Keyword for 2030: Sustainability

Keyword for 2030: Sustainability

Tech firms, some of them amongst the largest companies in the world, are at the centre of the climate crisis. What are they doing to help out?

If you’ve recently attended one of the many online WWDCs that Apple hosts, you will have noticed that they keep coming back to their current initiatives stressing on goals for going completely carbon-neutral by 2030. It’s not just them though, similar goals have also been set by industry giants Microsoft, Amazon, Dell, and IBM as well.

In fact, for almost all global organisations today, one of the most major points of consideration whilst thinking about business prospects and future direction is Sustainability. Ensuring greater equality in the workplace, reducing harmful environmental impacts and contributing positively to climate change is an agenda high on all lists.

The above holds especially true for the technology sector, which currently boasts major positive growth rates despite the slowing of global demand caused by the COVID-19 crisis. In fact, in terms of market capitalisation, four out of the five largest companies in the world today are, in fact, in the technology sector. It is thus even more imperative that tech firms be the ones to almost lead the charge that is so desperately needed to achieve a sustainable and equitable future. It is no more just about setting lofty targets that sound nice in investor meetings — it is about using technology as the catalyst in setting realistic ones that can be ticked off every day — ones that can be compounded (and expanded) to fulfil long-term objectives.

Technologist Bernard Marr, in this regard, opines: “Big Data, the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) are all being put to use in innovative applications that can contribute to making the world cleaner and greener. They can also be used to drive human progress, improving diversity and fairness in industry, which we know will always have positive implications for both business and wider society.”

The onus needs to shift to setting and achieving small short-term goals — almost as a sort of checklist — to ultimately achieve individual long-term sustainability goals. The framework being proposed by Dell, in this regard, could prove to be rather useful in setting up a roadmap for other firms.

Case in Point: Dell

In what has been titled the ‘Progress Made Real’ report, Dell have set an objective of achieving a set of 22 goals by 2030 that will reduce carbon emissions by almost half, whilst also stressing on the four other ‘pillars’ that they consider constitute a more equitable workplace — advancing sustainability initiatives, tackling issues on diversity and inclusion, respecting ethics and privacy and transforming lives. They are also ramping up efforts to expand recycling, aiming to use completely recycled products for packaging and about 50% during production processes. For a company that sells 200,000 electronic devices each day, these objectives may seem hefty but ensuring steps are taken and short-term objectives are met will be crucial to success.

Speaking of hefty objectives, US-based tech giant Intel plans to achieve 100% renewable energy usage by 2030, ensuring ethical business practices and working with “customers and partners to transform product energy use and apply technology to reduce computing-related climate impacts across the global economy.”

The fact, however, remains, that this is not an individual battle that can be fought in isolation. It necessarily requires collaboration from several different stakeholders, and will need compromise, discussion, and patience to be carried forward. Consider this example for Marr:

“[…] one example is a partnership with Intel aimed at helping the citizens of the Great Barrier Reef with their Great Reef Census. This is a crowd-sourced effort to collect more data on the condition of the barrier reef, by harnessing the network of tourist boats, fishing vessels, divers and even superyachts that pass through the 350,000 square kilometres of ocean that it covers. It involved developing tools that allow images to be captured and submitted in real-time. This requires robust, low-power devices that can stand up to the extreme conditions while operating at sea for long periods of time. The data is used to identify hazards threatening the reef ecosystem, and more efficiently plan interventions and regeneration activity.”

Several other initiatives Dell is undertaking, such as collaborations with Germany-based Windcloud to create the world’s first carbon dioxide-absorbing data centres, and some of their own, such as their Solar Learning Labs (self-contained classrooms built inside refurbished shipping containers, capable of generating all the power they need to run from solar panels fixed to the roof) are going to be crucial going forward. And, indeed, technology is the catalyst.

Technology and arrogance is what got us into this mess in the first place. Is it going to be enough to get us out?

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