Is it possible to work in tech without harming the planet?
More people than ever are worried about climate change and other environmental concerns. Pew Research polls showed an average of 70% of people in 20 different countries cited it as a serious threat.
Some industries are widely blamed for their contribution to the environmental crisis. The oil industry is one of them. However, other sectors, such as technology, are only just beginning to be criticized for their role in the degradation of the planet.
With growing concerns about the future of the planet, finding ways to minimize carbon emissions and protect the environment is now a priority for many companies in various industries. The technology industry is one of the most watched sectors, especially for its extraction of raw materials and the massive consumption of energy for which it is responsible, which increases the global carbon footprint.
But with technology evolving so rapidly, can the industry still thrive without contributing to the devastating effects of climate change? There is still debate about the exact impact of technology on the environment. Here, we’ll dive deep into what can be done to minimize its impact on the planet.
Reuse and recycling should be encouraged.
Technology is advancing rapidly every year, with new software and devices constantly being developed. Most people will keep their cell phone for around two years, with five years being considered the longest possible amount of time you can keep the same phone. Unfortunately, this is devastating to the planet because most technology relies on already rare and increasingly rare minerals and elements. Digital technology is, and always has been, unsustainable for this reason.
As society grows increasingly hungry for new gadgets, this appetite for destruction can be suppressed if more industry leaders champion a circular business model. Unfortunately, many companies are currently designing products with specific components that are difficult to remove and recycle, encouraging the idea that broken devices cannot be repaired and must be replaced. This harms the environment and proves to be more costly for individual businesses that have to keep up with new technologies and short hardware lifespans.
Some industry leaders are leaning into sustainable practices and changing services and business models to be more sustainable or environmentally friendly. HP, for example, offers a free recycling program for customers’ old devices, which are then taken to an approved waste sorting and processing facility for proper recycling.
Improving the global supply chain
In our current state of globalization, the tech industry relies on an international workforce to create the necessary hardware. We have already talked about the rare minerals needed, which must come from all over the world. But when it comes to obtaining more easily accessible materials, such as plastics and base metals, there must be ways to source them more efficiently. A close look at a supply chain can highlight areas for improvement. Systems and software such as SAP ERP have traditionally focused on tracking a product from its basic components to the finished product at the point of sale to calculate profit and loss. But these software applications can increasingly detect inefficiencies in the supply chain and even help manage the idea of a circular economy.
Suppose more companies invest in hiring SAP experts for internal processes (dedicated SAP recruiters like Eursap can help). In this case, any opportunity to change strategy in favor of sustainable practices can be quickly noticed and implemented. On top of that, fostering and building a more collaborative support network can improve sustainability at all levels. While business leaders are inherently competitive, creating a sustainable supply chain relies on sharing knowledge. After all, tackling problems together yields much faster results than companies tackling them alone.
Invest heavily in smart grids
Regardless of the sustainability of the supply chain and the lifespan of the end product, the actual operation of the technology is highly dependent on energy. In 2020, 59% of the energy produced in the UK came from low carbon sources, including renewables and nuclear. Fossil fuels provided 38.5%, which is good news but could still be better. However, the way the grid works means that it is sensitive to fluctuations and requires overproduction of energy – essentially there has to be more energy in the grid than is needed.
However, smart grids can harness local energy productions, which essentially means that utilities and their customers can trade electricity, creating a “two-way data flow”. As a result, usage surges can be handled more efficiently to minimize power outages, and money can even be saved by reducing any wasted energy. Smart grids are also more hospitable to renewable energy sources, including solar, wind and hydroelectric power. If, for example, a consumer has solar panels that produce excess energy, he can sell it back to the grid. Creating this network efficiently manages power and reduces energy waste. In contrast, the increased use of renewables means fewer harmful gases are emitted, resulting in a much more sustainable energy supply.