Want to cut your carbon footprint? Consider your digital footprint
Ever had that flygskam feeling? Unless you have a keen knowledge of the Swedish language, you’ll probably have felt it often, without even realising. For us Swedes, feeling guilty for taking flights has become such a phenomenon that we’ve given the emotion its own word.
Consumers globally, though, are growing increasingly aware of the impact of their actions on our planet, and the aviation industry has become a poster child for environmental damage. And that’s not without good reason: 16,000 jets criss-crossing the globe spew more than 600mn tonnes of CO2 into our atmosphere every year. Feeling bad for booking that exotic holiday?
I’ve got some bad news for you: you might be feeling a lot guiltier by the end of this article (especially if you’re reading it online). Why? Because every scroll on Twitter, search on Google, purchase from eBay, and film watched on Netflix, is also contributing to climate change.
Digital carbon footprint
At the last count there were 4.3bn active internet users across the world, and unlike 2017’s 4.1bn passengers who took flights, these users are individuals (whereas many passengers take multiple flights). Furthermore, many of us will take flights only once or twice a year (or not at all), whereas I’d hazard a guess that most of us use the internet every day. Despite this, our daily digital screen time has managed to slip under the radar of even the most committed environmentalist.
Still not convinced? As fellow Swede Greta Thunberg would say, let’s look at the facts. The average website produces 6.8g of carbon per page view; a 1MB email, during its total lifecycle, emits 20g of CO2; and, producing an estimated 3.2% of total global carbon emissions, data centres alone will surpass the entire aviation industry in their contribution to climate heating in just five years’ time. And that’s before we get started on the subject of cryptocurrency. ‘Fat cat’ bankers have traditionally curried negative attention, but an emerging generation of environmentalists may soon be shifting criticism to miners of cryptocurrency. A recent study revealed that the level of annual carbon emissions of Bitcoin alone sits between the total amounts produced by Jordan and Sri Lanka and, while industries like automotive and utilities are subject to regulations, cryptocurrency is a relative Wild West.
It’s worth remembering that the above figures are based on our internet usage today. As we move towards an ever-more connected world, we’ll see an increase in smartphone penetration and a greater number of services and applications go digital-first, all supported by the roll-out of ultra-fast, next-generation 5G connectivity. Those of us who stream TV shows and films, for example, will soon be able to do so in ultra-high definition 8K picture quality, in a matter of mere seconds. This is an exciting prospect for viewers, but a daunting one for the planet. More digital activity will mean more clicks and page views and more carbon-fuelled data centre power.
Regulation takes off
What can we do? And who should be responsible for doing what? In the aviation industry, there has been some movement from on high. All EU countries are required to monitor and offset emissions on international routes, for example, while the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s aircraft CO2 emissions standard will apply to all new aircraft designs from 2020. We’ve even seen action from airlines themselves, such as Dutch carrier KLM which launched its Fly Responsibly campaign earlier this year, encouraging travellers to consider alternative, greener transport options. As consumers, we too can have a significant impact. We can take fewer long-haul flights and pick alternative modes of transport for short-haul. Or we can give up flying altogether (á la Greta).
But can we, as consumers, really give up the internet? This is a much harder prospect and, because I can’t imagine policymakers prioritising greening the digital domain any time soon, it means that the responsibility should lie with the tech industry.
And now for some good news: unlike re-engineering whole new aircraft, rethinking your approach to content delivery is a low-cost, straightforward process which has immediate impact. Caching software can be easily incorporated into content delivery networks – including those that operate on a huge, global scale, such as OTT video platforms. Being technology-agnostic, this software works with pretty much every web technology and can cache pretty much all types of content.
What’s the cache?
Caching content ensures that it doesn’t have to be reproduced every time a visitor to a website asks for it – which usually involves a request being made (a viewer hitting the play button on a VoD site, for instance) and information being fetched and produced from numerous different systems. The caching software, on the other hand, stores all of these digital objects and fires out copies when requests are made. This reduces the amount of computing power demanded of servers and therefore cuts energy expenditure – and, crucially, CO2 emissions.
Good news for the environment, but also very good news for both the website user and the tech company behind it. Faster response times contribute to a better user experience, and a better user experience reduces customer churn (for content streaming service providers for instance), increases conversion rates (for a retail brand for example), and promotes user engagement and page views (pretty essential for any .com business).
As a global population, we (and our planet) are benefitting from a growing awareness and understanding of the consequences of our actions. Flying, driving, heating our homes and buying new clothes have all received attention, and now it’s time the same level of scrutiny was paid to our actions in the online world.
What’s the Swedish phrase for guilt of using the internet? I’m not sure there is one (yet!), but I do know that there’s a readily-available, easily implementable solution to ease this guilt. Deploying caching software as part of your content delivery network may be a small step for business owners, but it’s one that signals a significant step towards a greener, more sustainable future for our planet.
Start-ups receive $60 billion investment, smash 2020 record
Start-ups on the continent have raised a massive 43.8 billion euros ($60.9 billion) in just the first six months of 2021, according to figures from Dealroom, surpassing the record 38.5 billion euros invested last year..
This is despite the fact that the number of venture deals signed so far is around half the amount agreed in 2020. Only about 2,700 funding rounds have been raised so far this year, compared to 5,200 last year.
Prime examples in times of change
Examples are Swedish buy-now-pay-later firm Klarna which has raised more than $1.6 billion in two financing rounds, the German stock trading app Trade Republic received $900 million in May and British payments provider Checkout.com snapped up $450 million at the start of the year.
The figures suggest that European tech firms are pulling in far larger sums of money per investment than in previous years, which defies the economic uncertainty of the pandemic and boosted online services enormously.
The CEO of Checkout.com, Guillaume Pousaz, said start-ups have often been created in times of crisis, citing the emergence of several new financial technology companies in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis.
He added that big transformational change was often the time when there is the emergence of a lot of new start-ups, sometimes when people are losing their jobs for associated reasons.
UK leading the charge
Scale-Up Europe, a group that includes the founders of UiPath and Wise, proposed 21 recommendations to help the region build “the next generation of tech giants.” Among the suggestions are tax credits to corporates for investing in start-ups and regulatory changes that adapt to new innovations.
Sebastian Siemiatkowski, CEO of Klarna, said the U.K. leads Europe when it comes to tech policy, and that there were a number of regulatory issues needing to be addressed before the European Union can produce tech giants of its own.
Siemiatkowski highlighted EU regulation of web cookies as an example of “poor regulation.” Yet, as the number of $1 billion start-ups in Europe continues to grow, the number of exits in the continent is also increasing.
This year has already seen some notable acquisitions, including Etsy’s $1.6 billion purchase of U.K. fashion resale app Depop and JPMorgan’s takeover of London robo-advisor Nutmeg.
As for stock market listings, a number of notable debuts have taken place in London in particular, including food delivery app Deliveroo, cybersecurity firm Darktrace and reviews site Trustpilot. Money transfer giant Wise, formerly known as TransferWise, plans to go public in the U.K. capital soon.