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How tech firms can become carbon neutral

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(Image credit: Image Credit: Moon Light PhotoStudio / Shutterstock)

Given the chaos and uncertainty of the past 12 months, it is perhaps not surprising that some tech firms have lost a little focus on sustainability. Transitioning entire workforces to homeworking, ensuring employee well-being and mental health is ok, managing changing customer requirements and balancing an array of personal and professional concerns around Covid-19 – it has been a demanding time and it is still on-going.

And yet, climate change remains one of the biggest threats to the future of the planet and the tech sector has a responsibility to play a part in addressing this just as much as other industries. Becoming carbon neutral should be a goal for tech businesses all over the world – what’s the best way for them to approach this?

The importance of carbon neutrality

Most observers believe that the warming of the planet over the last fifty years is attributable to human-emitted greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2). This warming will mean some parts of the earth will face extreme precipitation, others will undergo droughts, and the icecaps will shrink. This will cause sea levels to rise, which has potentially devasting consequences for wildlife and plants, and will also threaten the homes of millions of people, communications infrastructures, transport, and much more.

In 2015 the United Nations (UN) launched its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, part of which included 17 different but interconnected Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These were adopted by 193 UN member states and looked to protect the planet, eliminate poverty and drive sustainability across all areas of life. All SDGs are important but SDG 13 focuses on climate change, the impact it is having, and how it can be addressed, so is especially pertinent to becoming carbon neutral.

So, becoming carbon neutral is still of great importance to the well-being of the wider world, despite the pressures on tech firms brought about by Covid-19. There are other benefits too though. Technology is a highly competitive sector, and most tech firms face on-going challenges relating to talent recruitment and customer acquisition. How a company behaves, beyond the words on a page matter, and tech firms need to show that their company values are reflected in their actions.

This also applies to winning new customers. Demonstrating sustainable business is increasingly on the agenda for prospects and is something that comes up frequently in pitches, referrals and procurement processes. The future of business is sustainability and any tech firm that ignores this will struggle to find its place in the modern world.

Beginning the carbon neutral journey

But becoming carbon neutral is not a quick fix for any tech firm. It requires resource and commitment to succeed and is not a straightforward undertaking. A smart approach to getting started should include working with an external organization who understand the requirements and how best to meet them. There are different options for different types of business, including Rye Strategy, out of the University of Washington, which specializes in the calculating and offsetting of carbon for SaaS businesses.

The first steps involve the collection of data across the business for a variety of activities over a fixed time. This can be broken down into three parts:

  • General Business information - employee headcount, existing carbon offsets and events
  • Facility Manager/ Landlord Questions - square footage, energy usage, fire suppression systems, heating and cooling, sewage, water, waste and other detail for each office
  • Scope 3 emissions (i.e., greenhouse gas emissions associated with the activities of a business, but not directly generated by it) - hardware purchases, food purchases, software hosting, professional services, and more –

Each category requires a detailed list of what was purchased and the total expenditure. It is perhaps the most challenging element of achieving carbon neutrality. Even just calculating the carbon footprint of the snacks in the office is tough. You need to look at the supplier of those snacks and follow each one back to its source. If the supplier itself was already carbon neutral certified then you can stop there, but as most are not it can be a major undertaking to work out the carbon footprint of soft drinks, fruit bowls or a laptop.   

Establish a carbon offset portfolio

Once all the carbon data has been collated it can then be analyzed to ascertain your overall carbon footprint. This is another area in which working with a partner can be beneficial – they are well versed in conducting this type of analysis and can do much of the heavy lifting on your behalf.

Common to many tech firms – certainly, the software businesses – is that a large part of their footprint comes through the manufacturing and delivery of hardware, the purchasing of snacks and food to feed the team and the money spent on professional services. You will also be presented with a figure showing how many metric tons of carbon the company has produced in the year.

Being carbon neutral involves offsetting the carbon your organization is responsible for and the setting up of a carbon offset portfolio. Involving your employees in this process is important. It means that you will end up with a range of different projects, both local to your business and further afield, and your employees will feel empowered and included in your carbon offset journey. This helps make it feel like much more of a company-wide initiative rather than something that senior management has chosen to do.

Carbon neutrality – an on-going commitment

Having established a tech business as carbon neutral, that is by no means the end of the journey. Sustainable business is something that all organizations must be mindful of, both now and in the future. It is not a box-ticking exercise to be completed and then moved on from, rather it’s an on-going commitment that should form part of any tech firm’s business strategy.

The current climate is a challenge for most tech businesses and there are of course many priorities to be considered. But achieving carbon neutrality is hugely important and should undoubtedly be on the agenda for tech firms in 2021.

Simon Hill, co-founder and CEO, Wazoku

Simon Hill is the co-founder and CEO of innovation software & services firm Wazoku.