The tech industry and carbon: good cop or bad cop?
Our third industrial revolution - the tech revolution – may be worlds away from the smoking chimneys and furnaces that characterised the first one, yet this outwardly ‘clean’ technology has a few of its own dirty secrets.
Chances are, you’re probably reading this post on your tablet, PC or mobile phone. You might be at home, at work or travelling somewhere between the two (if, indeed, digital technology has not already rendered any distinction between these two worlds redundant). The idea that we can access vast amounts of information from a device that fits in the palm of our hands, wherever we are and whenever we want it is extraordinary. As extraordinary, is the skyrocketing impact our love affair with digital technology is having on carbon emissions.
Data centres are the engines of the digital revolution. While they offer no visual or audible cue of their impact (no smoke, or grinding gears), they consume huge amounts of energy, and account for a spiralling contribution to global warming. Energy usage by data centres is estimated to account for up to 3% of global electricity consumption, which means unchecked growth in digital services exacerbates carbon emissions and environmental concerns.
A solution to keep these emissions at least in check comes in the, perhaps unlikely, certainly untechy, form of Carbon Accounting Standardisation. Standardisation enables meaningful comparisons and benchmarking across tech companies. This, in turn, promotes transparency, accountability, and accurate assessment of sustainability efforts. It also fosters collaboration and knowledge sharing within the tech industry, encouraging innovation and collective progress in reducing emissions.
David Rothera, Tech Sector Lead at Net Zero Now, said: “Just like any other sector, only by standardising the way in which tech companies report on their emissions can we create markets in which competition on the basis of carbon emissions becomes possible. Unlike other sectors, however, the impact of tech companies on carbon emissions extends much beyond getting their own houses in order.
“In the long term, the world's reliance on the tech industry for providing solutions to climate change is expected to be significant, touching everything from the clean energy transition to the development of policy solutions. While carbon emissions from the sector are ever-growing, so too are its efforts to mitigate these and to deliver game-changing solutions and advice that will help mitigate those of society more broadly.”
Tech-driven climate solutions
Climate solutions driven by the tech industry will, ultimately, become part of the net zero solutions that many companies across many sectors will come to rely on. These are many in number and include:
- Technological Innovation and Advancements Innovation is the tech industry’s bread and butter. Leveraging this to deliver continued advancements in areas such as renewable energy, energy storage, carbon capture, and sustainable agriculture will be crucial for addressing climate change.
- Clean Energy Transition The transition to clean and renewable energy sources is essential if we’re to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The tech industry is playing an ever-more pivotal role in developing and scaling-up renewable energy technologies, such as solar, wind, and geothermal power.
- Smart Grids and Energy Management Tech companies are at the forefront of developing solutions that enable efficient energy management and demand response systems, which will help in the transition to a low-carbon energy future.
- Internet of Things (IoT) and Sustainability The IoT enables the connection and coordination of devices, infrastructure, and systems to improve efficiency and sustainability. IoT applications can enhance resource management, optimise transportation, and facilitate smart city initiatives, contributing to climate mitigation and adaptation efforts.
- Data Analytics and Decision-Making Big data analytics can provide insights into energy consumption patterns, climate trends, and emissions sources. Tech companies are leveraging data analytics and artificial intelligence to optimise operations, reduce energy waste, and develop informed climate strategies.
- Sustainable Mobility and Transportation The tech industry is driving the development of electric vehicles (EVs), autonomous driving, and shared mobility solutions, which collectively can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.
- Collaboration and Partnerships Collaboration with policymakers, NGOs, and industry leaders can help develop comprehensive solutions and drive systemic change.
The tech industry may well have one almighty carbon footprint, but it has an even mightier opportunity to be the driving force behind the innovations and policies that will shape our low carbon future. Right now though, it’s imperative that all businesses do what they can today to address their energy consumption and carbon emissions. Get in touch if you’d like Net Zero Now to help you to get ahead of the game.
Go to www.netzeronow.org for more guidance, advice and support to get on the road to Net Zero Now.