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  • Writer's pictureBeckie Crum

The 5 biggest sustainability challenges in Tech

Wind turbines across a green rolling landscape against a bright cloud-strewn sky

It’s not like we didn’t know about the world’s climate issues but entering the ‘era of global boiling’ wasn’t on any of our bingo cards for 2023. It’s now up to all of us – individuals, businesses, governments – to get serious about climate change or face disastrous consequences.

So let’s start by looking at something close to our hearts: the Tech industry. Tech empowers our lives, our work, and our clients. It’s one of the most powerful weapons we have as we strive towards net zero. The downside is that digital technology uses 8-10% of the EU’s energy consumption and accounts for 3% of global emissions. That might sound lower than you imagined, but the numbers are huge and the trajectory is sharply up.

Here are the five main challenges for Tech as it looks to become a greener, more sustainable industry:

1. Energy consumption: making electronic devices, powering data centres and running digital services guzzles vast amounts of energy. Increasing demand for cloud computing and AI is only adding to the pressure. Tech companies need to transition to renewable energy sources, implement energy-efficient technologies, and optimise data centres to reduce their overall carbon emissions.

2. Electronic waste management: the world currently produces 50 million tonnes of electronic waste every year and only 20% of it is recycled. Some of the world’s poorest countries contain mountains of old, broken, toxic e-waste, exported there by wealthier nations. This situation must change. The Tech industry must design products that are easier to recycle, promote take-back programmes and invest in responsible e-waste management and recycling facilities.

3. Supply chain sustainability: most consumer electronics contain tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. These are considered ‘conflict minerals’ because there is a high possibility they originate in a country like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where armed groups exploit the workforce and use the profits to fund conflict. Tech products contain many different raw materials and go through complex production processes, so making the supply chain transparent and sustainable is a huge challenge.

4. Emission-intensive production processes: Manufacturing our electronic devices, particularly smartphones and computers, involves complex processes, high energy consumption and hazardous chemicals. In turn this contributes to air pollution, water contamination, and depletion of natural resources. Tech companies need to invest in sustainable production techniques, reduce the use of harmful substances, and give products longer lifespans.

5. Accurately calculating carbon footprints: in a 2021 survey respondents across nine industries including Tech estimated a whopping 30% to 40% average error rate in their emissions measurements. 91% of companies were failing to measure the full scope of their emissions. By employing new technologies like AI, machine learning and blockchain businesses can get a far more realistic view of their carbon footprint.

It's a big to-do list and there are lots of circles to be squared, but we remain optimistic. Many Tech businesses already have sustainability right at the top of the agenda, and if there’s one thing the industry loves it’s problem-solving. It’s going to take innovation, collaboration and a lot of hard work but the Tech industry really can lead the way towards a greener and more sustainable world.

If you’d like to talk to us about how to get your sustainability message across to consumers, suppliers and stakeholders, get in touch today.

Featured image by Appolinary Kalashnikova on Unsplash

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