COP26 and a Growing Responsibility for the Tech Sector
By Will Parkhouse. Will is a Director at Zeren, and is based in our London office, as a member of our Commercial hiring team.
We’re closing in on the one-year anniversary of COP26 and addressing the continuing challenge of the global environmental situation remains a top priority. With a key outcome from the conference confirming the Paris Rulebook – an agreed set of guidelines dictating how the signatories determine their reductions in emissions – governments are under pressure from both their own countries and geopolitical communities to commit to firm strategies to drive progress against this goal.
While not in the cross-hairs as much as high-polluting industries, such as fossil fuels, transport and manufacturing, tech will have a crucial role to play in achieving targets. Progress must be made not just in terms of building a technological backbone for delivering a greener future, but also in ensuring these systems are functioning as efficiently as possible. Currently, the tech sector as a whole is responsible for 2-3% of global greenhouse emissions. While few might identify tech as a high-emitting industry, its contribution is significant…and growing.
Every Facebook user produces 12 grams of carbon dioxide annually, and Bitcoin mining alone consumed as much global energy as the whole of Belgium in 2019. The continued use of AI upon which so many big platforms depend, requires 300,000 times more computational power than ten years ago, and is showing no signs of slowing. As data centres and the infrastructure behind these systems expand to accommodate demand, the public, stakeholders, and governments will increasingly insist that the planet should not be asked to pick up an unfair share of the tab.
“The data centre industry is growing so fast it’s hard to fathom. But somehow the tech companies get far less attention than aviation or fossil fuel companies.”
Professor Patrick Bresnihan, Maynooth University.
While innovation in tech has been greatly encouraged, especially due to the benefit it brings our professional and personal lives, technology will need to get on the front foot to show commitment to the goal of achieving net zero by 2050. Data has been often compared to oil in recent years and it won’t be too long before people start to forge a more tangible vision of this connection and see the similarities in terms of the quantities of energy, which mining these resources necessitate. This will ramp-up the pressure when it comes to emissions, which is why many in the industry are working hard to put new initiatives in motion.
Whilst many tech offerings are positioned to help make the world a greener place – focusing on everything from biodiversity to smart energy solutions and reducing waste – from an operational standpoint, many tech businesses are working to understand how to reduce their overall carbon footprint. Key areas for evaluation often include energy consumption from devices and data centres, emissions created on both customer and employee sides, office output and procurement including suppliers, partners, and external services.
Recognising the situation and formulating a roadmap for change needs to be a priority for Boards and Senior Management teams. Achieving the targets of COP26 will of course be good for the planet but will also improve wider market credibility where there is an increasing expectation to have a plan in place within a wider corporate sustainability strategy. On the product side, a key focus has been on how to do more with less when it comes to data. Minimising data amounts and total movements can help expedite a large reduction in emissions over time, and this efficiency can translate into a smoother experience for users as well. From an internal point of view, improving the efficiency of office spaces, utilising renewable energy sources, adopting smart meters, eliminating unnecessary travel, and switching to greener suppliers are all sound strategies for a greener operation.
Demonstrating commitment and continued success towards these goals will not just be instrumental in delivering and contributing towards the aims of COP26, but also driving investor and customer confidence that you understand the bigger picture and know your place in its future.
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