Digital sustainability, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), and running a conscious business have become hot topics in the last decade, and are growing more relevant each day.
We live in a world where climate change and global warming are a real hazard to our planet and the future of mankind.
There are many reasons for this catastrophic situation that we are currently in, some of them we still have control over and can be changed, while for others, actions are long overdue.
However, it’s up to us to save the Earth while we still can, and urgent measures need to be taken.
And this is something that everyone should care about – me, you, small business, and large enterprise companies.
Why should businesses be concerned about climate change, you might ask yourself?
Here are a few stats that show why, straight to the point.
- Estimates indicate that by 2025, the IT industry will be using 20% of all produced electricity, and be responsible for up to 5.5% of the world’s carbon emissions.
- Data centers use an estimate of 200 terawatt hours (TWh) each year, which is more than the yearly consumption of some countries, such as Iran, for example.
- The emissions generated by watching Netflix for 30 minutes (1.6 kg of CO2) are equal to driving four miles.
- CO2 emissions can be reduced by 59 million tons per year via migrations to cloud services.
- The carbon footprint of a single email is between 0.3g and 50g CO2e.
Before we unfold the topic in more detail, let’s cover the basics, and make the definition of digital sustainability clear.
What Is Digital Sustainability?
In short, digital sustainability is the ability to meet your business’s digital needs without jeopardizing the well-being of future generations. This involves adopting green practices, investing in technology with a low carbon footprint, analyzing the consumption of resources by your digital operations and actively seeking out ways to minimize it.
While sustainability is most often associated with the environment and natural resources, there is more to it that businesses need to look into.
In fact, the three pillars of sustainability are: environment, economy, and society.
In business planning, finances, and operations, those pertain to the so-called ESG: environmental, social, and governance.
ESG digital transformation is a criteria investors are increasingly applying as part of their efforts to identify growth opportunities.
Well, how exactly does this change business models, you ask?
Let’s find out.
How Does Digital Sustainability Change Businesses?
Nowadays, brand ethics are very important for companies. Environmental, Social and Governance are the goals that can serve as a connection between old business habits and approaching new, sustainable tactics.
Organizations that plan a digital sustainability strategy are also more appealing to consumers, since, nowadays, people expect businesses to prioritize social and environmental consciousness.
More and more businesses are adapting and introducing various forms of digital sustainability in their day-to-day operations. Above all, businesses are becoming mindful about the effect they have on environmental sustainability.
A good example of this would be cloud computing, which transfers data from traditional data centers to cloud systems that can reduce the carbon footprint of large companies. The end result is less energy consumption and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s a great way to connect with your customers, as you demonstrate you care about the same causes. On top of that, your long-term strategy could encourage your customers to imply a more sustainable behavior themselves.
Businesses are adopting diversity in the workplace as well as improved working conditions, and fair wages. Supply chain management is starting to focus on equal working conditions and payment for all employees.
Companies are also rethinking their relationship with the customer by focusing on personalization and privacy, as well as improving their customer service and caring about the client beyond profits.
After all, in the long run, customer retention is more sustainable than acquisition.
Corporate governance influences the entire decision-making process and everyone involved in the organization. The goal is to eliminate bribery and corruption, as well as lobby for the implementation of sustainable policies.
In simple terms, ESG governance aims to remove bad practices that stimulate corruption and political schemes, and encourage transparency.
Practical Steps Towards Digital Sustainability
There’s an old saying, known as the Seventh Generation Principle, that states that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world for the next seven generations.
In terms of digital technology, there are actionable steps that companies can take to achieve a sustainable digital transformation.
Reduce the Carbon Footprint of Your Website
You might not have thought about this, but every website on earth uses electricity. This means that it consumes energy and releases carbon emissions.
For example, the average website produces 1.76g of CO2 every time a user views it. That is the equivalent of an electric car driving more than 3,000 km, or around 500 kWh of energy.
Do you know how your website is impacting the planet? You can use the website carbon calculator to find out.
DevriX is cleaner than 91% of tested web pages, with just 0.09g of CO2 produced for every page visit.
SEO Can Help Your Digital Sustainability Strategy
Every business that cares about its digital presence knows that SEO is their best friend. But did you know that you can actually reduce your carbon footprint and help the environment using SEO?
That’s right. Here’s how to do it:
- Write high-quality content. Cover the topic you’re writing about in depth, and avoid repeating information just to reach your word count. Try to answer all questions your readers might have about the topic. Check the pertinent featured snippets, people also ask boxes, related searches, and platforms like Wikipedia, and Quora.
- Improve page speed. Site speed is one of the most important aspects to take into account if you’re aiming to have a greener website. The less time your pages take to load, the less energy and CO2 emissions are used. Logically, a slow speed indicates that you’re using too many resources, or that the page is too heavy, which is an SEO and UX issue on its own. In all cases, make sure your website’s loading speed is optimized.
- Optimize images. Using too many images, without properly formatting them, may be cluttering your website. Furthermore, it’s not very ecological, since each image takes up valuable resources and time to render. It’s a good idea to review the graphics you’re using and only leave the most important ones. Another step to take is to implement WebP format images, which are 26% smaller than PNGs.
The Impact of Spam Emails
Is your email inbox cluttered with spam and junk emails? Do you even delete useless emails? It’s a good idea to start doing that, as emails cause greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s true. Just in July 2021, 283 billion spam emails were sent worldwide. Now consider that the average spam email causes the equivalent of 0.3 grams of CO2 per message. Billions of kilowatts of energy are being wasted every year, and no one benefits from them.
What can you do to reduce the negative impact of spam emails?
- Apply spam filters
- Regularly delete junk emails
- Unsubscribe from all newsletters you don’t read
To put this simply, every email you keep in your inbox uses energy for storage in a data center somewhere. Deleting 10 emails could decrease the amount of data being stored, thus the energy consumption.
Now imagine that everyone clears their inboxes and deletes unwanted emails. Billions of kilowatts of energy could be saved and used where they’re truly needed.
As a business, you can make a difference by reducing the number of useless emails you send and optimizing your email list so that only interested customers will receive your messages.
The use of automation technology can increase the effectiveness of your processes, while improving your supply chain speed and eliminating the human error factor.
Typically, companies try to deliver their products to clients as quickly as possible, even if the speed comes at the expense of compromising the environment.
This is where digital sustainability comes into play and offers help. Through the increased use of automation, supply chains are turned into a more effective process, which doesn’t hurt the environment.
Additionally, businesses that migrate their data to a cloud host, use less servers to achieve the same goals, and reduce their carbon emissions too. It’s a win-win situation.
However, when choosing automation software, make sure to research it. Not all programs are made equal and some may not have the required effect.
Examples of Sustainable Technology Transformation
Let’s take a look at some examples of companies which embraced digital transformation and sustainability.
- Patagonia. This American retailer that sells worn and recrafted outfits, and uses organic materials and organic provision. Patagonia has also embraced innovations such as solar panels with photo sensors, using recycled construction materials, and LED lighting controlled by a smart grid. In addition, 100% of the company’s electricity needs in the US have been met with renewable electricity, and the brand is very actively advocating business to work towards implementing sustainable solutions – both on a digital and physical level.
- Microsoft. The tech giant not only reduces its impact on the environment, but also encourages other companies to follow their footsteps. Microsoft’s cloud computing has already been remarked for its energy efficiency and material waste reduction. Serverless and open-source software reduces the cooling processes, air conditioning, and ventilation in the fewer data centers that are required. Additionally, the power management functionality of Microsoft allows for smart energy consumption on devices like monitors, and hard drives.
- Orsted. Orsted is ranked the most sustainable company in the world. They’re a wind technology and bioenergy provider from Denmark, and their goal is to build an “entirely green world”, 100% carbon free by 2025. Orsted are working hard towards their goal and currently have 19 active sustainability programs, including cybersecurity, biodiversity, decarbonization of energy generation, deployment of onshore renewable energy, and more.
- Ecosia. A non-profit, eco-friendly search engine that plants trees. Ecosia has a mission to plant 1 billion trees as part of Africa’s Great Green Wall project. On top of that, this search engine is powered by solar panels which produce 200% renewable energy.
Digital sustainability is the tool that holds the power to change the landscape, quite literally. Being conscious about the environment is not just a fad, it’s a topic which we need to take very seriously.
ESG digital transformation will become more and more vital, and it will be essential for business models to change, in order to apply less energy consumption, and to reduce carbon emissions.
Has your business already implemented any of these changes? Let us know in the comment section below.