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Welcome to your tech carbon impact wiki.

Whether you work for a technology firm, in a technology department or as the sole tech role in a small organisation, we are keen to address our industry’s growing carbon impact.

This wiki, hosted by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is intended as a shared platform, where we can learn and collaborate together.

Please use this wiki, share it and contribute so we can grow in knowledge and confidence together.


How to use this wiki

Because we want this to be a shared space for learning and discussion, we encourage you to contribute to it.

In order to make edits, please set up an account with MediaWiki.

If you do not have an account on this wiki and don't want to become a contributor, you can still browse this site and follow the links.

And of course, we hope that you will find the information a useful discussion - and ultimately - action starter.


Introduction to the wiki content

This information aims to provide a starting point for Tech teams in small/medium-sized UK organisations to reduce the carbon footprint of their services. The guide now in the form of a wiki assumes interest, but no specialist knowledge, in sustainability issues and carbon reduction.

'Tech' refers to IT and Digital services provided for an organisation’s teams and stakeholders (customers/service users, suppliers, general public), where that is not the organisation’s primary business.

'Carbon' refers to all greenhouse gases (GHGs), of which carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main one. Other gases, such as methane, are converted into a CO2 equivalent for footprint calculations.


RIBA: our journey in tackling the tech carbon impact

In 2019, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) launched its 2030 Climate Challenge, setting a series of targets for Chartered Practices to adopt, to reduce operational energy, embodied carbon and potable water use.


But what about the staff at the RIBA? What about our Technology department?

In Febrary 2020, inspired by a report[1] she had read about, Avril Chester[2] (Chief Technology Officer at RIBA) wrote an article with Abigail MacDougall[3] (Head of Content at RIBA) for LinkedIn called 'Tech and the carbon spiral - what is right? https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/tech-carbon-spiral-what-right-avril-chester/ At the same time, Avril had been chatting with third sector journalist and digital innovator, Zoe Amar[4] about information she’d found out, relating to data storage and its growing demand on the planet’s energy use.

The LinkedIn article served as a call to action to people working in tech to gather together, share where they were on their journey of discovery and to pool ideas, resources and support.


Digital technology has a physical impact. digital technology has a lot of hidden costs to carbon emissions. "While the internet’s data is essentially invisible, it is processed and stored in massive data centres all over the world. Data centers are powered 24/7, just waiting to send information — videos, podcasts, music, news, memes, messages and everything the internet offers — to our digital devices."[5]

And the hardware also has an impact: Smartphones use 90% of their lifetime greenhouse gases in their production phase. So by the time you get it out of the box, it’s already made a big impact. If you keep your phone on average for two and a half years, keeping it for an additional year (extending it by 40% of its lifetime) makes a 25% saving in your carbon footprint.

So there are lots of reasons why we should be tackling what we can, and seeing carbon offsetting as a last resort.


In October 2020, Avril Chester and Abigail MacDougall ran a session at Digital Leaders Week to work together with peers in technology and digital teams across different sectors.

The event featured three speakers:

  • Xavier Verne,[6] a member of The Shift Project, a French carbon transitions thinktank. He’s in the Lean ICT group there, and presented some of their research findings, advising on how individuals could approach this major issue. He recommends that we shouldn’t feel innocent nor guilty, but co-responsible.
  • Jemma Waters,[7] Head of Responsible Transformation at Lloyds Banking Group. Jemma spoke about how to get company buy-in, and link sustainability to successful business transformation.
  • Dr Jacqui Taylor,[8] CEO and co-Founder of FlyingBinary. She painted a picture of the global view: In a post pandemic world, sustainability becomes the focus, with technology as the enabler.


Under the banner of agreeing priorities and getting basic measures first, the group gathered at Digital Leaders Week committed to four specific actions:[9]

  • Write into our policies that we will measure the environmental impact of our devices by March 2021
  • Measure existing carbon footprint (using electricity use as a proxy)
  • Consider an upcycling programme to extend the usage life of tech and combat digital poverty
  • Add in carbon footprint into business KPIs, and report on it alongside other regular reporting


As a result of the Digital Leaders Week session, the RIBA has been collaborating with Caroline Morgan[10] to create a 'quick guide'. This served as a starting point, with links, info and contacts to help other similar-sized technology departments to start to work out how they can tackle their carbon impact.

And now, that guide has been formed into this tech carbon impact wiki.

The wiki is made up of everything we’ve learned so far, and much additional research Caroline Morgan has done. Acknowledging that people need a starting point, our hope is that this wiki can help those working in Tech to find out more to back up the stats and to find evidence to bring to their company and departments to help create change.

Huge thanks to Caroline Morgan for putting together the quick guide which has led to this tech carbon impact wiki, the Technology department at the RIBA for setting it up and to everyone who has shared their experiences, guidance and thoughts so far.

Notes

  1. https://theshiftproject.org/en/article/lean-ict-our-new-report
  2. https://www.linkedin.com/in/avrilchester/
  3. https://www.linkedin.com/in/abigail-macdougall-02765121/
  4. https://www.linkedin.com/in/zoeamar/
  5. https://blog.mozilla.org/en/internet-culture/deep-dives/digital-carbon-footprint/
  6. https://www.linkedin.com/in/xavier-verne-3b326b9/
  7. https://www.linkedin.com/in/jemmamwaters/
  8. https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-jacqui-taylor/
  9. https://www.linkedin.com/posts/abigail-macdougall-02765121_techcarbonimpact-activity-6731664141045555200-YAUg
  10. https://www.linkedin.com/in/caroline-j-morgan/