Supporting CO2 reductions and climate change
By Gerrit Jan Konijnenberg, Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF)
For many, the aviation industry is one of the worst of the bad boys of the climate crisis – it is responsible for about 2% of all global emissions. But that is also the figure for the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. And as cloud-based services and storage increases, emissions caused by data centres will also increase.
However, the mobile ecosystem can prevent itself from becoming the new villain of the piece by exploiting its unique ability to aid other industries reduce their emissions through the development of new technologies that result in companies and consumers save energy, perhaps leading to a reduction in emissions of around 12.1 gigatonne of CO2 (GtCO2) by 2030. So, the mobile and ICT industry has the potential to become a net negative sector.
What is the mobile sector doing to reduce emissions?
Mobile operator groups representing more than 50% of mobile industry revenues (and 30% of mobile connections globally) have committed to taking accountability for their Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions and developing plans to reduce them as much as possible. This includes lowering power usage for computers (etc) and buildings, reducing data storage in energy-consuming data centres, mobile device production and disposal, and limiting travel for conferences, trade shows and meetings in general.
For example, the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF) is setting Science Based Targets (SBTs) in line with achieving net zero emissions by 2050, if not before.
As an organisation, MEF is taking action by facilitating more and more online plenary web sessions to avoid (air-) travel. Several MEF online events hosted Sustainability Sessions with C-level speakers from Accenture, CO₂ValueEurope, Swisscom, and Vodafone to help share ideas and innovations with MEF members.
Additionally, MEF facilities during MWC (Mobile World Congress) Barcelona at the venue Llotja de Mar are currently gaining certification (https://www.biospheretourism.com/en) to ensure a move towards green and sustainable events.
But what about your sector? What can your business do?
Of course, some emissions are unavoidable. Simply by existing, we all contribute CO2e to the atmosphere. These unavoidable emissions can be offset by contributing to a carbon removal project. These can be nature-based, such as seaweed farms and tree planting, or technology-based, such as Direct Air Capture (DAC) devices which suck carbon directly from the atmosphere, which can then be re-used in e-fuels or stored permanently in the soil.
Measure the impact of your business
With a motivated team in place, which has the support of the top management, the first step is to measure the carbon footprint of your business. Only when you understand your organisation’s emissions and climate risks will you know where to dedicate your resources.
To understand your carbon emissions, you can use an online calculator for a rough idea. However, the best approach is to start taking actual measurements to build a clearer picture of your unique emissions profile.
To do this, set your base year from whatever data you have available. We recommend 2015 if possible to align with science-based targets. Otherwise, go for your nearest available data point (even if it is this year). With a zero point, you can begin to learn and create a feedback loop that helps you make a real impact over time.
Measurement is an area where the mobile ecosystem can really excel. By utilising IoT devices, we can directly measure the energy use of different devices. Additionally, by solving this measurement challenge for our own businesses, we will potentially create solutions that other businesses can use to measure their own impact.
ICT companies can make innovative mobile applications for their own usage as well as for customers/consumers to track the current and reduced emissions. This creates a direct positive feed-back spiral.
Measure the impact of your products
The next step is complete lifecycle assessments of your different products and services. Identify any carbon-heavy or wasteful aspects, looking at raw materials and energy use in both production and disposal of old devices.
Innovations in recycling and reuse often come about by identifying wasteful or energy-intensive parts of a product’s lifecycle. And a welcome benefit of reducing environmental impact is businesses saving money – for example rather than disposing of its old infrastructure, a data centre may be able to recycle and/or reuse in other areas of its business.
Additionally, telecom consumers should be made more aware of the implications of data waste. Regular file cleanups can reduce emissions and improve efficiency because everything that is stored in the cloud uses energy. It all adds up.
Cutting carbon emissions
Defining a roadmap for repeated reduction in emissions is vital. That starts with knowing what your current impact is. That allows you to set your target(s). Then the scale of your task will be a lot clearer.
Your targets don’t need to be perfect. At a recent INSEAD Climate online seminar (during COP27), Al Gore said that it’s better to have targets that are 80% correct than not have any climate targets at all.
As mentioned, many large operators are moving in the right direction to reduce their Co2 emissions. As a next step they could support the MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) hosted on their networks and their ICT suppliers by sharing their know-how and buying power across the value-chain. Thus helping the whole industry to be more sustainable.
Offset your unavoidable emissions
With a climate plan defined and annual reduction targets identified, you then need to consider offsetting unavoidable emissions. It is not reasonable to expect a company to achieve a sudden cut of all emissions. Time is required and there will be some emissions that will always remain. Those emissions can be offset, which means paying for the removal of carbon elsewhere.
There are options for this, for example, Direct Air Capture devices that run on renewable geothermal energy in Iceland are built by Swiss company Climeworks. These devices suck air through specialised filters which capture and safely store atmospheric carbon underground. Alternatively, the CO2 can be captured and reutilised, as Co2Value.eu promotes.
Integrating with a nearby geothermal power plant provides Climeworks with the renewable energy required as well as a method for long-term carbon storage – they pump the carbon deep into the earth as part of the renewable energy-creation process.
Carbon removal projects are important because even if we were to reduce our emissions to zero, there would still be legacy atmospheric carbon to remove. In other words, stopping making a mess doesn’t absolve us of cleaning up the mess we have already made.
Key challenges and solutions
It might be easy to create a roughly-defined process but it is harder to do it in practice. Rather than gloss over these challenges, it is important to confront them head-on.
One of the most challenging aspects is behavioural change. We all form habits and those habits are hard to break. Breaking them, even knowingly and with considerable effort, can sometimes be uncomfortable. But they can often prove to be cost-effective. One business that operated on different floors of a building significantly reduced their energy use (which also saved money) by putting a sign in the building’s lift. The sign detailed the energy cost of riding to each floor and asked employees and visitors to consider whether it was necessary to use the lift instead of using the stairs. A five-minute job (printing and affixing the sign) cost very little but had a huge impact on use of the lift.
Finding innovative ways to reduce emissions
There may be a great deal of information available about reducing emissions, but not all of it will be relevant to you and your business, and much of it will not be particularly innovative – the equivalent of not asking for clean towels in a hotel every day. However, you could encourage innovation by incentivising employees to put forward their best ideas.
Communicating and sharing these fresh ideas should also be encouraged. Consider setting up a local business group devoted to sharing emission reduction initiatives and impacts. You might help other businesses cut their emissions, or you might find new ways to reduce your own.
It is also worth considering that not taking action will soon (if not already) become a competitive disadvantage. If every other business is making changes and communicating them to their customers and employees, you could find it harder to hold on to and recruit staff and potentially lose business.
Communicating your own climate action also has benefits. Not talking about your efforts is the PR equivalent of leaving money on the table. But beyond this, combating climate change requires belief, motivation, and knowledge, and communicating your positive efforts and successes helps to inspire other businesses to take actions of their own.
Additionally, share good news stories about how other environmental projects and sustainability initiatives are working. For example:
The most effective tool we have in tackling climate change is hope.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gerrit Jan Konijnenberg is Special MEF Board Advisor and Initiator of sustainability activities at the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF). MEF is a global trade body established in 2000 and headquartered in the UK with members across the world. As the voice of the mobile ecosystem, it focuses on cross-industry best practices, anti-fraud and monetisation. The Forum provides its members with global and cross-sector platforms for networking, collaboration and advancing industry solutions.