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Reducing global carbon emissions by nudging consumers

Written by Peter-Jan Roose

Tech companies still have a lot on their plate to reduce direct emissions from business operations and energy sources’ emissions (e.g. electricity of data centers). These so-called ‘Scope 1’ and ‘Scope 2’ emissions are the low-hanging fruits.

Many companies actively work on reducing Scope 1 & 2 emissions for more than a decade. An example of an easy fix is to purchase renewable energy for the supply of buildings and data centers. Google, a leader in those actions, already runs on 100% renewable energy for its operations and data centers since 2017. [1]

A major source of carbon emissions for tech companies is the indirect emission linked to activities along its value chain, better known as ‘Scope 3’. A tangible example of this is the induced electricity consumption at the end-user stage of the product. Think about electricity to power your laptop, phone, internet router, etc; or the energy to store your data, emails, pictures, etc. In 2017, Scope 3 accounted for approximately 90% of tech companies' emissions, reaching 723 859 825 metric tons of CO2 [2]. This is comparable to the total yearly emissions of Germany! [3] Hence, consumers’ and suppliers’ emissions are the high stakes, high rewards.

Here are 3 actions tech companies can take to incentivize consumers to reduce their emissions [4]:

  • Put a price on carbon

It is possible to price the carbon emissions of a product and to allow the consumer to take on this cost. Companies can then reinvest 100% of the gains in carbon capture technology funds. Stripe, an online payment platform, is an excellent example of this practice. They allow the consumer to contribute a percentage of their payment to such a fund. [5]

On the one hand, this initiative reduces the consumption of carbon-intensive products. On the other hand, it brings investments in new technologies that are still in the development phase.

  • Increase product lifespan

Did you know that doubling the life span of a smartphone, from one year and a half to three years, would be the equivalent of removing two million cars off the road annually? [6] Teracube[7], a smartphone manufacturer, provides a warranty of four years on its products. The design of its phones increases the lifespan, reparations are free during the warranty, and the battery is easily replaceable.

Not only does it decrease carbon emissions of production and transport, reduces waste, and preserves rare metal resources; it also fosters an eco-system for spare parts and repairing electronics. What else?

  • Engage customers through education, collaboration, or compensation

You get what you measure. Creating awareness and increasing transparency are two keys to lower emissions. Once there is an overview of the emissions related to consumer behavior, targets and incentives can follow.

Microsoft does this with a tool: a sustainability calculator. [8] Users of Microsoft’s cloud services can track the CO2 emissions of their activities. Thanks to the number of Dynamics 365 users, the potential of the initiative is huge. Imagine If every email would include sharable links instead of attached files. It would lower emails’ CO2 emissions by 75 %. [9][10]

Now how will you tackle your Scope 3 emissions? Which initiatives are most in line with your business activities?

[1] [2] 2019 Report of the consumer technology association; [3] [4] Inspired by Science based target report [5] [6] EEB, 2019; [7] Teracube’s website: [8] [9] Mike Berners-Lee: ‘How Bad are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything’ (2010) [10] --> 30% of emails are sent with attachments (2013)


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