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Scope 3 emissions: the time for bold leadership is now

David Craig

David Craig

Chief Executive Officer at Iceotope
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Image credit: metamorworks / Shutterstock.com

Lately, it seems as if every time we scroll through our news feeds we are confronted with the realities of climate change.

Europe is in the midst of the worst energy crisis in decades, even prior to the war in Ukraine exasperating the situation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is regularly issuing reports on the severe impact of climate change on global society. Weather patterns around the world are becoming more extreme resulting in fires, floods and more powerful hurricanes than ever before.

The best corporations don’t just want to be seen as doing the right thing, but genuinely are doing the right thing, when it comes to climate change. Businesses and industries have begun to track their carbon emissions through the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, a widely-sponsored international standardised framework to measure greenhouse gas. The protocol divides the emissions into three different scopes, commonly defined as:

  • Scope 1 – direct emissions from owned or controlled sources.
  • Scope 2 – indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating and cooling consumed by the reporting company.
  • Scope 3 – all other indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain.

Today, the scopes are designed to be voluntary. Scopes 1 and 2 are relatively easy for a company to own and track. Scope 3 goes to the level of actually understanding the carbon lifecycle of your entire footprint from cradle to grave. The corporate value chain measures Scope 3 emissions across 15 different categories from goods and services to transportation to business travel to end-of-life product disposal. For many companies, this accounts for more than 70% of their carbon footprint. Companies that are signing up to Scope 1 and 2 will absolutely insist that their supply chains do so as well.

For data centre users, this can be a bit tricky, particularly when it comes to the cloud, where GHG emissions can be harder to calculate. When workloads are moved to the cloud, an organisation is no longer generating direct emissions or purchasing energy, both of which are covered under Scope 1 and 2 emissions, respectively. Those emissions are now part of Scope 3.

Add to that, a significant proportion of carbon emissions across computing platforms actually come from hardware manufacturing as well as operational system use. Meta recently shared meta-analysis of sustainability reports and lifecycle analyses from researchers identifying this trend. Despite improvements in software and hardware efficiencies, a mobile device, for example, may need a three year longer lifespan to amortise the carbon footprint created by their manufacture.

The good news is there are solutions data centre operators can incorporate that immediately help in reducing carbon emissions. One solution is precision immersion liquid cooling. Liquid cooling offers the ability to reduce infrastructure energy use by 40%, slash water consumption by greater than 90% and improve pPUE to 1.03, which is further enhanced by server energy reductions often of 10% and more. Alternate forms of power generation, such as hydrogen fuel cells, are quickly becoming economically viable alternatives to UPS and diesel generators. Microsoft has been testing and implementing the technology and sees long term benefits beyond reducing carbon emissions.

What all of this requires, however, is the courage to lead. Many of these ‘low hanging fruits’ are new ways of doing business. They are moving away from a well-known technology solution to one that has greater perceived risk. Now is not the time for incrementalism. We are facing a global climate crisis and need bold leadership to make hard choices and take swift action. There is a real competitive advantage opportunity for companies willing to adopt new technologies and find a new way to do business. 

A business doesn’t grow by cutting back. A Gartner study from 2019 shows what differentiates winning companies in times of change: “First, progressive business leaders prepare to navigate turns even before the turns are clearly in view. Second, their mindset and actions before, during and after the turns separate their organisation from the pack and determine its long-term destiny.” Those that invest when change is happening are the companies that rocket and accelerate out of the downturn.

The Scope 1, 2 and 3 protocols create a language, a framework and an expectation. In other words, they create an opportunity for businesses to navigate one of the biggest technology challenges we will face this decade. Governments, particularly in the UK and Europe, are committed to net zero initiatives and ensuring they are met. The public is embracing the seriousness of the crisis and the youth of today will hold us all accountable.

It’s no longer about optics, but rather our competitive ability to survive and keep our planet healthy. Technology will play a significant role in this. Those who will become the heroes of this story are those who demonstrate bold leadership and embrace the changes that need to come.

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