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.
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.
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.
*** 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.
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.