Actionable steps

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There are two potential approaches, depending on the priority and budget for carbon reduction in an organisation:

If a Tech team has no dedicated resource

The Tech team can take a pragmatic approach: focus on cost, energy consumption and waste, and choose initiatives where they can see a potential to make a difference. The checklist of sources has been compiled using information from the Shift project and DEFRA’s guide for businesses[1], with suggestions for potential reductions from Tech contacts:


Production:

The principle for all equipment is to extend its life – the simplest way to save carbon. For example: 90% of the footprint of a mobile phone is in its manufacture*

Source of carbon: Contribution to total carbon*: Potential reductions:
Computers 17%
  • Introduce a slower refresh cycle. Set a goal for lifetimes to be as long as possible, and purchases & disposals to meet environmental good practice.
  • Buy from manufacturers with re-use, recycling or maintenance built-in, e.g. Apple, Dell,[2] Microsoft.[3]
  • Upgrade and repair desktops/laptops where possible
  • Introduce a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy[4]
  • Offer a choice of desktop, laptop, tablet – not all three
  • Use of cloud applications and streaming
  • Check specifications for power consumption
Smartphones 11%
  • Introduce a slower refresh cycle and environmental good practice goals, as for computers (above). Potentially the area where carbon footprint can be reduced fastest.
  • Explore manufacturers with a recycling offer, e.g. Apple, Fairphone
  • Repair phones where possible. Ifixit publish repair information for most handsets.[5]
  • Introduce a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy
  • Check specifications for power consumption
TVs, screens 11% (TVs, not computers)
  • Check specifications for power consumption
  • Install with automated power-down when not in use
Other 6%
  • Printers: Check specifications for inks, toners and power consumption. (Check that low-priced printers are not a false economy, with expensive ink.)
  • Move to shared, more durable equipment. Many organisations have already moved to fewer printers, on cost grounds.


Use:

Three-quarters of a typical footprint is at work; one quarter, at home*

Source of carbon: Contribution to total carbon*: Potential reductions:
All devices 20%
  • All devices: Apply advice aimed at consumers to business use too, e.g. reduce resolution when streaming
  • Turn devices off when not in use! Automated power-downs on devices in offices can save 2/3 of their energy (16 hrs per day)
  • Phones: Reduce default resolution when taking photos
  • Printers: Introduce Follow-me printing
  • Investigate recycling via suppliers or to charities.
Data centres 19%
  • Move on-site data centres to the cloud to benefit from higher shared hardware utilisation, purpose-built carbon neutral and renewable energy buildings, and expert management
  • Check suppliers’ sustainability credentials, e.g. using renewable electricity supplies, and hardware renewal policies (minimising replacements)
  • Apply disciplined management of data, with a formal Data Retention/Disposal policy and regular audits to delete out of date or duplicate data, e.g.:
    • Ensuring old customer data can be selected and deleted to comply with GDPR
    • Using collaboration software to share links rather than complete documents (e.g. in Microsoft Teams)
    • Saving essential documents in structured storage such as Document Management systems
    • Deleting mailboxes/folders when users leave
  • Encourage users to avoid excessive emails: copying large numbers of people or including numerous attachments. By saving colleagues’ time, they’ll also reduce carbon impact.[6]
  • Archive information where possible, rather than having everything available instantly (e.g. using facilities offered by email providers, Microsoft etc.).

Regularly unsubscribe from 'junk' emails.

Networks 16%
  • Encourage users to reduce network load by taking the actions above, e.g. lower streaming resolution, fewer/smaller attachments, fewer people copied.
  • Use an efficient connection method: wired or wifi, in preference to 4G/5G mobile connections. (Limited data bundles give an idea of what’s resource-hungry, although these are becoming less common.)

* Estimates from Shift project, 2018


Some specific tools calculate the impact of part of the Tech estate (these are just examples):

Area assessed: Tool: What it does:
Cloud services Microsoft calculator:

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/sustainability/sustainability-guide/sustainability-calculator

Estimates carbon footprint for the use of Microsoft Azure (Cloud) and Dynamics (business software).
Servers, Desktops, Laptops, Screens Dell:

https://corporate.delltechnologies.com/en-gb/social-impact/advancing-sustainability/sustainable-products-and-services/product-carbon-footprints.htm

Estimates carbon footprint for a variety of Dell devices.
Website Wholegrain digital:

https://www.websitecarbon.com/

A quick snapshot of how carbon-hungry a named website is. Limited to the home page and cannot access subscriber services, but a good conversation starter.


Offsetting tools:

Long term, it will be more sustainable to avoid carbon use rather than offset it but supporting green initiatives which remove CO2 from the atmosphere can still be a valuable contribution. These sites are examples:

Service offered: Organisation: What it does:
Search engine https://www.ecosia.org/ Plants trees.
Website hosting https://www.greengeeks.com/ Buys green energy - RECs (Renewable Energy Certificates) - from Bonneville Environmental Foundation, equivalent to 3x its own energy use.
General offsetting https://www.carbonfootprint.com/carbonoffset.html Plants trees and supports other climate action projects.
General offsetting https://ecologi.com/business Plants trees and supports other climate action projects.

If a Tech team has a budget for specialist advice:

The increasing interest in carbon footprints, combined with existing or anticipated requirements from governments and investors, has created a large and confused array of organisations providing measurement, accreditation and advice. The list below gives just a handful; any procurement will need a thorough brief like any other specialist service. Various contacts have mentioned these organisations; the notes below attempt to summarise their offer, based on an initial reading of their websites. Apologies for inaccuracies/omissions:


Organisation: Customers/members: Services:
BITC Business in the Community: https://www.bitc.org.uk/ Responsible businesses in the UK. Membership organisation & consultancy.

https://www.bitc.org.uk/list-of-business-in-the-community-members/

Responsible Business Tracker: a broad assessment provides benchmarking and best practice against the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (not just carbon).

https://www.bitc.org.uk/the-responsible-business-tracker/

Carbon Footprint:

https://www.carbonfootprint.com/companiescalc.html

SMEs to Global brands; public and private sector. UK-based. https://www.carbonfootprint.com/clients.html Free online carbon calculators for consumers and small businesses. Based on general parameters not specific to tech.

Paid-for carbon calculators and advice for larger enterprises. Updated to include home-working impact.

Carbon Trust https://www.carbontrust.com/ Regional governments and Corporates, possibly more large organisations than SMEs. Set up by the UK government but now international.

https://www.carbontrust.com/news-and-events/news/winners-of-the-2019-carbon-trust-assurance-awards-announced

Authority advising governments on definitions etc. For companies, it offers footprint measurement and analysis based on its Climate Leadership Framework.

https://www.carbontrust.com/what-we-do/strategy-and-advice/climate-leadership-framework

CDP:

https://www.cdp.net/en

Large companies;

city governments. UK-based. https://www.cdp.net/en/companies/companies-scores

Guardian of internationally recognised assessment tools. Manages annual assessments using standard questionnaires: Water and Forests, alongside Carbon.
PlanA.Earth:

https://plana.earth/

Companies who want to reduce their environmental footprint.

Based in Germany.

Plan A Carbon Manager: a digital platform for companies to measure and reduce their environmental impact, offset their emissions, and engage their employees.
SDIA Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance: https://sdialliance.org/ IT, digital services, telecoms and energy companies interested in collaborating on energy efficiency.

Members’ organisation, based in Germany.

Forum for digital infrastructure providers to agree on metrics to help reduce their footprint, starting with data centres: energy demand, building design and cooling systems.
SME Climate Hub: https://smeclimatehub.org/ Small & Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) ready to commit to halving their emissions before 2030 and aiming for net-zero by 2050 Free access to resources: interactive tools, guides, case studies, etc.

https://smeclimatehub.org/tools/

PlanetMark:

https://www.planetmark.com/

Businesses ready to commit to measuring their carbon and reducing by 2.5% each year.

Members’ organisation, UK-based. Works with BITC and the Royal Warrant Holders Association to help their members https://www.planetmark.com/members

Paid-for certification of organisations, buildings and products, with advice on measuring and reducing carbon; engaging staff and customers.

https://www.planetmark.com/certification/what-we-do/business-certification

  1. DEFRA, Sustainability in ICT: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sustainability-in-information-and-communication-technology-ict-a-defra-guide
  2. Dell, recycling offer: https://corporate.delltechnologies.com/en-gb/social-impact//advancing-sustainability/how-to-recycle.htm#/cdt/home
  3. Microsoft Surface, Eco-profiles: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=55974
  4. Explanation of BYOD: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bring_your_own_device
  5. Ifixit, repair guides: https://www.ifixit.com/
  6. BBC article, Climate Change: Can sending fewer emails really save the planet? https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-55002423