Reversing the course of history… How we can stop our technology becoming a major carbon emitter
Every day, our emails fire out a mind-blowing 1.6kg of deadly greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Not collectively. Individually. For context, that’s more than the weight of a pineapple. Or, if you consider that there are nearly 2 million people in Wales between the ages of 16 to 64, (1,938,266 to be precise) … we’re looking at more than 700 million carbon-pineapples a year.
Of course, that’s not the end of it. We do more than email. Today, it’s estimated that everyday devices – such as mobiles phones and laptops – account for around 3.7% of global greenhouse gases. The same as the aviation industry. And it’s anticipated to rocket further. By 2025, emissions from devices are expected to double. By 2040, I.T. will be one of the atmosphere’s worst polluters, guilty for producing 14% of carbon emissions.
Climate change is flooding Wales
For people living in Wales, the climate crisis will be especially bad. Research group Climate Central predict that Llanelli, Swansea, Port Talbot, Porthcawl, Barry, Cardiff and Newport will all be under water if the planet warms by 2 degrees. At the rate we’re currently going (43 billion tonnes of CO2 each year), this will happen within a decade.
At FinTech Wales, we are at the cutting-edge of pioneering revolutionary technology. However, we’re also in danger of emitting lorry-loads of carbon into the atmosphere. Pineapples would be just the beginning. So, we must act now, before we inflict more damage on the climate. The rest of the world – and sadly, the finance universe in particular – has been late to get started. This has led to a lot of damage – not only for the planet, but also for reputations. Customers are unsatisfied, they want sustainable solutions, and they wanted them yesterday.
But we can buck this trend. Right now, the iron is hot for the FinTech sector. We must reverse the course of history before it’s too late.
So, how can we do this? As we see it, there are three surprisingly simple ways.
1. Raise Awareness by planting 1 million trees
The first way is to become aware. As they say in the AA, “Acceptance is the first step on the road to recovery”. We can’t solve the problem if we can’t see it. And unfortunately, we can’t see the carbon radiating from our devices and data centres. So, we must open our eyes in different ways. With research, campaigns, and even activism. As FinTech founders and leaders, we have a responsibility to thoroughly analyse and understand the impact of our work. We also have a duty to inform others in our sector.
And what better way to raise awareness than with a carbon off-setting campaign? As FinTech companies within Wales, we want to band together, and collectively plant 1 million trees. This will serve the dual-purpose of mitigating some damage, while spreading the word about technology emissions far and wide.
So, what kind of impact would a million trees make? Well, sadly, not as much as we need. A typical fully-grown tree will absorb around 21kg of carbon each year. Meaning that it will take around 28 mature trees to absorb one person’s 1.6kg-a-day email habit. To off-set the entire nation’s emails for a year, we’d need to be planting upwards of 53 million trees. Right now, that figure seems daunting, so let’s focus on planting 1 million over the next twelve months. It won’t solve the problem, but it’s significant enough to raise awareness and make a start. And that is better than doing nothing.
Within FinTech Wales, we have over 70 membersand an incalculable team spirit. Together, we can get to 1 million trees before the end of 2022. We are looking to make this a reality in the coming year, sign up to our newsletter here to get involved.
2. Select data centres carefully
Off-setting programmes may help heal some environmental damage. But they do not get to the root of the problem. Or, in other words, planting trees does not make companies sustainable. To become sustainable, we need to get to the heart of the business model and reduce carbon emissions from the inside-out.
That’s where personal choice comes in. In FinTech, one thing we can choose is who we partner with. For many of us, that means data centres, which currently account for around 3% of global power consumption. Many FinTechs will opt for a large multi-tenant data centre, the largest of which use up enough energy each year to power every household in Monmouthshire! (Around 80,000 homes according to research). All the data centres combined use up more energy than the whole of Great Britain.
Many FinTechs may not have considered whether or not these data centres are using renewable energy or are taking steps to reduce their impact. Or whether the back-up generators are powered by diesel. But we need to start asking these questions now. Doing this is another important step we must take to help make Wales a green FinTech hub.
One of our friend member companies, Illustrate Digital uses 100% renewable energy throughout all its processes. “We will only use green energy. It’s what we’ve chosen to do”, explains Managing Director, Scott Jones. “It’s not just a tick-box exercise. If everyone did this, we would make a real impact”.
Research is key to developing a green business model. And making environmental changes in our design and partnerships – at every opportunity – is how we move forward. Today, there is no easy way to compare the carbon emissions of different Cloud and data centre providers. There is no universally-accepted carbon accounting calculator. However, as leaders in this space bring this issue to light, it seems that we are edging closer to finding out how green our data centres truly are. In the meantime, as FinTech services, we can give feedback to our partners.
3. Demand more from suppliers… and ourselves
It’s not news that there is a disconnect between what suppliers say and what they do. Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook, and Microsoft, for example, have all recently come under fire for failing to back up their ambitious green marketing with solid policies and funds. But they are not alone, a global study by the University of Oxford and the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit found that around 20% of the top 4,000 companies have made net-zero promises. Yet only a handful currently have robust plans and policies in place to fulfil these goals. Unless there is an incentive to speed up these plans and turn them into a reality, our climate disaster will continue to spiral. That’s where we come in. We are the incentive.
As clients, we have power. We hold the wallet and our priorities matter. One or two FinTechs here and there may feel like a drop in the ocean against large-scale tech giants. But if we rise up and demand more as FinTech Wales, then – to quote our rugby team – together, we are stronger.
What’s more, we need to consider how our own clients will soon be pressuring and lobbying us… if they’re not already. Eco-anxiety is growing, especially among young people. According to one survey 75% found the future frightening, and 56% believe that humanity is doomed. FinTechs who do not commit wholeheartedly will find themselves struggling to recruit young talent and customers.
Talk to your suppliers about their environmental impact. And talk to us too. We can band together as a community to help move things along faster.
Next time you see a pineapple …
1.6kg is a hefty load. Especially for a day’s worth of emails. We’ve got to design and promote more efficient technology. Of course, we can’t see the carbon emissions floating up from our phones and devices… it doesn’t work like that. We need another reminder.
So, when you’re next ambling down a food market – whether it’s Swansea, Cardiff, Carmarthen, Cowbridge or somewhere else – keep an eye out for a pineapple. Or the next time you head into the supermarket. Take a look. If you’re in the mood for a fruit salad or pina colada, carry it home. Feel the weight. Remind yourself every time you see a pineapple in Wales that we must – and can – do better.
1. Griffiths, S., (2020), “Why your internet habits are not as clean as you think”, BBC and Richards, E.C., (2018), “The Carbon Cost of an Email”, Carbon Literacy
2. StatsWales (2021), “National level population estimates by year, age and UK country”, Welsh Government
3. Griffiths, S., (2020), “Why your internet habits are not as clean as you think”, BBC
4. Griffiths, S., (2020), “Why your internet habits are not as clean as you think”, BBC
5. Griffiths, S., (2020), “Why your internet habits are not as clean as you think”, BBC
6. Matthews, H.D, Tokarska, K., (2021), “New research suggests 1.5C climate target will be out of reach without greener COVID-19 recovery plans”, The Conversation and The World Counts webpage: Global Challenges, Global Warming
7. Viessmann, “How much CO2 does a tree absorb”
8. Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, University of Oxford, (2021), “TAKING STOCK: A global assessment of net zero targets”
9. Alderson, L., (2020), “Data centres feel the heat over energy consumption”, Radius
10. Bawden, T., (2016), “Global warming: Data centres to consume three times as much energy in next decade, experts warn”, The Independent
11. Paddison, L., (2021), “Big tech’s pro-climate rhetoric is not matched by policy action, report finds”, The Guardian
12. Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, University of Oxford, (2021), “TAKING STOCK: A global assessment of net zero targets”
13. Harrabin, R., (2021), “Climate change: Young people very worried – survey”, BBC