How can tech companies honor the spirit of Earth Day?

Smartphones, social media, artificial intelligence, and other technologies reshape and influence society. Here's how tech companies can focus that energy to protect the Earth and its resources.
Written by Nate Delesline III, Staff Writer
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Tori Rubloff/ZDNet

Earth Day 2022 is April 22. 

This globally-recognized day is our annual reminder to consider the environment and take stock of our efforts to preserve the planet's future.

Most tech companies aren't huge organizations with international influence, thousands of employees, and billion or even trillion-dollar market capitalization. So what can smaller companies do to elevate their environmental stewardship? 

Here are some ideas.

Reuse or donate old electronics

Some organizations throw away functional electronics on a regular schedule. This practice contributes to creating 55 million tons of electronic waste every year. 

Businesses can help shrink that number by donating old devices that still work to organizations like these: 

Manage and reduce energy use

If your organization operates or relies on a data center, you can help the environment by limiting energy consumption. Some of the ways to do this include:

  • Consolidate or relocate servers

  • Adopt best practices for operating data centers, like using outside cooling

  • Migrating services to the cloud

  • Use updated technology — newer devices usually use less energy

Allow flexible technology options

Does every employee need a brand new high-end laptop, dual monitors, or a full setup of external hardware? Allowing people to choose the tech they need can save the environment and money.

Continue offering remote work options

One-fifth of all jobs in the world can be done at home, according to a 2020 analysis

After two years of social distancing and remote work, some employees are excited to return to the office. But for those who need to continue remote work indefinitely, and digital nomads who prefer to, allowing employees that option could help the environment. 

The sustainability advantages of remote work include smaller office building footprints and reduced commuting distance and frequency.

What are big tech companies doing to take care of the environment?

Small steps matter. But large organizations can have a substantial impact on the environment. Many of today's leading tech companies came of age and influence after America's 20th-century environmental movement gained momentum.

Their websites boast carbon neutrality, climate change-fighting efforts, and other green initiatives. However, some industry observers say today's most influential tech companies aren't supporting their environmental pledges with action. 

In fact, some argue that big tech is engaging in greenwashing — deliberately deceptive marketing used to persuade the public that a company's motives and products are environmentally sensitive. 

Major tech companies disagree. Here's what they say they're doing to respect the environment and protect natural resources.

Google says it's focused on three initiatives

The first is a commitment to operate 24/7 on carbon-free energy by 2030. The company, which also owns YouTube, says it's working to maximize the reuse of resources through its supply chains, operations, and products. 

Finally, Google is also focusing on water replenishment by supporting water security and ecosystems in communities where it operates.

Meta, aka Facebook, also owns Instagram and WhatsApp. The company says it's focused on five strategies:

  1. Achieving zero net emissions by 2030

  2. Accelerating adoption of renewable energy

  3. Becoming water positive by 2030

  4. Supporting safe, healthy, and fair working conditions in its supply chain

  5. Protecting and promoting biodiversity.

Apple's 2021 report on environmental progress lists three goals.

They are: 

  1. Becoming carbon neutral across the company's footprint by 2030.

  2. Committing to making all products and packaging and products using recycled or renewable materials.

  3. Designing products that "are safe for anyone who assembles, uses, or recycles them" and designed to be better for the environment. That will include products from Apple-owned Beats Electronics.

Microsoft has four core sustainability initiatives. 

They are: 

  1. Carbon reduction

  2. Committing to purchase and use more renewable energy

  3. Becoming water positive by 2030

  4. Pursuing responsible material sourcing, production, and disposal

As one example of how the company is meeting its goals, Microsoft says its headquarters received gold level zero-waste certification from the US Zero Waste Business Council. Microsoft's corporate portfolio includes Skype and LinkedIn.

Amazon identifies four high-level sustainability goals:

  1. Sustainable operations

  2. Product sustainability

  3. Cloud efficiency

  4. Creating options and opportunities to minimize waste, increase recycling, and provide options for customers to reuse, repair, and recycle products

Although best known for its product delivery services, one of the company's major subsidiaries is Amazon Web Services, or AWS. The company says energy efficiency is a top priority in its data center infrastructure's design and operation.

Where we've been and where we might go

Few may have realized it in 1969, but when the polluted Cuyahoga Rive caught fire in Cleveland, it sparked an environmental revolution. It sparked a global movement, the federal Clean Water Act, and even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Today, the Cuyahoga is an American Heritage River. About 22 miles of the river also are part of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The riverfront and its surroundings receive special consideration and protection. 

In the same way, decisions today — by companies big and small and the individuals who work there — can protect the Earth and revolutionize our tomorrow.

Angelique geehan smiles while leaning against a tree.

This article was reviewed by Angelique Geehan

Angelique Geehan works to support and repair the connections people have with themselves and their families, communities, and cultural practices. A queer, Asian, gender binary-nonconforming parent, Geehan founded Interchange, a consulting group that offers anti-oppression support. She organizes as part of several groups, including the National Perinatal Association's Health Equity Workgroup, the Health and Healing Justice Committee of the National Queer and Trans Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance, QTPOC+ Family Circle, and Batalá Houston.

Angelique Geehan is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network. 

Last reviewed March 22, 2022.

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