If we really are on the brink of climate catastrophe, why worry about anything else?
This was the sentiment shared by many Gen Zers questioned by Pew Research; 76% of them said climate change was one of their biggest societal concerns, whilst 37% make it their number one concern.
And rightfully so.
Especially in light of reports suggesting we aren’t likely to meet our climate goal of 1.5° C. And more alarming considering even temporarily overshooting 2° C could have disastrous long-term consequences for the Earth and its species.
But we do have the tools at our disposal to make vital changes today – we’re just lacking the political urgency to do so. Frustratingly, global governments slept on the opportunities to move away from fossil fuels when they had the chance.
“Covid-19 restrictions delivered a record fall in fossil fuel emissions in 2020, but a coal-fuelled rebound in 2021 wiped out those savings. Emissions are expected to rise this year too,” says Adam Vaughan in ‘We can still avert climate catastrophe – but there is barely time’ for New Scientist.
But while greenhouse gasses from fossil fuels are a major contributor, they’re not the only culprit.
It’s time for tech companies to get serious about sustainability
There’s been a lot written about the environmental impacts of emerging tech like blockchain and its associated mediums, e.g. non-fungible tokens (NFTs); these digital collectables are stored using the blockchain Ethereum which has an annual energy use equal to Ireland’s.
Meanwhile, reports of social and streaming services being big energy consumers – platforms that Gen Zers are widely associated with – have been widely disputed. For context:
- Streaming a one-hour program has around the same carbon footprint as popping four bags of popcorn in the microwave (Carbon Trust).
- Whilst scrolling through social media is perhaps the least carbon-intensive form of digital entertainment. An average user’s annual carbon footprint is 299g CO2e – less than boiling the water for a pot of tea (Facebook’s sustainability report).
Instead, there’s a larger culprit at work.
According to Computer Weekly, technology, media and telecoms (TMT) sectors make up 2% – 4% of global carbon emissions and up to 7% of the electricity used worldwide.
OK, this might not sound like a lot but it’ll only increase as data traffic continues to rise by over 60% annually.
And there’s growing criticism that the tech industry’s not doing enough.
An assessment by NewClimate ranked climate promises by mega-corps like Amazon and Google to be of “low integrity”.
But it’s not just climate groups that are putting tech firms under scrutiny; the public is standing up for sustainability, too.
According to a recent report by Oracle, 70% of us are willing to cancel our relationship with brands that we aren’t prioritising Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives. What’s more, 69% of us are willing to leave our employers for the same reason.
And even members of Gen Z who are joining the workforce for the first time are making their voices heard.
According to this year’s Deloitte Gen Z and Millennial Survey, almost two out of five respondents said they’d go as far as to turn down a job if it didn’t align with their values.
Beyond the massive environmental and economic burdens of climate change; National Geographic suggests a failure to reduce emissions by 2030 will cost the world a minimum of $2 billion per day; our future workforce simply expects businesses to get serious about sustainability.
So, what can you do to make a difference?
Tweaking your tech to entice talent (and reduce your footprint)
Undoubtedly better for the environment, one well-known step you can take towards becoming more sustainable is going paperless.
The problem is that e-waste is still a massive contributor to climate change; global e-waste from TMT sectors is expected to reach 75 million tonnes yearly – with only 17% currently being recycled.
With that in mind, try and buy refurbished electronic devices for new starters and only get these delivered when entirely necessary. Buying and picking up locally is always going to be a more sustainable alternative than one-click purchasing from Amazon.
But what about the stuff that’s stored on these devices?
The tech industry works with vast amounts of data and online file storage can become a big energy consumer. In fact, Website Carbon suggests the average website produces 1.76g of CO2 for every page view. So that means a site with 100,000 page views per month emits a whopping 2,112kg of CO2 every year.
However, there are ways to make your site and its data storage more sustainable. One of which is changing your hosting provider to one that’s more environmentally friendly. Green Hosting is 100% wind-powered and GreenGeeks use 300% renewable energy to host their websites. The latter also plants a tree for every person that signs up. Nice.
But that’s just one form of waste your workplace can reduce.
Reducing food waste and going beyond recycling
According to Our World in Data, food waste is responsible for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions. To bring that figure into focus, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers revealed that the equivalent of 2 billion tonnes of food ends up wasted every year.
And this is before it even reaches our plates.
Again, small steps go a long way. Keep an office compost bin to encourage workers into healthier habits. For larger offices, try removing cafeteria trays. One study showed that this simple practice reduced the amount of food waste by 18%.
And at a time when people are struggling with the cost of living like never before, there’s always the option of donating uncooked and in-date goods to your local food bank. You can find the nearest one in your area here.
But it’s not just food waste businesses should be mindful of.
A study conducted for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by Valpak, the UK’s largest recycling compliance scheme suggests that businesses are underestimating the amount of packaging waste they produce. Alarmingly, this is by as much as 50%.
On the plus side, there are companies that are finding solutions. For example, Recover Brands sells 100% recycled t-shirts and apparel made from discarded water bottles and cotton. In 2020, the firm diverted 7.8 million plastic bottles from landfills and saved more than 29 million kilowatts of energy. So if you can, why not invest in a company like this; supporting sustainable startups is both good for the planet and a great look for your company.
But that’s not the only way to entice climate-conscious candidates.
Offer flexible working to encourage applicants and cut emissions
With all of the above in mind, burning fossil fuels is still the largest cause of climate change. They account for over 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions (as reported by the UN).
Although positive steps were made at COP26 – 34 countries promised to end public financial support for fossil fuels in 2022 – we can’t afford to wait for governments to act alone. It’s up to brands to encourage more eco-friendly habits from their employees.
Because, worryingly, around 60% of 1-2 mile trips are taken by car in England when they could be made by foot or bicycle (National Travel Survey). For example, travelling on light rail on the London Underground emits around a sixth of the equivalent car journey.
But the good news is that If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we can work efficiently from home. And although we’ve debated whether or not WFH is right for Gen Z before, one thing’s for certain, giving them the choice is never going to be a bad thing.
Go big and go for B Corp
Why not set yourself a goal of becoming a B Corporation? These are companies verified by B Lab that meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability. Essentially, B Corps balances purpose and profit and consider the impact of its decisions on the environment, its customers and its employees; ideal when hiring Gen z – a group that expects their employers to stand for something.
Also, take the time to look at where else you can offset your emissions and commit to net-zero carbon (UK SMEs can make a commitment here). For Gen Z it’s about working for employers that are part of the solution; not furthering problems that will impact their future.
“I cannot imagine a career that isn’t connected to even just being a small part of a solution,” tells Mimi Ausland (25), the founder of Free the Ocean, to The Guardian.
Whatever you can do, always be honest and realistic in your job ads and Employee Value Proposition (EVP). You’re hiring from a generation that’s growing tired of “greenwashing” – and they don’t have time to waste.