When you think of technology, where do you think it sits within our current climate crisis?
The tech industry often gets a bad reputation for being a big cO2 emitter. Think new products, hardware, servers — all pieces of technology that we humans have come to rely on for our day-to-day lives. And with these new technologies, production, shipping and staff overheads need to be considered.
So, is there really any hope? Is it really feasible for businesses to aim for carbon zero?
We think so. That’s why we invited our very own Angus Goldsmith on The Big Bright Podcast to find out what tech companies can be doing right now to reduce their carbon footprints.
Check out the podcast episode through the link below, or read on to discover Angus’s top tips in our blog.
Angus is a Technical Architect for Dash, Bright’s lightning-fast Digital Asset Management solution for small and growing brands. He is responsible for all of the strategic technical aspects of the software. He looks at the long-term impact of the software and how it affects the sustainability of the business.
A huge part of this is the environmental impact. How much Co2 is the software producing and what can we be doing to reduce it?
So, let’s dig into some of these issues and discover what businesses can be doing to aim for a better world.
What are the biggest emitters in the tech industry?
According to Angus, the tech industry is ‘responsible for around 4% of emissions’. Whether you are digital or hardware-based, the issues can differ.
For companies producing physical products such as mobile phones and tablets, there will be emissions all the way from extracting resources from the ground to the factory and disposal of the product at the end of its life.
“You can't do anything about the fact that creating hardware emits things. That's the eternal ethical problem of tech. It’s the same for consumer tech. You might be into ethically buying things. But as soon as you buy tech, it uses a lot of emissions.”
For digital companies, though there are no physical products, the use of servers can become an issue. For large businesses, bigger servers may be used, which can emit up to 160kilograms of cO2 a year (per server). For small companies, server impact will be less.
“For example, the number of servers we have on Dash is probably emitting less than one person's average commute.”
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How can digital companies reduce their server impact?
When it comes to servers, the fewer you have, the better. Not only is this healthier for your Co2 output, but it’s financially rewarding as well.
What’s more, the cloud (versus an on-premise solution) offers a number of extra benefits that are not only better for the environment, but better for your business too:
“If you have your own servers, due to efficiencies of energy and utilisation, they're going to account for bigger emissions because a big cloud provider can use energy much more efficiently.”
When using the cloud, it offers greater utilisation as you and your team will be able to use much more of its potential. If you buy your own on-premise server and calculate the costs of all the emissions to create it, Angus suggests you’ll end up only using around 13% of its potential. Whereas in a cloud environment, because the providers can pull everything together, split up usage and get multiple people using the same machine, you’ll get around 65% usage out of it.
“Don't have your servers sat around doing nothing. There are various modern tools like auto-scaling which only fills up servers when you need them. This can be based on usage patterns. So you might know Friday's busy. So rather than having servers around all the time that can handle the amount of traffic you got on a Friday, you can automate it so that the servers only get used on Fridays. This way you're only paying the financial and carbon costs for one day of the week."
Many cloud providers use renewable energy to run their servers, so you can be happy in the knowledge that once any hardware has been built, you’re not doing anything more to contribute to the emissions.
Though in the past, there may have been regulatory reasons for on-premise servers, nowadays, cloud providers offer special regions or services to meet many of these requirements, such as the AWS GovCloud, as well as a slew of security capabilities like encryption of data at rest.
Basically, there are fewer and fewer reasons not to move to the cloud.
Aside from optimising your server usage, what else can tech companies be doing to reduce their impact?
The impact of the pandemic has meant many companies have adopted the hybrid-working solution. Many office workers are still working from their homes, which naturally reduces the ‘people impact’ in the office. Less commuting, less utilities being used at work and a reduction of business waste means it’s easier for tech companies to get a handle on their output.
So what about those who still want to work in the office?
Reduce physical meetings
“Obviously, when you're using zoom, you're connecting to a server that's doing its processing, and that will be using electricity. The fact that the servers exist and that they've had emissions go into their products will very, very slightly increase emissions.”
However, consider what people were doing before. They were taking trains to different locations, even flying to different countries to take meetings. The net effect of people realising that you can do remote calls and not need to travel to places probably outweighs any negative impacts of zoom. Overall, we are better off cutting back on travel.
Buy locally (when appropriate)
“Buying locally is an interesting one. Due to economies of scale, the amount of energy used to produce something locally is often a lot higher, because small businesses can’t take advantage of those massive efficiencies.
Let's take farming, for example. Perhaps you've got this massive farm somewhere out of the country. When you compare it to local small-batch farming, the amount of energy per tonne of produce is going to be so much higher for the local one. What’s more, distribution networks are super optimised for these large companies. So in a lot of cases, from a purely green standpoint, buying local is not actually better.”
But there are a lot of other ethical reasons to buy local including better quality of pay and work environment for the staff members.
“I’m not saying don’t shop locally. But it’s important to weigh up both sides of the argument.”
Offer ‘green’ pension schemes
One of the biggest pieces of advice Angus gives to tech companies is to consider where their money is going. For companies who offer pension schemes, consider a ‘green’ alternative that means your employees are investing their pensions into worthy causes.
This goes for the business banks that you use, too.
“Ideally, you could find a company that has good green credentials. In Brighton, for example, there's a branch of a bank which has big spray paint all over it saying “stop supporting fossil fuels”. Maybe don't put your money in those kinds of banks.”
Conduct a cO2 emissions audit
All companies can go through an emissions audit and receive a report at the other end. This gives you a solid basis for understanding your impact on the environment and where you can begin to cut down.
“A surprising thing we've discovered (at Bright) is that our servers are using a lot less than we thought compared to our general people usage. Now we’ve received that report, we can use it to track our progress and see what we need to do next. These reports are yearly, so they tell you about your previous year of emissions. There are various companies out there that can provide these audits and reports for you. They also have lots of different projects available in different portfolios that you can invest in to counteract the co2 you're producing.”
Invest in software
Despite what we’ve explored around the impact of hardware and servers within the tech industry, in the long run, Angus believes that tech will only make things more efficient.
“We’ve got technology that is actually enabling the smarter production of goods, so they can emit less. For example, take the technology being used in smart meters in your home. This is an example of tech actively reducing emissions. In general, the efficiencies you gain from the advances in software and technology outweigh the extra emissions from servers.”
Discover more about tech and the impact on your business
Now that you've learnt about how tech affects the environment, check out some more of our articles to discover what benefits software can offer your business. Why not start with our post: 3 ways digital asset management can help you work with a clearer conscious.