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How consumers are driving sustainable and ethical tech

Technology now impacts every aspect of our lives. Algorithms determine what we view, hear, purchase, and can even affect how we feel as we find ourselves helplessly doom scrolling down never-ending newsfeeds. With some firms introducing AI and facial recognition into the recruitment process, technology could also determine the fate of your future career and loan application.

Businesses are also turning to AI-driven platforms to automate customer interaction through chatbots. But this cookie-cutter approach often fails to recognize our cultural differences. Inside the workplace, there is a constant battle against unconscious bias and microaggressions in corporate systems. Thankfully, there is a realization that everyone should feel seen, heard, valued, and empowered in both the workplace and society.

Ethical tech becomes everyone's responsibility

Traditionally, it was accepted that tech giants such as Google and Facebook made their billions from the treasure trove of personal data we give them without question. But the rise of ad blockers and privacy-based browsers and the end of third-party cookies is changing the digital landscape for the better. Ethical tech solutions such as Ecosia, a not-for-profit search engine, offer an alternative to big tech by planting 127 million trees across 30 different countries using its profits from advertising.

As the G7 Summit recently arrived in Cornwall. One school in the area hit the headlines for showing the power that small micro-actions and searching the web can have on large-scale reforestation. The Newquay Tretherras school teamed up with Ecosia to highlight how we are not powerless and can help the environment with every online search.

Over the last 18 months, the global pandemic also made many question the impacts of consumerism and needlessly buying things they wanted but did not necessarily need. When a London start-up recently announced plans to launch TreeCard, a wooden debit card that redirects 80% of its profits to forest restoration projects, it quickly grew a waiting list of 140,000 people without spending any money on marketing.

Tracking the impact you are having in the world with a live count of how many trees you've planted is just the beginning of a very different mindset. With many turning to online tools to check the ethical ratings of the world's leading brands before purchasing from them, it's consumers that are undoubtedly driving the push for ethical tech solutions forward.

Tackling the impacts of technologies on the environment

Bitcoin reportedly consumes more electricity than Argentina. Many businesses are guilty of not thinking about their carbon footprint and the long-term sustainability of their infrastructure. Both companies and consumers lost their way in an unsustainable throwaway world where they replace rather than repair hardware when it develops a problem. Some OS upgrades infamously degrade the performance of older smartphones, and expensive replacement batteries exacerbate the problem.

Anything with an electrical plug or battery will at some point become e-waste. In just a few years, the growing list of smart home products falls out of support and no longer receives updates rendering them useless. A report by the UN revealed that we collectively generate 50 million tonnes of e-waste each year. To put this figure into perspective, it weighs more than every commercial airline ever made. But more concerning, 80% ends up in landfills.

The amount of e-waste generated annually is also worth over $62.5 billion, more than most countries' GDP.

But the carbon footprints of humans are already stretching beyond the planet we call home. Over 3,000 inactive satellites are traveling in space at speeds of up to 40,000 kilometers an hour, prompting a new mission for a big space clean-up.

A new era of sustainability

The focus on sustainability and new ways of thinking is not just another fad. It's more of an epiphany that we cannot continue this path without causing further damage to our increasingly fragile planet.

A so-called "eco-wakening" has created an appetite for ethically and sustainably sourced goods.

These trends are forcing businesses to listen to a global audience driving positive change.

The emergence of Green AI offers hope and an opportunity to combat climate change by building a greener future for the tech industry. There is also an increase in smart buildings that can track carbon emissions as corporations dare to look beyond financial growth and explore how they can achieve long-term sustainability.

Shoppers have already become accustomed to food labels that use a traffic light system to promote healthier food choices in supermarkets. The fashion industry is also exploring a similar approach to show the environmental impact of clothing in retail stores. But the jury is still out on whether a red traffic light rating would change our clothing purchase habits.

A global focus on sustainability is changing how every industry can change and make a difference. Hendwr farm sits in the idyllic landscape near the Berwyn Mountain range. But it recently hit the headlines for creating a renewable crypto mining farm by turning methane given off by decomposing cow manure into electricity. The setup generates enough electricity to power their farm, its caravan park, and mine the Ethereum cryptocurrency.

It's important to remember that around 40% of the world population is still without regular Internet access, and 1.7 billion people cannot open a bank account. We still have a long way to go before every global citizen feels valued and empowered. But, if technology can replace polarization with a diversity of thought and inclusion, maybe we can get back to solving the world's biggest problems rather than creating them.

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