If we’re going to meet the climate goals set by the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change [IPCC] to avoid the catastrophic outcomes of exceeding a global temperature increase over 1.5 degrees Celsius, we’re going to need the help of innovative technological solutions.
Luckily it seems the tech industry is committed to finding what Bill Gates described as “an energy miracle.”
Even the President of the Environmental Defense Fund, Fred Krupp, remarked on how technology has emerged as “the wind at our backs” during an interview with the Executive Director of GreenBiz. In recent years, EDF has welcomed partnerships with tech companies to find solutions to the immense challenges of climate change.
A prominent commentator on energy innovation, Bill Gates wrote in a recent blog post about critical steps to reducing climate change, “we must act quickly if we want to prevent the worst-case scenarios of our warming climate.” Other prominent tech leaders, such as Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Meg Whitman (Hewlett Packard), Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Priscilla Chan (Facebook), have all promised billions of dollars to researching new clean energy technologies.
While sustainability-friendly tech billionaires are a greatly beneficial advocacy group for the effort against climate change, intergovernmental coordination to enact climate protection policies still remain critically important. In the meantime, as we await and strive for the necessary global policy harmonization to take place, let’s find hope in some laudable efforts of the leaders of the tech industry to lift our spirits.
According to Forbes, the world’s four largest tech companies in 2019 are Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and Alphabet (Google). Here are some of their most notable sustainability efforts:
In April of 2018, Apple’s operations became 100% powered by renewable energy. In the company’s 2019 Environmental Responsibility Report, Apple stated that more than 40 of its suppliers have made commitments to also transition to renewable energy. This change would likely mean exceeding the company’s goal of creating four gigawatts of clean energy use by 2020.
Apple has also created a disassembly robot named Daisy that supports an effort to elevate recycling. The goal is for the company to eventually no longer need to mine precious materials to make its products.
Overall, the environmental strategy emphasizes campaigns to reduce waste creation to zero, greatly improve water stewardship, widely transition to low-carbon design and create products that are safer to human health and the environment.
Since 2015 the company has reduced its carbon footprint by 35%. In addition to its remarkable transition to renewable electricity use, Apple has reduced their average product energy use by 70% over the past decade. Recycled aluminum enclosures are used in 100% of MacBook Airs and Mac Minis.
In Apple’s 13th annual Supplier Responsibility Report, the company claimed that their “clean water program expanded to 116 suppliers, resulting in 7.6 billion gallons of water saved in 2018 — one gallon for every person on the planet.” The report also noted that their team worked with suppliers to and cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 466,000 annualized metric tons, the equivalent of taking 100,000 cars off the road for one year.
In April Samsung announced its 2020 sustainability goals. The brand hopes to cut intensity-based greenhouse gas emissions on global worksites by nearly 50% of the company’s 2016 levels. Between 2008 and 2016, Samsung reduced the energy use of its products by an average of 49%, which equals a greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 188 million tons.
In January Samsung promised that it will use only paper packaging materials certified by forestry initiatives by the end of 2020. At the end of 2030, the company plans to use 500,000 tons of recycled plastics and collected 1.5 million tons of product waste.
Since 2012, Microsoft’s global operations have been 100% carbon neutral, meaning it’s removed as much carbon from the atmosphere as its put into it. The company has also pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 75% of the 2013 amount by the year 2030. Additionally, over the 2018 financial year, Microsoft reduced product packaging for new devices by 20%.
One of the company’s coolest initiatives is AI for Earth — which utilizes Microsoft cloud and artificial intelligence tools to help solve global environmental challenges. Current projects include leveraging data to enable precision farming, transformative forest conservation and fighting wildlife extinction.
The tech industry has been criticized in the past for how much water it consumes. Microsoft has addressed this problem by investing in researching sustainable water management. This investment has allowed the company to work on making its Silicon Valley campus the first tech campus with a net-zero water certification — meaning all the non-drinking water will come from rainfall or on-site recycled water.
As the relatively new parent company of Google and several former Google subsidiaries, most of its sustainability policies are Google specific. Since 2007 Google has been carbon neutral through buying enough renewable energy to match 100% of the company’s operational energy consumption.
In its 2018 Environmental Report Google stated that its “end goal is to get to a point where renewables and other carbon-free energy sources power [its] operations every hour of every day.” In 2017 Google opened its first on-site solar plant at its Belgian facility. Though the plant is quite large, it generates a relatively small percentage of the site’s total power needs. Between 2010 and 2017, Google invested nearly $2.5 billion in renewable energy projects, predominantly in wind and solar power.
Of course, there’s a lot more carbon to cut, waste to minimize and water to conserve. The road to a 100% sustainable tech industry remains long.
Nonetheless, it’s promising to see the industry’s leaders prioritizing efforts to do their part in the fight against climate change. We hope more companies embrace this effort.
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