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Big tech races to reduce carbon footprint


As an environmentally conscious citizen of the world, you might take shorter showers, add LED lights to your home, recycle responsibly and ensure that your electronic devices are never left on standby. Unfortunately, there is only so much we can all do in the battle against climate change. Many are increasingly turning their attention to the actions or inactions of the world's biggest corporations.

Big tech has thrived in a throwaway society of its own making. Everyone is encouraged to replace rather than repair, and software development often appears to be designed to force users into expensive upgrades. For example, Apple was accused of slowing down devices to force consumers into upgrading them. The tech giant also famously attempts to lock users into an upgrade program with the promise of getting a new iPhone every year. 

As the value of cryptocurrencies continues to climb, we are also reminded that it takes more electricity to mine bitcoin than what is used by entire countries. The tech we all increasingly rely on is also creating an insatiable appetite for more electricity. Big tech is also mining rare minerals through not so environmentally friendly methods. But the world is waking up to the fact that the tech industry is built on unsustainable business models. So, where do we go from here?

Big tech companies and climate change

In an increasingly digital world where big tech companies seemingly have more power than governments, can we trust them to choose their paths on climate change? Every year, world leaders, CEOs, and the world's elite descend upon Davos for the World Economic Forum to tackle the biggest challenges facing the planet in which we all reside. This year's event was virtual due to the pandemic, but as lockdowns begin to lift, the focus was climate change.

Predictably, we have been bombarded with news articles littered with buzzwords such as the fourth industrial revolution, sustainability, climate action, stakeholder capitalism, social value, and build-back better. Since this year's World Economic Forum annual meeting, leaders, CEOs, and the world of big tech all appear to be unified in slowly shifting the narrative from COVID to the battle against climate change and environmental degradation.

With communities, big businesses, and governments on board, it's clean technology that will play a critical role in building a sustainable and healthier future for ourselves and the planet in which we all call home. But will all parties be able to put politics and division to one side and collaborate to fix a problem that will affect every member of the global community?

The innovations powering our environmental journey are not only good for the planet - they've helped us make our products more energy-efficient and bring new sources of clean energy online around the world. Climate action can be the foundation for a new era of innovative potential, job creation, and durable economic growth. With our commitment to carbon neutrality, we hope to be a ripple in the pond that creates a much larger change.

Tim Cook, Apple CEO

Is the cloud bad for the environment?

Whether we are working, learning, playing, or relaxing, we have become a little too reliant on cloud services. But as our expectations begin to demand streaming of movies and games in 4K and eventually 8K resolution, it will inevitably have a negative impact on the environment. For example, a 2016 study revealed that cloud gaming could cause an annual electricity increase of up to 300% on desktop computers.

Big tech is attempting to lead the way and encourage other businesses to join them on a journey to becoming carbon neutral by no longer adding carbon to the atmosphere. The end goal is for all companies to achieve the status of being a carbon-negative company that is achieved by removing more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits. Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Facebook are all saying the right things about being committed to renewable energy, net-zero emissions, and lowering carbon footprints by 2030.

However, Greenpeace is largely skeptical and has repeatedly reminded big tech that they need to honour their commitments and be accountable for their actions.

Here in 2021, we are bombarded by information that suggests irreversible changes are just around the corner.

Others will cynically suggest that we've already passed the point of no return. But the reality is any individual or organization that is not part of the solution is part of the problem.

Can one person really make a difference?

It's easy to feel as though you are helpless or that your voice won't make a difference. You may have even said the words, "what can I do?" But as consumers become more aware of their carbon footprint and environmental impacts of the products or services they consume; companies will quickly feel pressured into implementing greener solutions.

Does anyone really need a shiny new smartphone every year? Tech companies are waking up to the fact that socially aware consumers educate themselves on the climate impacts of everything they buy and how long it is likely to last. We are bombarded with reminders that the latest update will offer a better aesthetically pleasing interface and user experience. After hitting the reminder button one too many times, software upgrade fatigue can quickly ensue.

What if tech companies made their devices last longer by offering affordable battery replacement and OS upgrades that do not degrade the performance of older devices?

What if we collectively focus our energy on solving bigger challenges and be a part of the solution rather than the problem?

It's time to stop doom scrolling and use technology to bring us together rather than divide us. Try to imagine the possibilities of big businesses, governments, and global citizens daring to put their differences aside and committing to leveraging technology to empower everyone to make a collective difference to our mutual home. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

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