Earth Day 2019, which falls on April 22, has gotten less fanfare compared to last year, when most major tech companies released a sort of statement or sustainability plan concerning their efforts to go green. Many tech companies seem to be resting on their laurels, but activists say we are still in a dire situation.
The rise in accessibility of smartphones has increased power demands for many companies, forcing some, like Amazon, to go back on environmental pledges in an effort to power data centers that store the millions of photos, chats, and videos we send every day.
SEE: Green tech initiatives: Best practices and breakthroughs (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
This year, Greenpeace said IT centers now account for more than 7% of the world’s electricity usage and that number continues to rise by the day.
“That’s why we need data centers and other digital infrastructure to become 100% renewably powered,” Greenpeace writes on its website. “By doing so, our increasing reliance on the internet can actually accelerate our transition to a renewably powered economy.”
Amazon was recently taken to task by Greenpeace in a report on its data centers in Virginia. Greenpeace found that Amazon had reneged on its pledge to power its data centers with 100% renewable energy. In Virginia, Amazon Web Services is one of the largest electricity customers in the state, according to Greenpeace, and only 12% of that comes from renewable energy.
Apple and other tech companies have gone to great lengths to project an awareness of the environmental impact of their business models. Unfortunately, most of these companies are still reliant on a business model that requires consumers to buy new gadgets every year, creating tons of ecowaste.
Some companies have been at the forefront of addressing this issue, while others have lagged behind. Here are the five greenest tech giants, as ranked by Greenpeace, other environmental advocacy groups, and news outlets.
Apple largely held firm on its pledges to power its data centers with 100% renewable energy and clean up its supply chain, which has historically been rife with sustainability issues as well as human rights concerns. Apple announced last week that it had doubled the number of suppliers the company has convinced to use 100% clean energy to 44.
In its 13th annual Supplier Responsibility Report released in March 2019, Apple touted its efforts to reduce waste with its Zero Waste to Landfill initiative. Apple says all of its final assembly sites for its devices–including iPhones, iPads, Macs, Apple Watches, AirPods, and HomePods–are now certified Zero Waste to Landfill, which the company says conserves billions of gallons of water and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
“Apple’s clean water program expanded to 116 suppliers, resulting in 7.6 billion gallons of water saved in 2018–one gallon for every person on the planet,” the company says in the report. “The company also worked with suppliers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 466,000 annualized metric tons, which is equivalent to taking 100,000 cars off the road for one year.”
SEE: IT Data Center Green Energy Policy (Tech Pro Research)
2. Alphabet (Google)
Alphabet, the parent company of Google, received its number 1 ranking in As You Sow’s 2019 Q1 Carbon Clean 200 list. The environmental nonprofit ranks publicly-traded companies “that are leading the way with solutions for the transition to a clean energy future.”
As You Sow notes that Google’s association with fossil fuel companies is a concern, but say that in comparison to other companies, Alphabet has spent billions of dollars to achieve its renewable energy target.
“From a carbon emissions perspective, Google’s decision to go 100 percent renewable as compared to a business-as-usual scenario, removes five million tonnes of carbon emissions from the atmosphere every year,” they wrote in their ranking.
“That is no small beans. It is equivalent to taking one million cars off the road or shutting down a quarter of Suncor’s operations, one of the largest oil sands companies in the world.
HP boasted an impressive list of accomplishments this past year, including beating some of its own goals way ahead of time. In March 2019, the company said it had reached “100 percent zero deforestation with HP-branded paper two years ahead of schedule” and added that it was set to achieve “zero deforestation of paper-based packaging by 2020.” HP is one of the first companies to have its GHG emissions reduction targets approved by the Science Based Targets initiative and was one of only seven companies to earn a spot on the latest CDP Climate A List, Water A List, and Supplier Engagement leader board last year.
HP reduced its carbon footprint and energy consumption by 33%, and worked to ensure that 30% of the plastic used in its printers is closed-loop and post-consumer plastic, meaning one third of the plastic the company used has been repurposed from something else. For the future, HP has vowed to make sure “every page printed with HP will support a forest-positive future, carbon neutrality, and materials designed to reduce the impact to the planet.”
“We are redefining the power of print to create a positive, lasting change for the planet, its people, and our communities,” Enrique Lores, President of HP Inc.’s Imaging & Printing business, said in March 2019. “HP’s commitment to sustainability guides how we do business and drives the way our printers are designed, made, and used.”
HP has got a ton of other ambitious goals. HP admitted in its 2018 report that the company’s acquisition of Samsung’s printer business will increase its carbon footprint, but HP is taking steps to mitigate the damage.
Microsoft’s latest initiatives have caught the attention of those watching the sustainability of tech companies. Microsoft announced last week that it is in the process of building a number of new facilities, and the company has already committed to using 100% carbon-free electricity in those buildings.
Microsoft’s biggest achievement is what the company has done with its data centers. By the end of the year, 60% of Microsoft’s data centers will run on renewable energy, and the company wants to reach 70% by 2023. It has also done a lot of work with environmentally-focused companies, helping them streamline their initiatives using Microsoft technology.
SEE: Photos: The 20 greenest data centers in the world (TechRepublic)
Environmental activists were somewhat underwhelmed by Microsoft’s goals for reducing its carbon footprint by 75% before 2030.
Microsoft has an internal “carbon fee” that the company uses to force its financial departments to be more eco-conscious, charging $15 per metric ton on all carbon emissions. According to the UN, Microsoft uses the money from these fees to invest in other environmentally-friendly companies.” Each quarter, Microsoft tracks and analyzes its energy use from data centers, offices, labs and manufacturing, as well as emissions associated with business air travel. Those kilowatt-hours and miles and class of air travel are then converted into tonnes of carbon,” the UN wrote on its Climate Change website. “Microsoft offsets those emissions by investing in projects that reduce carbon emissions, recycle e-waste, generate green power, make buildings more efficient, and offset emissions through community projects around the world. Each business unit contributes a proportional amount to the carbon fund based on their emissions and this year’s carbon price.”
Dell has been well-known for going against the grain with its products, attempting to make them last longer, despite the financial incentives inherent in creating devices that die quickly and need to be replaced.
In Dell’s 2018 Sustainability report, the company provided a detailed list of its goals and how far along it is in achieving them. Dell aims to reduce its global absolute greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40% and are about three-quarters of the way there. Dell hopes to reach a point where 50% of the energy the company uses comes from renewable sources, but it has only been able to make it halfway there.
Dell managed to fully reach its goal of ensuring that 90% of its waste is diverted from landfills and are close to succeeding in its plan to use sustainably sourced or recyclable material in its packaging.