Hello everyone and welcome to the Cognixia podcast. Every week, we gather here to share some useful insights and news, discuss some guides, tips, and best practices, and shed light on some new developments in emerging digital technologies. We are constantly trying out new technologies, keeping an eye on current affairs, and ensuring you get the latest updates broken down into bite-sized packets of information that you can listen to anywhere and anytime on this podcast.
Earlier in December 2023, the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference convened in Dubai, as part of which some very important meetings of the Conference of the Parties or COP 28 took place. These meetings strived to deliver a successful COP 28 that drives global transformation towards a low-emission and climate-resilient world, fostering ambitious climate change action, and facilitating implementation including related support. The Incoming Presidency announced that the focus of the COP 28 would be four major paradigm shifts:
One, fast-tracking the energy transition and slashing emissions before 2030
Two, transforming climate finance, by delivering on old promises and setting the framework for a new deal on finance
Three, putting nature, people, lives, and livelihoods at the heart of climate action, and
Four, mobilizing for the most inclusive COP ever
In the face of the dire situation we are in climate-wise, all measures are important, and everybody has a role to play. The world is potentially set to breach the 1.5C temperature increase threshold by 2027. 2023 saw some major climate change-driven disasters, such as the wildfires in Hawaii, the cloak of orange haze from the record Canadian fires, July becoming the hottest month on the planet since 1880, heat waves in February and the cyclonic activity at the beginning and end of monsoon in India, the worsening hold of El Niño. The world as a whole is under a lot of pressure to slash its carbon emissions to meet the net zero goals set for 2050.
The time to wake up and ensure sustainability measures are weaved into everything we do was yesterday and the world is waking up to this reality now. While all industries are gradually taking responsibility and driving change in their respective spaces, one sector that is undergoing rapid transformation to meet their sustainability goals and ensure that there is progress without compromising the future of the planet is the Technology space.
The tech industry is responsible for a very large carbon footprint, there is no denying that. The data centers, the coding that goes into keeping them working as well as all the code they handle daily, artificial intelligence, machine learning algorithms, wireless throughputs, etc. come with a very energy-intensive nature, and while they do wonders for changing the world around us for the better, they are not exactly sustainable or planet-friendly from an environmental impact perspective. Just the data centers, a large majority of which are in the United States, and the transmission networks account for about 3% of the global electricity consumption as well as about 3.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. While these numbers might appear quite small, consider this – these numbers are roughly the same as those for the entire aviation industry. In fact, they are just slightly lesser than those for all the industries of the world that manufacture fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, refrigerants, and oil & gas extraction together, which hold about 3.6% of global carbon emissions.
On this front, a Reimagining Futures Study by Ernst & Young finds that more than half the enterprises who participated in the study felt that emerging technologies could play a vital role in accelerating global sustainability.
This brings us to some important terms that are quite commonly used when talking about sustainability. These are not just terms thrown in to make a discussion on sustainability sound very intelligent by marking it with such jargon. These terms serve as goals that various enterprises including companies in the tech space can take up as targets and then prepare plans and implement them to achieve these goals.
The first one is Net Zero.
The World Economic Forum defines Net Zero almost exactly as it sounds. It says that carbon emissions would still be generated, but an equal amount of carbon dioxide would be removed from the atmosphere as is released into it, which would result in zero increase in net emissions.
Second, we would like to highlight two terms that sometimes get used interchangeably, but they are not the same. They have similar meanings but they are not the same. These are carbon-neutral and carbon-free. According to Energy Tracker Asia, carbon neutrality is a balancing act between greenhouse gas emissions through offsetting an equivalent amount of carbon from the atmosphere, usually through buying carbon credits.
In contrast, carbon-free is a more challenging proposition. It means directly reducing the carbon emissions to zero. So, if a company or a country wants to call itself carbon-free, all the energy it uses and all the electricity it consumes would have to come from renewable sources like wind or solar. Some American states like Washington, California, New Mexico, and Hawaii have committed to going completely carbon-free in some years.
The next goal is going carbon-negative. This is also quite a self-explanatory goal. Companies like Microsoft have already committed to it and are actively working towards achieving it. In theory, going carbon-negative means that your net carbon emission is less than zero, it is negative. Now you can’t emit something negative, something less than zero, can you? So, when a company targets being carbon-negative what it means is that they aim to offset more carbon through carbon capture, carbon sequestration, or carbon avoidance than they consume. So, you offset more carbon than you use by transforming your process and resource utilization, etc.
While these can be very ambitious goals, most companies start smaller. A very good place to start for most is the carbon-reduction targets based on Scope 1, 2, and 3 Carbon Emission Schedule. This schedule is released by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Here, Scope 1 stands for a company’s own emissions from different processes, on-site combustion, transportation, etc.
Scope 2 stands for the indirect emissions of the company coming from the sources generating power that is consumed by the company
Scope 3 stands for the emissions that would be associated with water treatment, employee travel, waste disposal, etc.
When it comes to sustainability, Google is doing some amazing work. Google Cloud is already said to be the most sustainable and environment-friendly cloud platform in the world. In 2020, Google’s CEO – Sundar Pichai had already announced Google’s commitment to operating 24×7 on carbon-free energy by 2030. Google doesn’t have a unidirectional, single-front approach to sustainability. They are not trying to fix just one area of the business and call themselves sustainable. Instead, Google approaches sustainability from multiple fronts. For instance, they are applying artificial intelligence to search so that carbon emissions data can be shared with travelers. Google is also investing in carbon removal solutions which would neutralize its carbon emissions humongously. Their goal is to go carbon-free on every grid they consume power from around the world, after all! What is even more remarkable is that Google already reported in 2022 that they had achieved a whopping 64% of carbon-free energy goals globally already.
Some of the major amount of energy consumed by the IT sector goes to keep the data centers cool, relieving them of the enormous amounts of heat produced by handling the code, running programs and applications and algorithms and so much more. Google has been very innovative on this front. They have developed an AI solution to this, developed by DeepMind. This has led to a drop in energy usage by about 40% which by no means is a small feat. They locate data centers close to sustainable sources of energy and they have been buying sustainable electricity from wind farms located close to their data centers all over the world.
If Google has such advances up its sleeve, would the other giants have stayed behind?
Another big tech – Microsoft set its first carbon emission goal way back in 2009 when sustainability was something nobody talked about, and nobody wanted to talk about. Microsoft went carbon neutral in 2012 and in 2020, it committed to going carbon negative by 2030. The even bigger goal it has set itself is to remove all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or indirectly or by electrical consumption since the company was founded, by 2050.
Their key goals are:
- Unifying data intelligence around Scope 1, 2, and 3 goals
- Building sustainable IT infrastructure
- Creating green end-to-end value chains
- Meeting a host of other environmental, social, and governance goals
- Bring out innovations on resilience as well as other sustainable business models
The 2022 Microsoft Environment Sustainability Report states that while its business grew by 18%, its emissions declined by 0.5%. This was enabled by a 22.7% reduction in Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions.
The other big tech on our list is Apple. Known for being very closed and opaque about its tech and not very friendly to building a supporting ecosystem, Apple has also made major advances on the sustainability front. Like the others, Apple also aims to go carbon neutral by 2030. It has built a unique Daisy Robot which recycles the basic material. So, the Daisy Robots grind up say old phones and recover the component materials from them. According to an April 2023 Report, Apple has decreased its carbon footprint by 45% since 2015. 20% of all materials shipped in its products came from recycled sources. Also, most of the aluminum in Apple products is recycled, and it employs a new, zero-carbon smelting process. Apple has also pledged to use 100% recycled Cobalt batteries by 2025.
Yet another company doing good work on this front is Cisco. In 2021, Cisco announced that it aimed to go net zero by 2040. Using 2019 as its benchmark, Cisco also aims to align with Scope 1, 2, and 3 carbon emission targets, aiming for a 90% reduction in Scope 1 and Scope 2 targets by 2025 and a 30% reduction in Scope 3 by 2030.
Cloud services and security services are also major consumers of energy in the tech space and companies on this front have been working very hard to not let their advances on the product offering front compromise the future of the planet. Akamai Technologies – a very renowned cloud services and web technologies company has shared that about 50% of its energy needs are already met by renewable sources of energy. It also aims to be using 100% renewable energy across its data centers, office spaces, network program partners, etc. by 2030. Edge platform, yet another major energy consumer for tech industries is being made sustainable by Akamai. They aim to improve the efficiency of its edge platform which is currently spread across 325,000 servers in more than 135 countries and more than 1435 networks globally.
Along with this, WithSecure, Gigamon, AWS, eBay, etc. are also doing some amazing work on the sustainability front.
So, when you are looking to choose platform or a service for your organization, you would usually look at costs, features, service, support, efficiency, downtime, scalability, resilience, etc. But do you look at how sustainable the company you’re choosing to partner with is? Is this an important goal for your organization? Does your company have sustainability goals that it is actively pursuing? If not, isn’t it time to start working in that direction? We have just one planet after all!
We leave you with this food for thought today. To know more about Cognixia’s range of live online instructor-led courses to sharpen your skills in a host of different technologies, visit our website – www.cognixia.com. Who knows, with those certifications under your belt, you could lead from the front in innovating to build sustainable solutions to make your company carbon neutral or even carbon negative by 2030! There is an urgent need to focus on the environmental impact of our actions, and the time to start is now!
We will be back next week with another interesting and exciting episode of the Cognixia podcast. Until then, happy learning!