Henning Ohlsson, Director Sustainability Epson Europe
Technology is supposed to make our lives easier. But in the last few years, it’s been at the center of some problematic discussions. From the anxiety that the pandemic brought about by meteoric social media use to alarm over 5G and ongoing fears around data protection and cookies—what started with time-saving intentions has become layered and complex as it becomes more integrated into our everyday lives.
But after some teething issues in what is really an incredibly short space of time, it’s increasingly looking likely that the technology revolution could be the solution to the biggest threat of our time: climate change.
The pandemic turned out to be an effective but temporary pause on the vast amounts of CO2 we’re pumping into the atmosphere. According to the scientific journal, Nature, “After rising steadily for decades, global carbon dioxide emissions fell by 6.4%, or 2.3 billion tonnes, in 2020.” Despite the positive impact, this was still below the 7.6% the United Nations Environment Committee predicts that we would need to make every year for the next decade to meet their targets.
Using Technology To Help Hit Targets
Not only the U.N., but many governments and businesses have been setting targets to tackle climate change. These are often reliant on new and undiscovered technology to help us to reach them. From carbon capture techniques to machines that will rid the oceans of plastic, what these ambitious targets have done is spurn a whole raft of startups geared toward turning the power of tech into clever solutions to the climate emergency. What was previously focused on individual consumer needs has been innovated into tools we can use as a global community to save ourselves from extinction.
Small Changes, Big Impact
It’s a heartening landscape for tech, but what can we do on an everyday basis?
Well, energy consumption is the most obvious culprit for CO2 emissions and is estimated to contribute to three-quarters of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally. Luckily, renewable energy was one of the first ports of call for tech, so switching offices and homes to green alternatives is a good place to start.
But how do you find the best green alternatives, and where should you start?
The first step is to look for credible standards and labels that promote sustainability in the goods you acquire—i.e., anything from office supplies to transport to energy. Better yet, ensure your office supplier or logistics manager is up to date with the latest ethical procurement policies and, crucially, that they are considering your carbon footprint throughout the entirety of the business supply chain. It’s no good switching to LED office lighting if the bulbs are shipped from the other side of the world.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a business can’t go green overnight. Understand the value of prioritization; consider which emissions are having the greatest impact—in my experience, this is often building heating and cooling systems—and address those first. Try cross ventilation during summer, for example, to keep your workforce cool, or invest in sources of green energy for mechanical power ventilation.
Moving With The Technological Times
For businesses unable to get sufficient power from renewable sources, there are things you can do to maximize energy efficiency and reduce consumption. Across the EU, buildings consume 40% of overall energy and are responsible for 35% of CO2 emissions. In fact, IEA analysis highlights the appliances sector specifically as an area that needs to meet net-zero decarbonization if we do not want to risk “a 100% increase in the frequency of extreme heat waves and a 40% increase in ecological droughts.”
So, replacing obsolete electronic goods is a good place to start. And again, thanks to advances in tech, there are constant upgrades for energy efficiency. There is one caveat though, and that is that I recommend your business only replace items when they need replacing; find new homes for old technology that can still be used. It’s also worth ensuring that your recycling service provider is following the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) directive.
Research by Tim Forman, senior research associate at University of Cambridge, found that worldwide switches across all laser and inkjet printers for example, would cut energy emissions to 52.6% of current levels.
It’s time we start making smarter decisions about the technology we use. In order to alleviate the projected global warming this century could encounter, it’s important we invest in heat-free, energy-saving technology that can help to reduce the impact of the potent greenhouse gases damaging our planet.
Technology And Transparency
Another thing your businesses can do, over and above changing your own energy supply and updating your devices, is to vote with your wallet on sustainable tech options. Transparency in the supply chain is a major factor in consumer purchase habits, especially among the Gen Z and millennial audience, and if we all invest in companies with a strong ESG score and an earnest commitment to tackling climate change, we can pressure other large tech companies to throw their weight behind the cause.
We all thought technology’s time to shine was when the first iPhone came out or when Netflix began streaming box sets. But lurking in the background was an existential threat that apparently only the likes of David Attenborough saw coming. And it is technology companies who I believe will be the white knights riding to the rescue. As a business with a large impact and possible contribution to the cause, do your bit to further the revolution—switch smart, buy smart, replace smart and keep working to be part of the solution.
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