Is The Internet Killing The Planet?

Nowadays, the environment and global warming are hot topics. It is rare a day goes by that I do not hear something about it on the news in the morning. But it’s understandable, the health of our planet is paramount for the health of our future generations. But something I would like to take a look at is how some of the world’s most popular companies are affecting the environment, compared with more traditional companies and how they are affecting it. More to the point, is the internet killing the planet?

In this blog post, I am going to compare 4 of the world’s top internet and generally high-tech companies, with some more traditional companies to see whether the rise of companies of a more silicon-valley nature are having an adverse affect on the environment.


Apple

Apple is one of the rare tech companies that is now running on 100% renewable energy. On the 9th of April this year, they produced a press release stating this fact. They announced that its global facilities are powered with 100 percent clean energy. This achievement includes all of their retail stores, offices, data centres and co-located facilities in 43 countries — including the United States, the United Kingdom, China and India. Apple is one of the few companies that are completely powered by renewable energy, but they don’t just purchase energy from renewable sources, they also produce a lot of renewable energy.

Apple currently has 25 operational renewable energy projects around the world which total 626 Megawatts of generation capacity! Or, 626,000,000 Watts! For reference, a toaster uses between 800 to 1500 Watts per use. Not only that, but Apple also has 15 more renewable energy projects in construction. Once built, these will total 1.4 Gigawatts of energy production capacity in 11 countries! The solar panels on top of Apple’s new HQ generate 17 Megawatts of power, and their data centre in Maiden, North Carolina, is supported by projects that generate 244 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy per year, which is equivalent to the energy used by 17,906 North Carolina homes.

In 2017, Apple used a total, across all of their operations around the world, 1.88 Million megawatt hours (mMWh) of clean, renewable energy. For a company that uses so much energy, it is great to see that it is all coming from renewable sources.

But does all of this mean that they do not have a carbon footprint? Of course not, Apple’s Environmental Responsibility Report for 2018 published that in 2017, their total carbon footprint to 27.5 Million metric tonnes of CO2e.

Facebook

In 2017, Facebook reported that their carbon emissions, per-user, was 300g. Now, this might not seem much when you compare it to the fact that it takes about 340g of CO2e to make 1 medium latte, but you also need to consider how many people actually use Facebook. As of June 2017, Facebook had 2 Billion monthly users! And in 2017, Facebook’s carbon footprint was 979,000 Tonnes of CO2e.

Of course, Facebook, like most tech companies, are making great strides in the renewable energy market. In their sustainability report for 2017, they reported that Facebook is 51% powered by renewable energy, and only 18% by coal. They also want to ensure that they are being powered by 100% renewable energy by 2020, a realistic target.

In 2017, Facebook’s total electricity use was 2.46 Million megawatt hours, 96% of this use was from their data centres with the final 4% coming from their offices around the world. Given that we know 18% of Facebook’s energy use came from coal directly, we can calculate that 0.44 Million megawatt hours of their electricity use came from coal. Not a glowing statistic.

A Comparison

I have just mentioned the amount of electricity that Apple and Facebook use in mMWh. An average UK home uses an average of 3,370kWh of electricity per year. If 1 Megawatt hour is equal to 1,000 Kilowatt hour, now you can start to see how much electricity these types of companies are actually using!

To put it into perspective, Apple’s energy use in Kilowatt hours would be 1,880,000,000. And Facebook’s would be 2,460,000,000.

Google

Google has been carbon neutral since 2007 and are now also making the jump into the renewable energy market. In 2017, they confirmed that they purchased enough renewable energy to match 100% of their global consumption for operations. However, they have not taken this as far as Apple have, mainly due to the fact that they do still operate with coal and other dirty energy sources. They just purchase enough renewable energy to completely offset that amount. Google have recently confirmed that they have partnered with more than 40 carbon offset projects to offset more than 17 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

However, Google do publish their greenhouse gas emissions every year, and for 2017, their gross greenhouse gas emissions were 6.1 Million tonnes of CO2e!

However, they are still doing good things for the environment. Since 2010, Google have signed 26 agreements to purchase nearly 3 Gigawatts of new renewable energy. This is equivalent to taking more than 1.3 Million cars off the road each year. Not only that, but they are also making great strides to reduce their everyday carbon emissions! By using Google shuttles and corporate electric vehicles to get to work, Google employees have saved more than 33,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions – this is equivalent to taking 6,500 cars off the road every day for 1 year.

Microsoft

Like almost all global, well-known companies. Especially tech companies, Microsoft also make their carbon footprint information readily available to the public. Thanks to them doing this, we know that their greenhouse gas emissions for 2017, across nearly all of their business activities, totalled 24.2 Million metric tonnes of CO2e.

Of course, this is an extremely high number, but this does cover nearly all of their business activities, from the manufacture of their many laptops and PCs all the way to their office operations.

Not only that, but Microsoft also use a lot of energy! In total, they used 6.3 Million Megawatt hours of electricity in 2017. A huge number. However, 96% of this was renewable electricity.

Since 2012, Microsoft has been completely carbon neutral. Meaning they have purchased enough carbon offsets to completely offset the amount of carbon they pump into the atmosphere each day.


Walt Disney Company

The Walt Disney Company, or Disney for short, is one of the world’s most well-known and well-loved entertainment brands. With that, comes the potential for an extremely high carbon footprint! Not only does the company produce a wide array of TV programs and films, it also operates multiple theme parks across the world and produces merchandise for their millions of fans around the globe!

Disney understand that with their inevitably high carbon footprint, they need to do a lot of work to offset the amount of carbon dioxide that is pumped into the atmosphere. They do this by supporting a wide array of carbon reduction projects around the world. They have also published that they have prevented the release of 3.5 million metric tonnes of CO2 thanks to the carbon reduction projects that they support around the world.

The company are also on track to hit their target of reducing their net emissions by 50% from 2012 levels. As of the end of 2017, they had already reduced their emissions by 41% compared to their 2012 levels! There is still a lot of work to be done, however. In 2017, it was reported that their greenhouse gas emissions for the year totalled 1.88 million metric tonnes of CO2e! 

Toyota

Toyota, one of the world’s leading automotive manufacturers has one of the largest carbon footprints of any automotive manufacturer. With that being said, they are also investing a lot of time and money into reducing their carbon emissions! Not only from the vehicles they are selling, but their manufacturing operations as well! Toyota has the goal of eliminating CO2 from their manufacturing and logistics processes worldwide by 2050!

In 2016, Toyota had a total carbon footprint of 7.87 million metric tonnes of CO2e! A large carbon footprint compared to that of Walt Disney and even Facebook! However, the automotive industry has always been an industry associated with large carbon footprints due to the nature of the work they do!

If we take into account their target for 2050, we can assume that they are looking to have a total carbon footprint of around 3.93 million metric tonnes of CO2e by 2050, still a very large carbon footprint! Given that many companies will be looking to completely eradicate their carbon footprint by that time, this is going to be a major issue for environmental organisations.

AT&T

AT&T is the world’s leading mobile communications provider, providing the infrastructure for a large proportion of the North American population to allow them to communicate with their mobile devices. Of course, this is always going to mean that they have a large carbon footprint! However, like a lot of major companies, they have recently started to take huge strides in reducing their carbon footprint around the globe.

One of their main goals is to reduce their total greenhouse gas emissions by 20% compared to their 2008 baseline. In 2016, they reported that their total greenhouse gas emissions for that year was 1,172,476 metric tonnes of CO2e. This represents a 2.72& decrease in emissions from their 2008 baseline. Many people would not consider this good enough in the modern world, especially when you compare it to the schemes and targets larger tech companies are putting into place.

Walmart

Walmart is by far the world’s largest retail company without factoring in the likes of Amazon and eBay. They operate in a wide array of countries and even own the likes of ASDA in the UK. Like many large corporations, they have set very ambitious targets to reduce their carbon emissions as the world has started to realise that we have a large effect on the environment. However, they do have a very large carbon footprint!

In 2017, Walmart reported that their total carbon footprint was 21 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide. This is one of the largest seen in any retail company around the world, so it is right that they are taking steps to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide they produce and pump into the atmosphere.

Walmart have stated that they are looking to reduce 1 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide from their product supply chains by 2030! A great target to achieve, which may be overshadowed by their already large carbon footprint.


Conclusion

Based on the information we can see above, whilst tech companies such as Apple and Microsoft have large carbon footprints, when tech companies manage the environment to the best of their ability, their carbon footprint is no bigger than some large corporations around the world. Walmart’s carbon footprint is only slightly smaller than that of Apple and Microsoft, whilst it is (by brand value and revenue) a company of a dramatically smaller size.


Sources

  • https://www.apple.com/euro/environment/pdf/g/generic/Apple_Environmental_Responsibility_Report_2018.pdf
  • https://sustainability.fb.com/our-footprint/
  • https://storage.googleapis.com/gweb-sustainability.appspot.com/CDP/Alphabet-2018-CDP-Report.pdf
  • https://sustainability.google/reports/environmental-report-2018
  • https://www.coca-colacompany.com/content/dam/journey/us/en/private/fileassets/pdf/2017/TCCC-2017-CDP-Climate-Change-Response-Final-07132017.pdf
  • https://www.ovoenergy.com/guides/energy-guides/how-much-electricity-does-a-home-use.html
  • https://storage.googleapis.com/gweb-sustainability.appspot.com/pdf/Google_2018-Environmental-Report.pdf
  • http://download.microsoft.com/download/0/0/6/00604579-134B-4D0E-97C3-D525DFB7890A/Microsoft_2017_Environmental_Data_Factsheet.pdf
  • https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/environment/carbon
  • https://www.thewaltdisneycompany.com/wp-content/uploads/2017disneycsrupdate.pdf
  • https://www.toyotauk.com/files/TMC_Environmental_Rpt_2017.pdf
  • https://about.att.com/ecms/dam/csr/sustainability-reporting/PDF/2017/ATT-Annual-Update.pdf
  • https://corporate.walmart.com/media-library/document/2018-grr-summary/_proxyDocument?id=00000162-e4a5-db25-a97f-f7fd785a0001
  • https://cdn.corporate.walmart.com/95/08/2d1f094c430186c299788ac1935b/wmt-2017-grr-report-final.pdf

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