Energy-guzzling data centres are just one of a number of ways in which companies have a significant carbon footprint

Business climate change

Businesses can start reducing their carbon footprint through sustainable working policies and partnerships

As the Extinction Rebellion global climate change movement gathers pace, every business and individual is being asked to look at their own effects on the environment. Neal Gandhi, CEO of ethical digital transformation group The Panoply, offers some advice on how companies can reduce their carbon footprint. 


It doesn’t take a global climate strike to know that we’re on the precipice of an imminent ecological crisis.

But, what Greta Thunberg and her band of activists have done is force the world to take note – some willingly, others not so much.

Either way, the majority of the scenes caused last week underlined the point in big, bold letters that government and business need to make serious changes.

But some businesses are far down the road of carbon reduction and, for those companies, it might be tempting to think that “we’re doing our bit”.

Extinction Rebellion protest in London, effects of business on the environment
The Extinction Rebellion group has held climate change protests across the world (Credit: Pexels/Ethan Wilkinson)

Things like turning off the lights in the office before we leave at night, buying lower energy-use appliances and reducing or reusing office products are all small, but valuable, steps.

We know – we do it. This kind of thinking is part of today’s start-up culture and, as this Reuters report covers, we’re far from alone.


Effects of business on the environment start in a data centre

While the internet has fuelled a boom in green-thinking entrepreneurialism at innovative technology companies, it is not without cost.

The data centres we rely on to access and store information, a central tenet of any business, have an enormous carbon footprint.

In fact, some sources suggest that by 2020, data centres will have a bigger carbon footprint than the entire aviation industry.

Certainly, internet usage contributes to a staggering 10% of the world’s electricity consumption.

We may be more cognizant of climate change but, knowingly or unknowingly, we’re as responsible as any of the more traditional industries for the impact of business on the planet.

It’s easy to ignore the environmental impact of digital emissions. After all, our devices aren’t attached to smoke-billowing chimneys.

However, for those businesses who want to truly embrace an ethical approach to sustainability, here are a few simple steps to follow.


Lead from the top to reduce the effects of business on the environment

Everyone in a business, particularly those individuals in leadership positions, has a responsibility to encourage sustainability within their organisation.

From creating sustainable working policies and sharing best practice documents, to maintaining regular communication that establishes new sustainability efforts, business leaders can inspire a culture of environmentally-friendly behaviour in staff.

The Panoply CEO Neal Gandhi, effects of business on the environment
The Panoply CEO Neal Gandhi

However, managers should also consider introducing schemes that incentivise sustainable behaviours through reward opportunities.

Reward opportunities – from cycling to work to carpooling – are simple and effective ways to encourage the reduction of work-related emissions.

Still not enough? For those who are keen on making an impact, you may want to consider matching leave for anyone who wants to take time off work in order to support the ongoing rounds of demonstrations.

Heck, even if you can’t sacrifice the time off to join them, help with placard.


How to reduce carbon footprint of a business

It is paramount that all organisations measure their environmental impact in order to plan out how it can be minimised.

This includes measuring as many of your carbon emissions as possible – and not just the ones you’re legally required to measure.

For digital businesses, as well as the “standard” switching to renewable energy suppliers and encouraging employees to use public transport when possible, why not make use of technology to minimise traditional issues?

International business trips by plane? Sometimes face-to-face is the only way, but if not essential, jump on Zoom or Google Hangouts instead (far less impactful).

More widely, sustainable businesses must strive for carbon neutrality – by both minimising unsustainable activities and investing in offsetting any carbon emissions produced.

Carbon-offsetting programmes are an invaluable way of giving back to the world in a way that best helps those most affected by the negative effects of climate change.


Choose sustainable partnerships

Building a digital business isn’t just about generating as much profit as possible.

If your company is truly dedicated to ethical considerations such as sustainability, then outlining guidelines and requirements for organisational partners is key.

From doing due diligence on suppliers and giving preference to sustainable businesses, to disclosing any climate conflicts from your portfolio, it is crucial for your business to be honest and robust when developing a sustainable business model.

Furthermore, you can also help existing clients to minimise their environmental impact by recommending sustainable practices, products and services.

Reducing environmental impact is a joint responsibility of both your business and its business partners or clients.


Embrace your inner Greta Thunberg to raise awareness of effects of business on the environment

Achieving an industry-wide culture change is challenging to achieve.

But it’s only by raising awareness of the environmental damage that digital businesses risk causing, that any change will be enacted.

data centre, energy use in data centres
Data centres are a big carbon emitter

We should use our platforms and networks to discuss opportunities to improve sustainability.

Data centres that guzzle energy are very much the tip of the iceberg in an industry we can all look to improve.

Some businesses may even wish to take it a step further and publicly declare a climate and ecological emergency.

By doing this, you can clearly highlight the importance of improving sustainability within your sector, as well as outline exactly how that can be achieved.