Happy Belated Earth Day!

As technology rapidly takes over our world, the influence and funds of the big companies continue to grow faster than we can even process. With that much power, the leaders of these companies have opportunities to tackle the biggest concerns facing our communities, such as Climate Change. After all, sustainable energy has been a hot topic when it comes to environmental issues and tech companies have a vested interest in the future of energy. Seeing Apple’s recent announcement regarding their use of 100% renewable energy, inspired me to look into the valuable involvement of tech companies in environmental efforts.

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RENEWABLE ENERGY

In 2014, a report by Greenpeace USA found that the electricity used by cloud computing adds up to what would be the world’s sixth largest country. That’s a lot of energy. Facts like these are what pushed technology companies to recognize their impact and do something about it. Several companies such as Facebook, Apple, Google, and more have vowed to power their data centers with 100% renewable energy. Tim Cook’s recent tweet confirmed Apple has met their promise and the other companies are on their way. Google has a whole page dedicated to environmental topics that provides updates on their work, projects, and progress. It really provides insight on their level of commitment to this issue. It is also a way for external parties to hold them accountable with real facts and figures. And these are just a few examples within the realm of renewable energy.

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ECONOMIC EFFECTS & CULTURE

The capacity of tech leaders for change goes beyond focusing on renewable energy within their own operations. Tech companies can also create change through the influence they have on culture and the current economy. The leaders of technology companies are some of the most highly revered individuals and their actions have such heavy influence in our society. How often do you hear about the next Steve Jobs? Its like he set a standard and now so many people want to meet it. So when tech leaders set a precedent for the use of 100% renewable energy in their companies, it can push current and future companies to work towards similar goals, thereby creating a culture where a focus on positive environmental impact should be included from the start. They have the ability to draw people to learn and care about the environment. Given the size of these companies, their large-scale investments in renewable energy could also help drive down costs to make it a more accessible option in the long run. With a continuous effect like this, renewable energy could become more prevalent sooner than we think.

FUNDING OF NEW IDEAS

Tech companies also have the opportunity to use their skills and resources to fill in the gaps that have limited governmental policy. One of the more obvious limitations of government efforts is funding. The US Department of Energy’s funding for research and development in 2016 was about $5 billion and this amount has been the same since 2011. Meanwhile, company leaders are using their own funds to create projects and research that could surpass the governmental efforts. I could not find a figure of the aggregate current funding being used but I did find that Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures Fund, which includes almost 24 top business leaders, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists including Bezos, Zuckerberg, Ma & Branson, will be investing $1 billion dollars in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Just this venture fund alone is investing about 1/5 of what our government can invest and this is only part of what they are doing. Some of the business leaders, like Jeff Bezos, have invested in other projects as well. They are investing part of their vast wealth into finding solutions for the future.

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*** Now, at this point, as I am writing this, I feel the need to clarify that this blog isn’t meant to hail these business leaders as saviors in this global issue. My intention is only to highlight that they have the ability, they have the need to care, and they are investing it in the cause. It is smart business with positive benefits for the greater society. ***

SPEED & EFFICIENCIES

That being said, another key contribution that technology can make to fill in the gaps is their speed! We are always talking about how fast technology is moving and their capacity to constantly innovate is relevant to this issue as well. Government and other small efforts can sometimes lack impact because of slow development, implementation, and growth. Great ideas could find success with the support of the proper technology. Big technology companies come in and provide the efficiencies that tackle any setbacks. They can provide technical support, brainpower, and resources. Technology companies can also help spread the news of these technologies and increase interest because they have such a broad reach with their customer bases. Making use of their global network and reach is in itself a more efficient way to spread the good ideas that will keep conserving our Earth. This is a global issue and enabling widespread conversations is important for the future. These leaders have such a big influence on the growing importance of their companies and can spark those conversations. Lastly, they can help with accountability with the use of data analytics and information processing. It makes it that much easier and quicker to track large-scale efforts and projects and their profitability.

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Overall, tech companies have so many resources and capacity to tackle even the biggest of problems. However, that doesn’t mean it will be easy for them. This is a complex problem that has been building up for years now but it’s something that needs to be addressed now, so why not use some of the best brain power, money, and resources to address it. Tech companies aren’t going to provide us a solution to this massive problem but they can serve as an enabler. There are of course risks and challenges in this endeavor as in most. But if anyone can take them on, it’s going to be the tech industry.  After all, their own future depends on it too.

sources:

https://www.techrepublic.com/article/how-tech-companies-are-propelling-the-environmental-movement/

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/01/tech-innovations-save-us-from-climate-change/

http://fortune.com/2016/12/11/bill-gates-john-doerr-venture-fund/

http://www.b-t.energy/

 

7 comments

  1. jamessenwei · ·

    Hey Jenny, nice Earth Day related post. It’s pretty crazy to think that these tech companies have the research output and resources of nations (and can spend as much energy as them too!). These companies have some of the greatest minds working for them and I definitely agree that they can do much to help solve world issues such climate change. That being said, I think there needs be a few cultural changes before this can be their focus.

    1. Most of these tech giants are publicly traded companies and have shareholders and investors to answer to. While making money and helping the environment are not mutually exclusive, a strong green initiative might be something that shareholders need to adjust to mentally.

    2. These tech companies need to discern what would have the greatest positive impact. This is pretty hard to do. Reducing the carbon emissions of your data centers is great but the bulk of emissions for the next 50 years would probably come from developing companies such as China and India. It’s great that Tim Cook kept his promise for Apple data centers but how about the emissions of Foxconn factories in China or aluminium mines. This might all be out of Tim Cooks control.

    I’m not trying to be super pessimistic, but just because you can invest millions in green tech doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the ability to solve these complicated interconnected issues.

  2. mikecarillo111 · ·

    Great post Jenny! I tend to feel like most of these blogs are either all pros or all cons about how technology and digital business are either saving the world or destroying it, but this was different. You highlighted both sides but still kept a positive light on it (snaps to you). I totally agree with @jamessenwei that it is definitely an interconnected web of different elements that would need to be conquered kind of all at once. One part that I think is always interesting with big business and investment into the environment is that people who use their products think that they support the positive change towards helping the environment, and then don’t actually do anything about it. I always believe that these companies should invest in these projects, as well as some type of education or public awareness instead of simply shooting out a tweet that they did it themselves. Still an awesome and definitely interesting post that gives me hope. Great job.

  3. katietisinger · ·

    Awesome, timely post Jenny! I wrote my blog this week about technology working towards the UN sustainability goals, and I see a lot of parallels between our posts. I think the size and power of tech companies gives them the ability, and I think responsibility, to fight for a better world. I agree with above points that it is hard to pinpoint what to tackle due to the vast issues and opportunities for change, but I think we sometimes fall into this mindset that there is simply too much to do and it’s too hard to choose, so we just won’t do anything. In addition to investing in the environment, I think companies can pinpoint ways to work for a greater good through aiming to tackle problems that relate to their area of expertise. Tech companies do have some amazing minds, and I think oftentimes their skills and talents they are developing in their job can be transferred to opportunities to help the world.

  4. mmerckbc · ·

    Interesting post, Jenny! You did a great job of highlighting the unique resources that tech companies have that can be used to combat issues of climate change. I especially like your point on the cultural impact of big companies and how they have the ability to set precedents for others in their industry. It will be interesting to see if/how other companies react to Apple’s most recent announcement. On a different note, @jamessenwei raises an important question of a business’ social responsibility. Some would say that the corporation’s sole responsibility is to the shareholder, while others would argue that all stakeholders (including the community and environment) should be considered when determining how best to deliver value. I personally don’t have an issue with companies who pursue conscious capitalism, but I know that not all share my opinion.

  5. Nice post. It’s becoming clear with the amount of energy digital technology consumes, that sustainability goes hand it hand with digital business. Many companies (Apple, Google) are realizing this fact and investing accordingly.

  6. oliverhowe14 · ·

    This was a great post. I think that it is up to the big players to set a standard for the rest of the industry. Whereas small/new companies have the ability to change on a dime, big companies are simply too large. If companies see these huge players making a concerted effort to go green, it could spur others to follow suit.

  7. HenryChenChen · ·

    Great post, I like your topic which connects the technology to environmental issues. It’s important that big companies are playing huge roles in our society and environment, so they do have the responsibility in ethical, social and environmental issue. I agree with your points of funding and efficiency. Big companies like Apple have much more capacity and capability than any organization or government. When they make a move, its really going to make a difference to our environment. The competitors might adopt the same strategy and be responsible to the environment, which is a good thing for us.

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