How The Tech Giants Are Tackling Sustainability
Last Updated on November 1, 2020
Opportunity For Innovation & Leadership
With the climate crisis already upon us, and looking to get only more devastating, it’s natural that many of us look to the tech industry to learn what they’re up to. After all, technology has dramatically shaped modern society and plays a vital role in our considerations of the future. So how has the industry reconciled their need for delivering new products and services, while operating within the natural limits of the environment.
In a nutshell, not yet. Despite their incredible potential, the tech industry (indeed no industry really), has yet to fully address the intensifying impact of man-made climate change.
The Titans of Tech
They are however beginning to take some action towards changing their processes and adjusting their current models. It is not yet ubiquitous throughout the tech world, but companies are in fact putting up sustainability strategies. Indeed, some are even already successfully implementing them (see here for Strategy Tips).
Still, it would appear that the companies most engaged with the sustainability mandate aren’t quite the biggest ones. For the purpose of this blog post however, I’ll start with the Big Four. Namely Apple, Alphabet (Google), Amazon, & Microsoft. They also happen to be some of the most valuable companies on the planet (each with market values of in or a round 1 trillion dollars). Listed below are some of their sustainability initiatives.
Already years ahead of schedule, Google is currently operating on 100% renewable energy. Indeed, this is part of their gameplan to support their data centers with clean, efficient power, while working towards a circular economy. Seems like a solid win!✌️
In addition, they are aiming to utilize and leverage their massive A.I. capabilities and global mapping systems, to find and develop opportunities for sustainable gains. For instance, in optimizing for solar energy or identifying areas for regrowing and protecting forests.
As the world’s dominant search engine, there is certainly plenty for them to (especially in disseminating the facts about climate change), but they do appear quite genuine in their efforts. The sustainability charge is being led by Google Sustainability Officer Kate Brandt. Brandt is certainly impressive in her skills, insight and understanding (check out her TED Talk). Given their alignment, I’m hoping to see much more coming from Google soon!💪
This one’s a little tougher to find. Of course, the company says pretty wonderful things, but given that their business model profits tremendously from planned obsolescence, it will require some serious overhaul.
Their main cash cow being the iPhones, we have to consider both the carbon footprint in their manufacture, as well as what happens to them when we’re done with them.
Publicly at least, they have been expressing their strong commitment towards greater environmental sustainability. Thankfully, Apple has been following up on those declarations with the crafting of a genuine sustainability strategy (currently led by VP Lisa Jackson). Indeed, they’ve been hiring all kinds of people to help them realize their vision.
The strategy includes plans to increase the recycle rate of their products, as well as the percentage of recycled materials in their manufacture (Apple Newsroom). I would definitely love to see more from the world’s self-proclaimed most innovative company.
Amazon is incredibly huge, and so too is their corresponding footprint. Something that they have been beginning to feel the heat for (see employees risk their jobs in climate activism). After countless emails, meetings, and petitions; it looks like Amazon has finally come to see the light! CEO Jeff Bezoz made the big announcement this past fall (CNBC), declaring the corporate commitment to the Paris Accord.
Like the other tech giants, Amazon has set out some big goals; namely to reduce their carbon emissions, switch to renewables, and achieve net zero operations. This includes incorporating electric vehicles, totally green powered facilities and improving their supply chain (see also Amazon’s Big Opportunity). These changes are currently championed by Amazon’s Head of Sustainability, Kara Hurst (appointed back in 2014).
Amazon Doesn’t Yet Have An Environment Report, but you can click here for more on Amazon & Sustainability.
In Microsoft we can see the boldest commitments yet! Having recently announced their desire to achieve not just carbon neutrality, but carbon negativity. They certainly have some big plans for sustainability, and definitely raised the bar for the other tech titans. As with all data driven organizations, they intend to do just that. Follow the data to reduce and remove their carbon footprint, while investing in innovation, and consulting with both clients and employees alike. Sounds like pretty good deal.🤞
Microsoft’s Chief Environment Officer, Lucas Joppa, laid it out quite clearly. While not the “silver bullet” tech is definitely part of the solution, and Microsoft has discovered plenty of opportunities. This includes leveraging their massive A.I. capabilities, as well as developing new ones (they’ve created $1billion climate innovation fund to help with this).
A Force For Good
The tech industry has been such an incredible force for change in such a short period. Technology and innovation understandably capture the imagination and feed our hope of the future. Unfortunately, the rate at which we’re changing our planet’s climate is also changing dramatically, and it doesn’t seem as though the solutions will be coming from technology and innovation. Rather, what we desperately need is policy, conscious consumption, and a renewed approach to how we interact with the natural world.
Still, it’s both exciting and inspiring to think that one of our planet’s leading industries can also be a force for good. That they can potentially see past the current balance sheets, and understand what their present choices will mean for future generations.