3 Ways Tech Companies Are Embracing Sustainability in Operations

Photo by Nicholas Doherty on Unsplash

The role of technology must be to make the future brighter, but that’s not always the result of the innovations humanity has come up with over the centuries. With the climate crisis causing major concerns worldwide, the only way out of the current mess is through further breakthroughs. 

And the good news is that tech companies themselves are leading the charge in terms of transforming business practices to prioritize sustainability.

All sorts of progress are being made in this arena, so let’s narrow down the discussion to just a few of the most eye-opening improvements that some of the biggest tech brands around are making as we speak.

Renewable Energy Purloined to Power Data Centers

As much as 1.5% of all electricity used internationally is accounted for by data centers, according to the International Energy Agency. This is an indicator of just how reliant we’ve become on remote hosting for a cavalcade of cloud-based services and web hosting solutions – whether consumer-facing or harnessed solely for business purposes.

To combat the potentially calamitous carbon footprint that this represents, an AI-powered pivot toward renewable energy sources is underway, in several guises:

Solar Investment

A Reuters report points out that there’s something of a solar power gold rush going on in the US at the moment, with companies like Microsoft and Alphabet seeking to sate their need for data center expansion with power derived from the sun’s near-infinite store of energy. 

Massive solar farms now sprawl across acres, feeding clean kilowatts directly into the machines that effectively enable modern society to function. 

In Virginia alone, 66% of new power generation being added to the grid in the coming quarter of a century will be solar – and this trend is reflected in other states including Texas and Arizona.

Wind Power Partnerships

Wind power is another widely implemented renewable energy source, and we’re now seeing projects that set out to bring together data centers and the turbines that generate the electricity in a clever mash-up that’s both sustainable and efficient.

Green Certificates

Acquiring green certificates such as Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) allows companies to offset their carbon footprint and support renewable projects indirectly – with Google and Microsoft even getting into a trading agreement for RECs which should allow clean energy to return to the grid for all of us to use.

Through these efforts, sustainability is more than a marketing gimmick – and is rather a measure of a company’s dedication to reducing its environmental impact without compromise. It’s also a trend that’s rubbing off on other businesses outside of the tech space. 

For instance, the brand Green Chef, which offers high-quality meal kits delivery, is powered by both 100% renewable energy and committed to a carbon offset program that accounts for 100% of the emissions associated with its activities. It’s just one of many thousands of examples of tech firms inspiring all manner of organizations with their sustainability efforts.

Action Taken to Avert an E-Waste Catastrophe

The lifecycle of tech hardware can be a wasteful saga – from resource extraction to eventual disposal. As e-waste becomes one of the fastest-growing waste streams globally, with 53.6 million metric tons generated in 2019 alone, and a further 44.3Mt of undocumented e-waste also on the cards, tech companies are stepping up by embracing circular economy principles, which include:

Design for Disassembly

Products are being designed with their end-of-life in mind, ensuring that they can be easily dismantled and recycled. This forward-thinking design reduces waste and allows components to begin anew rather than end up in landfills. 

In particular, the efforts of brands like Fairphone, which has a fully modular design for its handheld devices, are not only helping with end-of-life disassembly but also the reparability of critical components.

Take-Back Programs

Encouraging consumers to return used devices, these programs ensure responsible recycling or refurbishing. It’s also a strategic move to reclaim valuable materials that can be reintroduced into the production cycle. Businesses including Apple and Dell are already reaping the rewards – and soon regulations will enforce the rollout of such schemes regardless of whether brands are keen to adopt them.

Material Recovery Labs

Some companies have created sophisticated facilities entirely dedicated to extracting precious metals and other materials from old electronics. In particular, there’s a lot of automation being introduced to this scene, with robotics firms like Amp, MachineX, and Blue Green Vision all getting plaudits. Even Apple has its own iPhone recycling robot – a device that has been recovering materials and components from hardware for over six years.

Embedding such strategies into their operations allows tech firms to prove that every gadget has more life to it than many would have guessed – if only we’re clever enough to harness what lies beneath the shiny exterior.

AI for Amplified Resource Efficiency

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is often heralded for its ability to revolutionize industries through automation and predictive analytics. Its role in advancing sustainability is equally significant – and growing by the day. 

It all comes down to the fact that AI can optimize resource use with precision that humans can’t match. In fact, PwC estimates that using AI for environmental applications could contribute up to $5.2 trillion to the global economy by the end of the decade.

Here are a few examples of how AI is already being put to work in the tech sector to tackle concerns over sustainability:

Smart Energy Management

AI algorithms are now managing energy consumption in real time, making adjustments based on usage patterns and even weather forecasts to reduce waste without compromising performance. 

This applies to everything from controlling the heating and cooling of office buildings, to the amount of power consumed by machinery used in manufacturing tech. And moreover, the entire energy industry is coming onboard with this change.

Efficient Logistics

From route optimization that cuts down fuel consumption to inventory management that reduces overproduction, AI infuses efficiency into supply chains – and 95% of industry professionals see its ability to solve long-term sticking points in this context as being its biggest selling point.

Predictive Maintenance

Anticipating when machines will need servicing with AI in manufacturing helps avoid unnecessary downtime and extends the lifespan of equipment, ensuring resources are used to their fullest potential before recycling or disposal.

Incorporating these AI-driven strategies aids tech companies in cost-cutting measures and also positions them as environmentally responsible not only in thought but also in deed. As these intelligent systems learn and grow, they will become indispensable allies in the quest for a sustainable future.

Final Thoughts

There’s a sense in some circles that tech companies are the problem, rather than the solution when it comes to sustainability – and there’s no denying that stats like the energy usage associated with data centers can be used to strongly criticize this industry. 

However, it’s equally obvious that big players and smaller brands alike are doing what they can, not just to meet the minimum requirements of current environmental regulations, but also to push the envelope by making their operations greener today.

The twofold imperative of improving efficiency and satisfying consumer expectations is more of a motivating factor than any eco regulations right now – and the more people are faced with the realities of living on a warmer planet, the more it will fall to tech firms to take the lead and bring us back from the brink.

About The Author

Scroll to Top
Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap