Eric is CEO and Founder of GoCodeGreen, a UK-based world-leading ClimateTech company with a mission to help decarbonise the digital world in which we all live. GoCodeGreen is a self-funded, independent ClimateTech business that has built the world’s first carbon impact assessments for software and ICT (Information and Communications Technology). GoCodeGreen has already worked with over 25 companies across 5 industry sectors and consistently identified carbon reduction opportunities of up to 45%. GoCodeGreen has been nominated for the Earthshot Prize, in the Fix our Climate category for 2023 and is the winner of the World Green Technology Leader Award. Here, Eric talks about the wonderful opportunity for CXOs to take a leadership position in digital and technology decarbonisation as part of achieving their net-zero commitments.
This matters. If you have committed your organisation to a net-zero target then you will be unable to achieve it without tackling the carbon costs associated with your use of technology.
We live in a digital world. But we also live in a world in crisis. Every business in every sector will use technology in some form to create the amazing products, services, and capabilities they offer to their customers. Every business has a role to play, whether small or big, to contribute toward action. By implication all CXOs are needed to take a leadership position to help drive a change in the way businesses are run, the choices they make, and the culture they build within their organisations.
Fortunately, decarbonising digital is one of the opportunities you can take as a CXO that won’t require radical reform, huge investment, or changes in business practice. And you can start taking action tomorrow. Everywhere we turn we hear talk of SmartCities, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, and ChatGPT. Technology and digital solutions are here and growing, and the social, educational, health, and business value of technology is now unquestionable. Digital products and services are the bedrock of many businesses, and increasingly for some, the only way of delivering products to customers. But behind the scenes, this growth has a carbon impact that has remained invisible to most of us.
The information and communication technology (ICT) sector is now estimated to account for somewhere between 4 to 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is predicted to consume over 20% of global energy by 2030. Research has shown that for some businesses, as much as 29% of their total carbon impact can be related to technology use. A much-quoted comparison that continues to shock is that data centers running the software we so depend on, now have the same carbon impact as the aviation industry.
The recent IPCC synthesis report, the conclusion of its sixth assessment cycle, gave us an updated call to action. The world’s leading scientists have once again shown us that we have no time to spare, and that, as António Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations, stated we now must do “everything, everywhere, all at once” if we are to hold to the 1.5° temperature change a set by the Paris agreement. By the time the next IPCC assessment cycle completes it may well be 2030, it is the same timeframe we have to make a difference to avoid reaching the tipping point, the critical threshold that, if crossed, will lead to large and often irreversible changes in the climate system.
Digital decarbonisation needs to be part of that ‘everything’, and we can start to take action ‘everywhere, all at once’.
Digital decarbonisation is the next order of action.
It is true, that decarbonising digitally is the next order of action. After all, by sending an email we aren’t using paper, sorting, and distribution which all have a significant carbon impact. But it is also true that the volume of emails and the energy usage of the underlying technical infrastructure are barely considered before we hit the ‘send’ button. We now send over 340 billion emails every day, so it all very quickly adds up to a lot of technology using energy that creates a lot of carbon. Similarly, it is not obvious that the act of streaming a viral song when aggregated across millions of listeners over every continent could result in energy usage the equivalent of over 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. We would need to plant 200,000 trees to sequester that amount of carbon. We must find ways of driving more efficient use of technology and that starts with efficient software.
A wonderful leadership opportunity.
If you are a CXO of a business that is dependent on or creates products that are digitally dependent, then you have a wonderful opportunity. The ability to make software and digital products more energy efficient is within the reach of your teams, and they don’t need to wait for any new technologies or manufacturing of new industrial solutions to make it happen. Your action can start tomorrow with a simple first step.
As all CXOs know, it’s hard to change and improve things if you can’t measure them. It is also incredibly important that we know how good a job we are doing, and when we are dealing with action to help alleviate the impact of climate change then that is more true than ever. So the starting point is the measurement, and the good news is that we now have the measurement tools to be able to do this right across the different dimensions of your technology usage according to the guidelines set by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Selecting an independent measurement capability brings credibility and avoids the risk of greenwashing and will also position your organisation for upcoming reporting regulations and standards that will necessitate a deeper understanding of the carbon impact of your use of ICT.
Measure to act.
Great leadership is about choosing to do the right things and making the decisions, interventions, prioritisation calls, and taking action at the right time to effect positive change. If you were to do one thing differently tomorrow? Show your optimism to your people, and tomorrow, sponsor an initiative that starts the process of measuring the carbon impact of your technology and digital products and services. Once you have the power of data you can empower your technologists and apply the right pressure on your ICT-related supply chain. You will be creating the environment for action and that will be one of the most powerful things that you can do. Then trust that your people will embrace your vision and create the plan to make change happen.
In our digital world, we must move forward, our actions be progressive and able to utilise the advancements in technology to create the efficiencies needed to support the growth of your business and to meet customer needs. But we must recognise that we can only meet the need for more technology if we base this growth on a more sustainable IT sector. To achieve this we all need to play our part in building a lower-carbon digital future.