Sustainability

Carbon counting another new metric for the channel

The climate crisis is demanding new ways of measuring impact, says Billy MacInnes
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Image: Alena Koval/Pexels

24 March 2022

People living in Ireland love to see the sunshine. Here in Donegal we appreciate it even more because we see it even less. A lovely sunny day lifts the spirits, it fills us all with happiness and a sense of optimism. Our horizons stretch further on clear days when you can see, if not quite forever, then at least a fair distance beyond the more customary view on a dull, cloudy rainy one.

It helps that sunny days are not commonplace to the point where they lose the radiance that makes them so prominent in our lives and memories.

The feeling of optimism on a bright day is something that we like to extrapolate to the future, to a time of sunlit uplands, of brand new days sparkling with promise and possibilities. That’s the feeling we need to tap into when we look at the transition to a green economy over the next few years.

 

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Right now, climate change is, quite rightly, framed in near apocalyptic terms designed to force us to acknowledge the scale and seriousness of the challenge that we face in trying to protect the planet from the consequences of our actions.

But there’s a danger this narrative leaves us stupefied to the point of paralysis by the enormity of the challenge that we need to overcome. What can we do? What does it matter? This feeling of powerlessness is something we need to cast off if we are to take the forceful and concrete steps required to avert the worst effects of climate change. We need to look above the enveloping gloom to a hopefully clear horizon beyond.

In this context, it is heartening to see people are adopting a hopeful view of the impact of the green transition on their lives, according to the European Investment Bank (EIB) Climate Survey. While there is an impression among some that the “sacrifices” required to achieve a greener world will lead to a more austere and spartan existence for us all, the majority of those surveyed adopted a more positive attitude.

According to the survey, 56% of Europeans believe climate policies are a source of economic growth and that policies to tackle climate change will create more jobs than they eliminate. Just as significantly, 61% think climate policies will improve their quality of life. This is despite the fact that 62% believe their purchasing power will decrease with the green transition.

The optimism expressed comes despite the majority of EU citizens (58%) believing their country will fail to drastically reduce its carbon emissions. Tellingly, 75% believe they are more concerned about the climate emergency than their governments and just over half (51%) say government inactivity is making the climate crisis harder to solve. This creates something of a vacuum because a large majority (70%) are in favour of using strict government measures to fight climate change by imposing changes on people’s behaviour.

Resource issues

Technology inhabits a space somewhere between the old order and the new greener one that will hopefully supersede it. IT is contributing to the rise in carbon emissions and to growing levels of e-waste. For example, the proliferation of devices and the rapid obsolescence of most IT equipment is one factor, fuelled by the near constant pressure to upgrade equipment and software and adopt new technologies. The resources and energy expended by the ever increasing number of data centres is another.

In fact, it could be argued that technology was in danger of becoming a poster child for the bad habits of the pre-climate change world. But there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be in the vanguard of the green transition.

On that note there was some interesting stuff in Microsoft’s 2021 Environmental Sustainability Report which provided a degree of perspective on the issues around carbon emissions. First of all was the admission that no one quite knows what net zero means. From the report: “Progress relies on us all counting carbon consistently… The world lacks a common meaning of the term net zero and a common unit of measurement for assessing the climate impact of various net zero approaches, and we must all focus on maturing the markets needed to achieve a net zero carbon economy by 2050.”

Microsoft revealed that Scope 1 and 2 emissions had reduced by around 17% in 2021 but Scope 3 emissions, which comprise the company’s “entire value chain” and accounted for 97% of its emissions, had increased by nearly a quarter (23%). You don’t need to be a mathematician to appreciate that such a trend makes it near impossible to reduce emissions overall. As Microsoft admitted: “Scope 3 emissions are the most difficult to control and reduce.”

In case you were wondering, the channel has quite a lot of work to do with Scope 3. Westcoast managing director Alex Tatham was remarking on the subject of Scope 3 emissions in an interview with CRN UK at more or less the same time as the Microsoft report was released. He argued the impact of a distributor, such as Westcoast, on the overall carbon emissions of a product was “tiny”.

Tatham suggested there should be a ‘carbon count’ label by SKU giving information on how much carbon a product had taken and its environmental impact, arguing it would “help the whole channel”.

He described Scope 3 emissions as “the toughest for the channel to cope with”. Ironically, while the channel is often keen to be seen to be adding as much value as possible to a vendor’s products and services, this is one area where partners will want their input to the value chain to be as low as possible.


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