How can corporations reduce digital carbon footprints
The truth is, digital is simply not carbon free, and even though many transactions might be small, the cumulative scale of these adds up significantly. Digital technologies are responsible for carbon emissions from their creation, through to their use and disposal, and their sustained exponential growth will continue to result in growth in carbon emissions. Legal practices are not exempt from this trend. In an ongoing effort to reduce spending on outside counsel, most law departments are turning to technology to streamline processes and realise efficiencies as more work is brought in-house. In doing so and in the face of enhanced ESG scrutiny, it is imperative that law firms and legal departments understand the additional carbon liability that their digital dependency carries. The remaining sections of this article explore the opportunity presented by understanding and acting on our corporate digital footprints. This opportunity can be summarised in two high-level categories.
On one hand, a focus on reductions in digital carbon footprints can have a near term material impact on costs and emissions, as well as having other, less obvious positive consequences across a workforce such as overcoming climate hesitation and helping address eco-anxiety.
On the other hand, organisations that act to curb digital emissions now, set themselves on a better trajectory to achieving and maintaining Net Zero strategies, thereby enhancing their competitive standing today, and tomorrow.
Cloud helps extend personal computer lifetime use.
What can law firms do to tackle digital carbon footprints?
First, we must seek to gain an ever-improving snapshot of the organisation’s carbon status quo, or “carbon baseline”. At Jalubro we call this Carbon Footprinting.
Developing the baseline
In our previous article, we noted that 80% of our digital carbon footprints are embodied in the products we purchase and use. This results from the emissions created during manufacture and shipping of those devices.It is therefore essential that when determining law firms’ digital carbon footprint we look at Scope 1, 2 and Scope 3 emissions.Once developed, the baseline should be used across the business to set reducing carbon budgets, which cascade through organisational layers and are used in similar ways to financial budgets – facilitating decision making, accountability, and incentivisation.
Raising awareness, digital carbon literacy
Set carbon reduction challenges between teams and departments which encourage further understanding of technology and energy utilisation.
Include digital carbon measurements and targets as part of the broader sustainability communications, as well as individual reward and recognition for reduction achievements.
Ideas for reducing an organisation’s digital carbon footprint
On one end of the spectrum there are capital-intensive projects that can take significant effort to deploy, yet yield immediate impact across a wide scale – such as developing, or switching to renewable energy sources across entire estates, or incorporating increasingly greater proportions of remanufactured IT equipment into procurement refresh and purchase cycles.
There are also smaller, more easily achievable changes that can be made at an individual level. These changes deliver carbon reductions that are comparatively much smaller in their own right than a firm-wide big-budget project, but when multiplied across a workforce, they can lead to significant savings; carbon and energy.
Research shows that more than 20% of an office building’s energy consumption can be attributed to these devices. Details in the report indicate that leaving just 10 desktop computers in stand-by mode out-of-hours could generate 145 kWhs of electricity to simply do nothingUsing CarbonIntensity.org.uk to get the real-time carbon intensity of the UK’s National Grid (270gCo2e/kWh), 145 kWhs converts to 39 kg or carbon.
There are systems that can be installed across buildings and campuses to keep track of these “energy vampire” devices and automate their switching off and on. One such example is from a company called Measureable. energy, who appeared on the BBC to talk about the problem, and how their solution also indicates how “green” the energy is that is currently coming out of the socket.
These systems require investment and planning, but can automatically have a scale across entire buildings.
We can also make sure that energy efficiency is a crucial buying factor for purchasing and that during day to day business we look for opportunities to reduce energy consumption. A few less-obvious examples include:
On Premises Data Centres:
Corporations can seek support from organisations such as CEEDA and DEEP to become more sustainable. However, there are some quick win best practices that data centre managers can investigate that relate to air flow.
The Stanford Magazine suggests that storing 100 gigabytes of data in the cloud could be responsible for approximately 0.18 to 0.2 tonnes of CO2 per year. Across a corporation, there are many ways chunks of 100GB could easily add up, such as unwanted laptop or mobile backups, duplicated files, remote desktop snapshots for ex-employees, out of date documents, contracts and shared files.
According to education technology experts, Jisc, only 6% of cloud data is regularly used. That means 94% of your cloud data storage is potentially not necessary or can be moved to offline storage mechanisms. Storing data unnecessarily in the cloud also carries with it unnecessary carbon costs associated with the communication of that data, too.
Calculating the environmental cost of a byte of data in transit is a highly variable and complex equation that must consider a significant number of externalities and temporal variations. However, a global team of data scientists collaborated to create a simplified model that estimates the transmission of 1GB of data to be equal to 419g of CO2e. (based on the current carbon intensity of the UK’s National Grid, as cited above).
If only 6% of every 100GB stored in the cloud is used, that would equate to almost 40 kgs of needlessly generated CO2e.
This is probably the easiest to understand activity of cloud computing – energy is expended when cloud apps are used. That energy will increasingly be provided by renewable sources, but not exclusively for quite a while. Beyond energy, the more the cloud providers have to scale to provide capacity for unnecessary computing, the more hardware they need, and therefore the more hardware they need to purchase, and the more embodied carbon they are needlessly building into their data centres.
Tips for Reducing Digital Carbon Footprints
Our mission is to help law firms and legal departments establish, build and implement lasting, sustainable digital transformation.Today, more than ever, Net Zero is a critical component of any future-looking decision, with digital carbon being a central and increasingly important pillar within that.Our suite of Net Zero services are designed to help law firms accurately measure and report emissions across their entire business from Scope 1 & 2 through to their supply chain and Scope 3 – laying a path to the future, while increasing competitive position today.
Discover more about our Net Zero services here jalubro.com/netzeroservices