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Earth Day 2023 – Investing in the World’s Future

Just a few weeks ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a study revealing that the earth’s temperature is already 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels and is likely to breach 1.5°C in the 2030s. Their message was loud and clear: act now, or it will be too late. Earth Day is a great reminder of this, just as it may have started to slip out of people’s minds.

Advice on how individuals can help limit climate change is readily available, but how do businesses make sure they are operating in the most environmentally friendly way? I’ve asked fellow industry leaders for their thoughts on how we can all play our part to do right by the planet.

A looming crisis requires hard truths

Rather than burying our heads in the sand, it’s key to acknowledge that “our technology-orientated world is energy-hungry, with the networks and devices that we take for granted in our daily lives consuming large amounts of power”, according to Terry Storrar, Managing Director at Leaseweb UK. “Although not as visible or tangible as other environmental matters, it is critical for the IT industry to find sustainable ways to manage power demands and achieve net zero goals”.

“Data centres are currently responsible for approximately 1% of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions”, adds Eric Bassier, Senior Director of Products at Quantum.“This is significant when you consider the aviation industry is responsible for 1.9%. With more than double the amount of data due to be created in the next five years than was in the previous ten, it is positive to see an increase in organisations with ESG targets for their data storage solutions”.

However, acknowledging these truths can lead to meaningful actions. Storrar suggests that: “ESG goals are also one of the many reasons behind the rapid adoption of cloud technologies. Not only does this technology offer energy-efficient alternatives to traditional on-premise equipment, but cloud services offer versatility, agility, and cost effectiveness. One study found that the energy footprint of moving applications to the cloud could be reduced by nearly 90%. Although there is still a long, complex path ahead, cloud is enabling a complete rethink of IT infrastructure design and the power requirements behind these that will make a measurable difference”.

Investing in good decisions

Whilst this is optimistic, it would be unrealistic to suggest that making major changes to our infrastructure and ways of living will be affordable, especially in the short-term. “This is particularly the case for transportation, where journeys are affected by economic concerns, such as demand, cost and maintenance”, says Krishna Desai, Senior Global Marketing Manager at Cubic Transportation Systems.

However, there might be cause for optimism – Desai points out that “the UK Government has already promised major investments and recently pulled together a Green Day Agenda, arguably highlighting long overdue acknowledgement that transport is due a major rethink”.

To ensure that the public are encouraged to make sustainable decisions, she adds that “top of the priority list should be making public transport more accessible and easy to use. A recent report from the TUC argues that radical investment in public transport would help cut car use by 20%, unlock a £50bn annual boost to the economy, and generate 140,000 direct jobs in public transport”.

Equally, there are other areas in the public sector that can improve. Chris Hornung, Managing Director of Public Sector at Totalmobile, suggests that whilst “in 2023, ESG goals frequently top the list of business priorities, the government’s new green initiatives and aims specifically for the sector have driven even more interest. For example, recently, the government announced a new “greenprint” to encourage decarbonisation across numerous public sites like hospitals, schools, and leisure centres”.

Whilst this is optimistic, Hornung admits that “if we want to achieve these ambitious targets, we cannot keep relying on outdated procedures and legacy technology” to meet ESG goals. Instead, “Earth Day is a great time to set big targets that will save our planet. However, that’s only half the battle. Today, I would like to encourage organisations to think outside the box about what needs to change in their day-to-day operations to achieve both their and the government’s ESG goals”.

However, attention must also be paid to other sectors.. “Whilst agriculture is a victim of climate change, it is also a cause; one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions come from agricultural practices”, acknowledges Dmytro Lennyi, Delivery Director at Intellias. “To achieve a carbon footprint reduction and ensure continued prosperity, farmers have needed to adopt the newest technologies, especially as the growing demand for food is shaping the future of agriculture”.

Instead, Lennyi predicts that ‘smart farming’ might be the answer – “Almost any smart farming technology, from precision agriculture and livestock farming to smart greenhouse automation, is based on the use of IoT devices. IoT devices can be installed throughout the farm, in vehicles and machinery, so that data can be collected continuously, helping farmers keep key parameters and metrics under control and react proactively once particular risks are identified”.

Good for the planet, good for business

It’s easy to wonder if customers even care about how sustainable a business is. Yet, as Rob Shaw, SVP for Global Sales at Fluent Commerce observes, even in difficult economic conditions, “65% of customers still prioritise sustainability when shopping”. Therefore, “businesses must find a way to provide convenient and fast shopping experiences whilst keeping costs low – and achieve that in a sustainable way”.

He points out that: “Offering sustainable shopping and delivery options can make a huge difference to the reputation of a brand, whilst having a minimal impact on business processes. This will result in huge financial gains in the current economic climate, where brands must find a way to differentiate themselves”.

More education is needed

Whilst investment should be encouraged, meaningful change cannot come to fruition without a culture shift. Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek, Chief Sustainability Officer at Skillsoft, recommends that “digital learning is key to raising awareness about climate change and equipping workforces with the skills needed to be “greener” in their operations”.

She adds that “business leaders should ensure that employees can continually build upon sustainability skills throughout their careers through the latest training programmes and ever-evolving learning technology. Doing so creates an effective — and sustainable — workforce designed to keep up with new green-related roles”.

”More and more organisations are ‘investing in our planet’ by building and prioritising a learning culture that includes skilling, upskilling, and reskilling for sustainability. Because, the truth is, the green economy cannot happen without green talent.”

Action that works for your business

Whilst it’s clear that changes need to be made, this doesn’t mean that actions will always be obvious or easy. My recommendation is to do what’s right for your business – for example, during times when it is necessary to be in the office or travel to different locations, we at Aqilla encourage the use of public transport. In fact, in the last 12 months, our use of personal cars has accounted for less than 1,000 miles and represented a mere 0.041% of our total cost base. Earth Day offers a chance to support and inspire each other and consider what switches we could all make to protect this planet that we call home. Do that, and we’ll enjoy it for much longer.