel or even their digital footprint) in order to achieve a net zero position. Anything less than that is not a responsible position for a business today.

Climate Change, alongside the current Coronavirus crisis, is one of the biggest issues that the world faces today and what is required is strong and clear policy which limits unsustainable business models and encourages sustainable ones. The UK Government has legislated to achieve net zero for the UK as a whole by 2050.

Reducing emissions to NetZero by 2030 gives us a better chance of achieving the 1.5 target set out under the Paris Agreement. Multiple companies, of all sizes, have pledged to achieve net zero by 2030 and if you are well informed and dedicated to the cause, it is indeed possible. If we are going to make progress towards net zero, we must start by ensuring that everyone takes responsibility for their full emissions sooner rather than later.

But What Can Businesses do to Manage Their Digital Pollution?

At its most basic, for a business (or an individual) to manage and reduce their emissions a step by step process with a hierarchy of actions must take place. To start they will need to measure their emissions to understand what their entire footprint is. Once they understand what this footprint looks like they must then eliminate what they can (such as non-essential air travel), and of course reduce what they can’t completely eliminate (such as energy use). Finally, they will need to offset the remainder, their residual emissions, through financing an equivalent amount of emissions reductions outside of the business.

The Benefits Far Outweigh The Work Involved

We hear from companies on a daily basis who are interested in taking responsibility for their climate impact and reducing their carbon footprint. However, what may surprise many people, is that this interest goes beyond corporate social responsibility and increasingly recognises that developing carbon neutral products and services makes good business sense.

Customers and employees alike are now very aware of the climate crisis, and most of all they are also very aware of the environmental responsibilities of the firms they work with, buy from and the organisations they are employed by. As such, they are selecting organisations that fit with their own purpose led principles. This ranges from organisations seeking to use greener data centres and communicating to their customer base through their CSR communications, to individuals who are increasingly buying on a matter of principle.

Ultimately, as Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England has previously said: “Firms that align their business models to the transition to a carbon-neutral world will be rewarded handsomely; those that fail to adapt will cease to exist.”

So how will you take steps to start managing and reducing your digital carbon footprint?