What Tech Companies can do to Reduce and Avoid Emissions

Life has become tremendously more digital since 2020, with the consumption of online, streaming and entertainment services booming more than ever. Since March 2020, several countries have recorded an increase in internet traffic of at least 20%

A minute on the internet

While our digital lifestyle comes with significant environmental benefits on the one hand (reduction of travel-related carbon emissions, to name one example), the increased internet usage also comes with its downsides for the environment.

In 2021, researchers assumed that the global carbon footprint could overall grow by 34.3 million tonnes of CO2e by the end of the year - which would take 2.8 billion trees to fully sequester all the CO2e emitted in a year. This would require a forest twice the size of Portugal. Following different estimations of researchers from Lancaster University, the ICT sector could be contributing to about 2.1-3.9% of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

Evidently, tech companies are challenged to find solutions to reduce their environmental impact. At the same time, it provides them with an opportunity to become pioneers in making streaming, gaming, and software services more sustainable.

But where should you start? What are typical emission hotspots for tech companies? And how can you reduce those emissions? We will present you with a set of actions tech companies can take to become more climate-friendly.

Typical Emission Sources for Tech Companies

Emission sources for software & gaming companies

Energy consumption from devices, networks and data centres

A significant amount of emissions for streaming services, software and gaming come from devices, network infrastructure and data centres. Due to the complexity and dynamic nature of this area, finding reliable data here is not always easy. At Planetly, we want to make it easy for you. For any data not available to you, e.g. for server emissions data, we can use industry benchmarks and secondary data from our database that are based on the specific server providers.

Customer & user emissions

Besides server and data processing emissions, the emissions from customers and users often make up a substantial part of digital companies’ carbon footprints. Case in point: player interactions with games from mobile game developer Wooga were up to 705 t CO2e in 2019, accounting for 33% of the company’s total carbon footprint. Therefore, technology, streaming, and gaming companies should not stop at their office doorstep when assessing their carbon footprint.

Employee emissions

When we look at a company’s carbon footprint, employee emissions are not to be underestimated in their share of overall carbon emissions. Business travel is actually a very prominent emission driver, especially for international companies. Home office emissions would also fall into this category - as well as your company vehicle fleet, if you have one.

Carbon comparison

Office emissions

Emissions from offices first and foremost come from heating, cooling and electricity of the office space. On top of that comes furniture, IT equipment, stationery and other office supplies. If you offer an employee canteen, this would also fall into this category.

Procurement emissions

Procurement emissions are basically all emissions from goods and services your company purchases from external suppliers. Remember the server emissions we already touched upon? If you use external server providers, the respective emissions from such servers and data centres would be listed here. If you also use consulting services such as tax and accounting consultants, law services or a marketing and PR agency, these would all fall into this category.

5 Effective Actions to Reduce & Avoid Emissions

Many technology companies are increasingly focused on living up to their responsibilities, looking for affordable and sustainable solutions to reduce their emissions.

Use renewable energy sources

Despite all efforts to reduce the amount of energy required, streaming of videos and music, playing online games and using software will always be coupled with energy consumption. However, by using electricity from renewable energy sources, technology companies can significantly reduce emissions here.

A first and very effective step for any technology company would be to run offices and buildings on green electricity - just like HR tech company Personio does already - and move your servers to green cloud providers. Streaming provider Zattoo even takes this to the next level with their first pilot project of streaming directly from a wind turbine. The servers in the wind turbine are powered by the energy generated on-site.

Increase energy efficiency

Next to using renewable energy, companies can also take other effective measures to maximise the energy efficiency of their offering. 

A great example comes from PlayStation: To make playing games more energy-efficient, the company equipped their PS4 with energy-efficient power supplies, rest modes and system on a chip architecture. As a result, an estimated 17.5 million tonnes of carbon equivalent emissions were avoided for PS4 to date. PlayStation’s PS5 is equipped with additional energy efficiency features.

Minimise data amounts wherever possible

While streaming, software and online games will always produce inevitable emissions, providers can minimise data amounts as much as possible.

One effective way of doing so is optimising the necessary bit rates for the desired, highest possible quality. You wonder how? Let’s look at one example: With title-specific bitrates for video content, for example, you can use much lower bit rates for titles with less rapid frame changes while maintaining the same display quality. This will significantly reduce the amount of data transmitted compared to standard bit rates.

Reduce your corporate carbon footprint

Corporate emissions such as business travel, external services and office emissions are often underestimated despite having a considerable impact on the carbon footprint of technology companies.

The good news: There are many low-hanging fruits to quickly reduce your corporate carbon

footprint, such as:

• Switching to a renewable energy provider;

• Using smart meters to lower heat-based emissions;

• Avoid unnecessary business trips and replace them with online meetings;

• Use the train for necessary business trips and corporate events;

• Switch to green(er) suppliers and encourage your suppliers also to analyse and reduce their own carbon footprint.

Microsoft, for example, released a detailed code of conduct that requires all suppliers to disclose their carbon emissions. The tech company wants to continuously reduce not only its own carbon footprint but also that of other players in the industry.

Join green initiatives

In the tech industry, many great initiatives evolved over the years that help companies take effective climate action and motivate others to join them in their mission.

Members of the UN Playing for the Planet Alliance, including Sony Interactive Entertainment, Microsoft, Twitch and GameDuell, already make voluntary, time-based commitments for people and the planet. This includes integrating green activations in games, reducing carbon emissions and supporting various green initiatives such as planting trees or reducing plastic in their products.

Another recent and relevant example is the Green Software Foundation, founded by a group of companies including Microsoft and Accenture, to build a reliable ecosystem of people, standards, tools and best practices for green software development.

As you can see, emissions are generated in all sorts of areas in tech companies. However, many of them can already be mitigated through relatively quick and easy measures. Many tech companies, including Google, Microsoft or Personio, are already heavily involved in sustainability initiatives and have already taken several of the aforementioned steps.

Are you ready to bring your company on the net-zero path? Planetly can support you on this journey, helping you introduce and automate your carbon management.

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