What we will cover
Like so many people and so many businesses, Vu has been trying to come to terms with our impact on the environment. So, what can we do to reduce our impact now and in the future? With this question in mind we have decided on a relatively ambitious target. We’re aiming to become a net zero business by 2025.
I wanted to use this article to address a few things: Firstly, what is a net zero business anyway and is it easy to become one?; Secondly, why do businesses in our sector (broadly speaking ‘Digital technology’) have to take climate change action seriously?; Finally, what actions are we actually taking and how are we going to meet the target that we’ve set ourselves?
What does net zero actually mean?
We’re all pretty familiar now with the idea that our activities as human beings are causing our climate to change.
A lot of people are looking for ways to find a balance point where the amount of harmful stuff (largely CO2, but also some other things) that we release into the atmosphere is compensated for by the amount of carbon that we are able to capture and store.
This balance is called Net Zero. The amount of emissions released equals the amount captured, so the net effect on the atmosphere is zero.
Is it actually possible to achieve?
Yes, it is. Everything is possible, but that doesn’t make it easy.
Achieving net zero emissions on a global scale will require a vast transformation in the way we travel, generate energy and interact with the environment. It’ll require advanced technologies like nuclear fusion championed by Jeff Bezos, electric vehicles and efficient batteries championed by Elon Musk (although he admits that we might need nuclear fusion to power all the EVs) and clean approaches to steel manufacturing championed by Bill Gates (who also has a beef with beef). It’ll also require a huge reduction in global meat consumption, a large increase in tree planting and protections of forests. There are thousands of other small ways that we can all help and Vu are trying to do our bit.
Why not. We’ve opted for a net zero by 2025 target because it’ll be really difficult to do and we like a challenge. The climate crisis is almost certain to be the biggest global problem that any of us will face in our lifetimes. The UN calls it the defining issue of our time, so if we can find ways to move towards a solution faster then we should.
What is the environmental impact of digital technology?
Digital technology is amazing. It has transformed our lives in so many positive ways and I’m really proud to run a digital business that helps people, businesses and organisations to thrive. However, digital technology and our use of it is also causing some really big problems. For example in 2019 there were over 50 million tonnes of e-waste put into landfill worldwide. We’re throwing away phones, computers, games consoles and many more electronic devices at an alarming and seemingly ever increasing rate and this is causing a massive pollution problem.
We’re also using an ever increasing percentage of the energy that we generate to power computers. Activities like bitcoin mining make a particularly large contribution to global emissions because of this. Then there’s the production of computers, batteries and other high tech devices. This all depends on the mining of rare minerals which, depending on who you believe are either: only mined in a few countries making the supply unreliable; mined using child labour; or are only found in areas where the environment will be devastated by their extraction. Vu can’t directly do anything about this, but we can try to moderate and adapt our activities to make as little environmental impact as possible. So that’s what we’re going to do.
What steps are Vu already taking?
So far we’ve taken a few concrete steps towards our 2025 net zero target. The first is to actually measure our current emissions. We’re far too small a business to be under any legal obligation to do this. However, I was always told that you can’t manage what you can’t measure, so measurement seemed a good place to start. Working with Dr Gillian Alker, we went through an emissions assessment process and have now published a report of the findings along with our Carbon Policy. The headline number is 15.85 tonnes of CO2 currently emitted per year by Vu.
So now that we know the number that we’re trying to reduce, we’ve started to chip away at it. Firstly, we’ve moved our website hosting to providers who are certified as using 100% renewable energy to power their servers. This helps us to significantly reduce the emissions caused by simply running websites at all.
We’ve also recently signed up as a corporate sponsor for a local charity called Moor Trees, who are working to expand native woodlands around Dartmoor. Our contribution to the charity this year will help Moor Trees to grow 165 trees. These trees will eventually grow to store around 82 tonnes of CO2. Of course, by the time those trees are fully grown we’ll be long gone. It’s a start though and it’s something we can contribute to now, that will still have value for our great grandchildren.
What are the challenges to meeting our target?
There are a number of key challenges that we’re going to face in meeting this target. The cost of remeasurement is high. As a small business we are not able to fund the costly emissions assessment process on a regular basis. This makes it very difficult for us to check our progress and confirm whether we’ve successfully achieved our goal or not.
Even if we manage it, it’ll be difficult to prove that we have. I have my doubts about the accuracy of measuring an organisation’s emissions because there are so many factors that contribute, and there are plenty of others who doubt the usefulness of net zero targets in the first place, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to be ambitious.
Our current economic structures make it difficult to get away from a situation where growth is good (although lots of people are looking for an alternative to growth-centric development) and growth means more stuff, more offices, more people, more energy consumption, more travel. The target that we’ve set is idealistic and has nothing to do with making money. While that suits my way of thinking it will, of course, be a challenge to make it reality. Especially given the multitude of priorities that any small business owner has to juggle.
What do we have planned for the future?
Having analysed suppliers emissions we’re now able to understand where a change in supplier would help reduce our emissions. We’ll be considering this as a significant factor in our future decision making around suppliers.
We’re hoping to move offices which will enable us to take control of factors like insulation and energy supply. We can’t currently do much about these as we’re renting. This will have a significant impact on the day to day emissions caused by firing up computers, lights and the kettle in the office.
For reasons that baffle me, the measured emissions of a business fail to include those generated by commuting. It feels to me like the emissions caused by commuting should be partly the responsibility of businesses rather than individuals. This is particularly true where a business does not have to ask it’s employees to travel to do their work. One of the steps that I’d like to take is to assist our staff with zero carbon commuting. We could do this through: providing grants for electric vehicles; access to the cycle to work scheme; or other financial incentives. Helping staff to minimise emissions during the commute seems like a sensible step that all businesses could choose to take.
We’re always on the lookout for other steps that we can take to help us get to our 2025 target.
If you want to find out more about Moor Trees you can visit their website: www.moortrees.org
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