Green Tech Matters – reducing your digital carbon footprint

We caught up with one of our recent GreenTech South West speakers ahead of the event: Liam Snelling, Co-Founder and MD at Digital Detox. His talk revolved around “How to talk to your clients about their digital carbon footprint”.

What inspired the business to focus on sustainability and helping clients to be greener?

Liam Snelling: We’re quite an eco-friendly bunch, to be honest. Climate change is a concern for everyone outside of work so it seemed natural to look at ways to use our digital skills for the cause in our 9 to 5. We quickly worked out that our biggest impact would be with our clients so we started talking to them about the impact of businesses in general and the decade of action we find ourselves in. Once we started scratching the surface, we discovered a whole range of amazing organisations, initiatives and ideas that we could take forward. It soon became our vision for the company – to be a humanity-led organisation solving problems facing people and the planet with technology. And we’re very happy to be on this path.

What is a digital carbon footprint and could you share a few pointers that may help businesses to self-assess if they could operate greener by improving their current setup?

Liam Snelling: This quote from Mike Berners-Lee best sums it up for me

“When you are typing, your computer or phone is using electricity,
when you press send it goes through the network, and it takes electricity to run the network. And it’s going to end up being stored on the cloud somewhere, and those data centres use a lot of electricity. We don’t think about it because we can’t see the smoke coming out of our computers, but the carbon footprint of IT is huge and growing.”

And as the human race becomes increasingly reliant on digital technology in their day-to-day lives, the footprint is only going to get bigger over the coming years. At precisely the time we need to reduce it.

As a business, we are all reliant on IT in one way or another. How reliant depends on the nature of the organisation, what their core activities are and how far they are through any digital transformation.

As a starter, I would recommend making a list of all your digital products and services and the architecture and components that bring them all together. Both externally for your clients and internally for your teams. Do you need all these systems and applications or could you reduce and streamline your digital services? Those that you are left with can be assessed for their size and page weight to calculate the footprint.

Where and how you store your data is also important and again, hosting checks such as cloud vs on-premise and utilisation can help to see if you’re using more energy than is required.

The final thing to consider, and probably the most important, is your customer. Are you providing more sustainable options to your clients or at least making them aware of the footprint of your products and services? Organisations like Decathlon provide an eco-rating on some of their clothing products to help the customers with their choices. This to me is what we should all be aiming for.

Do you think businesses are taking their digital carbon footprint more seriously and if so, what do you think is behind that trend?

Liam Snelling: Because there aren’t many tech organisations out there talking about this with their users, there is a lack of understanding of the impact of things like infinite scroll and unlimited notifications. Most tech platforms encourage and are dependent on huge amounts of digital interactions. But these interactions, when added together, have a footprint that will result in huge GHG emissions.

But in the last 12-18 months, there has been a surge in awareness of climate change as people are becoming aware of the dangers we are facing thanks to the IPCC report and organisations such as Extinction Rebellion. Every component of our lives is being reviewed for its footprint and that includes businesses. People are waking up to the fact that the organisations they work for have an impact and that includes digital. Because digital has a bigger footprint than the aviation industry and it’s growing fast.

Can you talk us through the biggest turnaround you’ve seen from one of your clients in their reduction of digital carbon footprint?

Liam Snelling: I think its always the awareness that hits home the hardest. People who are working in digital day-to-day are starting to understand the impact of their design and technology decisions on GHG emissions. This is a great way to empower your teams and help them help your organisation take action.

Our most recent client took all of our recommendations on board and has committed to setting up a sustainability committee within their technology department. The committee will oversee the implementation of the recommendations and track both the carbon and cost savings by doing this. This will provide an exemplar for other departments to follow suit for this global organisation. On a more tangible level, we identified savings of almost 79,000kgs of CO2e through optimisation of their data services.

Thank you Liam for the chat.

Liam took the virtual stage at our Green Tech SW meetup on Weds July 1st at 12.30 pm. Liam talked through a 5 step process to create awareness, facilitate conversations and ultimately help your clients make inroads into understanding and reducing their digital carbon footprints.

Head over to the meetup page to find out more.

About GreenTech South West:
We’re here to provide you with expert insight and thought-provoking discussions on how technology can improve our physical environment and battle the massive, urgent issue of climate change. We are a community/people-focused group with an open and inclusive ethos. We run regular meet-ups, both physical and virtual, with a range of lightning presentations, round-room debates and panel discussions from those working or researching green technology.
Sponsored by ADLIB and supported by Future Economy Network and Climate Action Tech.

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Head Of Tech (Permanent)

CTO/Leads, Developers, GreenTech

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Mike Harley