Big Tech Companies are Making Climate Change Commitments, but Are They Actually Impactful?

Big Tech Companies are Making Climate Change Commitments, but Are They Actually Impactful?

Many large companies like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are rethinking their supply chains and carbon footprints after pressure from consumers and employees to address their role in climate change. Here’s what these groups are doing, and experts’ take on their effectiveness.

While your short showers and LED lights help in the overall fight against climate change, massive corporations play a massive role in the climate crisis. Their carbon footprints, energy and water use and high volume of disposable/non-recyclable products greatly affect the environmental systems at play.

Luckily, some Big Tech leaders are starting to recognize their role. However, many are choosing to help is not-very-helpful ways, like through carbon offsets.

Earlier this month, Apple became the latest Big Tech giant to promise to reduce the emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases, announcing in a statement that by 2030, “every Apple device sold will have net-zero climate impact.”

This idea of “net-zero climate impact” involves both direct changes in systems and indirect, reallocation of funds outside the company. Apple will reduce emissions by 75 percent in its manufacturing chain by recycling more components of its products and encouraging its suppliers to use renewable energy. For the remaining 25 percent, the company plans to “balance” them by funding reforestation projects and improving energy efficiency in its operations.

However, climate activists note that these offsetting, funding efforts are inadequate, as they do little to actually change and redefine the systems the companies utilize. Companies that offset emissions through external funding allow emissions to “grow at a time when the scientific consensus demands that emissions be cut in half by 2030 in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change—and be reduced to zero by 2050.”

Want to learn more about carbon offsets? Reach this article by GreenBiz.

Microsoft recently announced, however, that it would require its suppliers to report their emissions—which is a big step toward reducing direct, internal supply chain emissions.

The good news in all of this, arguably, is that there is a kind of “follow the leader” happening. Many big tech companies are making public announcements to address their carbon footprint—either from consumer or industry pressure or both.

On a larger scale, Big Tech’s involvement with environmental security varies from company to company. Amazon, Facebook and Google all use large amounts of energy and water for their data centers. Amazon’s trucks, packages and production systems give it a massive environmental footprint—and even recycling is highly energy reliant.

Additionally, while many might like to think the CEOs of these companies have found a sense of commitment to environmental efforts, many of these companies are reacting to pressures from their employees and advocacy groups to do something.

Many have been under scrutiny for the emissions they produce, but Facebook has taken heat for allowing the spread of misinformation about climate science. Greenpeace scolded Google, Microsoft and Amazon for using their AI and cloud computing devices to assist oil producers find and extract oil and gas deposits, effectively “undermining” the tech companies’ climate commitments.

In May, Google said it would no longer build customized artificial intelligence technology or machine learning algorithms for the oil and gas sector. It also pledged to include recycled material in its devices by 2022.

Amazon has not made a such a commitment to discontinue its funding of the oil and gas sector. Like Apple, Amazon’s pledge to be net-zero by 2040 relies on deforestation projects to offset its continuing emissions.

Facebook said it would use 100 percent renewable energy in its facilities and reduce its data centers’ water usage, but it has yet to say how it will stop the spread of climate disinformation on its platform.

Big Tech’s starting or developing commitments to climate improvement are noteworthy, as they do help inspire other companies to follow suit.

“We have a generational opportunity,” said Lisa Jackson, an Apple vice president responsible for environmental issue, “to help build a greener and more just economy, one where we develop whole new industries in the pursuit of giving the next generation a planet worth calling home.”

That said, climate experts remind us that it is crucial to look at a company’s climate statements, especially their ‘carbon-neutral’ and ‘carbon negative’ goals, to understand exactly how they will prioritize decarbonization and not just offsetting efforts.

While Big Tech companies hold significant power and impact in the climate change conversation, smaller and more local organizations all have noteworthy impacts, too. How is your company or organization working toward improving your carbon footprint?