Editor’s Question: How can companies genuinely reduce their CO2 emissions?

Editor’s Question: How can companies genuinely reduce their CO2 emissions?

Sustainability and reaching net zero are a focus for many businesses today but how can companies genuinely reduce their emissions? Four experts give their views on the topic, starting below with comments from Sarwar Khan, Global Head of Digital Sustainability, Business, BT. 

Sustainability is now on the boardroom agenda for most businesses as they look to lower their own carbon footprint and showcase their commitment towards reaching net zero to their customers. However, to guarantee a more sustainable future and genuinely reduce CO2 emissions, companies must work collaboratively, hold each other accountable and have a clear action plan. If they don’t, they risk falling way short.  

The first step in reducing CO2 emissions is to measure and identify the carbon hotspots across the organisation.  

The second is to reduce scope 3 emissions, those that aren’t produced by a company itself, but are still a major contributor to a business’ output. To reduce these, business leaders must monitor their supply chain activities closely. They could integrate circular economy principles into product and design or make informed transportation decisions. This should include selecting low carbon infrastructure. For example, upgrading legacy networks and systems to the latest technologies such as 5G and full-fibre broadband, which are also powered by 100% renewable electricity, can help to lower an organisation’s scope 3 emissions. This will also have the added benefit of streamlining business activity and freeing up valuable employee time. It’s a win-win in more ways than one. 

Finally, it’s important to make things smarter to make them greener. By using low carbon infrastructure to securely connect an organisation’s assets such as buildings, fleet and energy systems to the cloud. Augmented by IoT, they can benefit from leveraging AI to optimise these and drive down scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions.  

All the above requires an ecosystem play. No one organisation can unlock decarbonisation at scale alone. That includes the channel made up of partners, system integrators, technology solution providers and decarbonisation experts.  

Lowering emissions is a collective effort and working with suppliers, manufacturers and customers is crucial. While it’s not realistic to completely eliminate CO2 emissions from the supply chain, actions such as setting benchmarks, regular reporting and working with suppliers who have a similar sustainability ethos can help to propel change. 

As with other business priorities, communication is vital. Companies must communicate clearly with investors, employees and customers on sustainability benchmarks as well as flagging any problems or concerns as soon as possible.  

Clear benchmarks allow for transparency and hold all players in a business accountable. They also help businesses to break down targets into smaller, more achievable goals, ensuring momentum doesn’t drop and a culture of sustainability is fostered.

Anjali Byce, Group Chief Human Resources Officer, STL:

In light of escalating global temperatures and the undeniable impacts of climate change, it is imperative for businesses to take decisive action. To mitigate the most severe consequences of climate change, it is essential to halve CO2 emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2050. 

Globally, businesses have largely risen to this challenge with vigour. The commitment to reach net zero by 2050 has surged from a mere 16% of the global economy in 2019, to over 70% at present. However, while the world sets its sights on mid-century targets, STL has ambitiously set a 2030 target for net zero, showcasing our dedication to leading the charge against climate change. 

Technology firms, given their expansive influence, societal integration and rapid access to innovation, are uniquely positioned to spearhead this mission. The role of the telecom industry in this area should not be understated – by enhancing operational efficiency, fostering sustainable supplier relationships and integrating eco-friendly logistics, telcos can set benchmarks for emission reductions throughout the communication supply chain. 

STL has always been at the forefront of sustainability. From its inception, we have integrated sustainability into our core business strategy. In a region marked by diverse terrains and climatic challenges, our low carbon blueprint has safeguarded stakeholder interests while also benefitting countless individuals across the subcontinent. Our dedication to combatting climate change is underscored by our environmental objectives, which include zero waste to landfills, water positivity and the sustainable sourcing of eco-friendly and alternative materials. To actualise these goals, we have undertaken a comprehensive carbon footprint assessment encompassing all our operations in India, with plans to extend this to global operations in the forthcoming year. 

As a Zero Waste to Landfill (ZWL) manufacturer, STL adopts a holistic approach, reincorporating industrial byproducts back into the value chain. We have successfully recycled, reused and co-processed 97% of the waste generated, refining our manufacturing emissions profile and circumventing detrimental methane emissions from landfills. 

Our net zero pledge goes beyond business functions and processes – we are also committed to aiding communities in transitioning to a low carbon lifestyle. Take our Mission Green initiative, which collaborates with local communities to safeguard trees in regions like Aurangabad and Pune. With over 170,000 new trees planted to date, this has not only expanded the green canopy in these areas but also fostered sustainable livelihoods through innovative agricultural practices.

Behrad Babaee, Technology Evangelist, Aerospike:

The climate crisis is an issue that we must all confront, and businesses in particular face calls to cut back on emissions to meet net zero targets. In recent years, increasing focus has been placed on the climate impact of tech firms, and data centres in particular. 

According to Bloomberg, by 2030 the IT industry could account for 20% of the worldwide energy drain, which if not met by renewable energy sources would result in a stark increase in carbon emissions. Environmental costs, of course, are not just limited to the running of systems – equipment manufacturing is significant in its own right. In fact, technology is one of the most polluting industries in the world. While many companies are still assessing the costs of going green, those which have made the transition are finding that efficient software platforms are actually cheaper and provide better experiences as well. There’s a great opportunity for IT companies to adopt more efficient technologies and create a win-win situation for both their business and the planet.    

Until recently there was no way of measuring the amount of CO2 emissions that a software platform produces. This is now changing and perhaps the best evidence of this is that the three major cloud technology providers (AWS, Azure and GCP) are reporting the emissions produced by the consumption of their resources by individual customers. Whilst this is a step in the right direction, none of these cloud providers give businesses a way to calculate the amount of future carbon emissions they might produce, so it is challenging for IT leaders to know which business decisions to make in order to reduce those emissions. 

I published an article in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) magazine, which proposes a framework for estimating the CO2 emissions that software platforms produce over the course of a year. Using this framework, two nominally similar technologies are compared against each other, showing that the more efficient platform reduces cost by 79% and CO2 emissions by 84%. That difference is 569 metric tons of CO2 per year, the same amount of CO2 that 57 hectares of trees absorb in a year! 

A framework such as this can also be used to compare other similar technologies. Going beyond this, the IT industry might consider a universal CO2 emissions metric that measures different technologies based on CO2 emissions. Such a metric would allow IT decision-makers to incorporate environmental considerations when choosing technology components. It would also encourage technology vendors to reduce the environmental impact of their products. The results also show that when reducing environmental impact, you can also reduce costs – we don’t necessarily have to choose between one or the other. We can satisfy our budgets and our consciences at the same time.

Lowellyne James, CEO, SDG Assessment:

Companies face a sustainability/CSR dilemma of planet or profit. Our research indicates this can be resolved by organisation-wide adoption of greenhouse gas emission reduction expressed in carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) as a key performance indicator (KPI) to understand growth and environmental impact in the following ways:

Pursuit of policies to reduce energy consumption and therefore carbon emissions can contribute economic benefits which are equivalent to a 5% increase in sales.

The market segregation of products by using a ‘carbon label’ that indicates to consumers the carbon intensity of a product. This strategy can lead the way for sustainable innovation in products/services by measuring and reducing the carbon intensity during the product/service life cycle.

An environmental impact indicator for large companies can also be reasonably extended to measure the impacts of international trade, individual establishments, small businesses and planning applications.

A value indicatorfor decision-makers, customers and investors to discriminate in favour of low carbon products and services when making purchasing decisions. This fact is made evident by the emergence of share market indices e.g. FTSE Global Climate Index Series, FTSE TPI Climate Transition Index Series, which highlights the carbon risks of publicly listed companies which shows increasing investor incorporation of risk arising from unabated greenhouse gas

Reduced risk to businesses arising from greenhouse gas emissions induced climate change such as risks arising mainly from regulatory, supply chain, product and technology, litigation, reputation and physical factors.

Carbon emissions and climate change impacts are ultimate threat multipliers. A good place to start is by completing a baseline measurement using a digital tool such as the SDG Assessment mobile and web-based platform. SDG Assessment is designed to help organisations understand impacts and report on sustainability, environmental, social governance (ESG) performance aligned to achieving United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and Sustainable Development Performance Indicators (SDPI). SDG Assessment user journey is underpinned by the research based five-step approach outlined in the Sustainable Strategic Growth Model:

Learn about environmental aspects, carbon footprint reporting, SDG/ESG risks and opportunities

Develop sustainability initiatives and measure carbon footprint

Implement sustainability and carbon footprint reduction initiatives

Optimise andpursue continuous improvement – creating ideas for new initiatives

Sustain initiatives by annual sustainability/carbon footprint reporting and reward commitment to sustainable behaviours

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