How Your Tech Company Can Help Fight Climate Change

Søren Toft Odgaard
May 7, 2020 · 11 min read

The Danish government has set an ambitious goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 70 percent by 2030. The goal is supported by all major parties in the parliament. That makes me excited! Finally, something is being done. Or rather, in just a little while something is finally being done. Hopefully...

Because of the massive corona crisis news coverage, I almost missed the publication of reports with recommendations on climate actions by the Danish government’s thirteen climate partnerships. I haven’t had the chance to read through the full report yet, but I did take a deep dive into the report from the partnership for service, tech, and consultancy.

The service, tech, and consultancy sectors cover quite a lot of workplaces, ranging from tech companies to hairdressers, accountants, and dentists. The area covers more than 65 percent of all jobs in Denmark. At the same time, the area is only directly responsible for less than 0.5 percent of the Danish carbon dioxide emissions.

What does climate change have to do with the tech industry when it is responsible for less than 0.5 percent of carbon dioxide emissions? Isn’t it farmers, car manufacturers, airlines, and cows that need to fix this problem?

Naturally, the big potential lies within the environmental impact that the use of digital technologies can have on the emission-heavy sectors.

“Digital technologies could already help reduce global carbon emissions by up to 15% — or one-third of the 50% reduction required by 2030 — through solutions in energy, manufacturing, agriculture and land use, buildings, services, transportation and traffic management “
World Economic Forum (WEF)

The 2030 goal is only the beginning. WEF expects a new wave of innovative solutions based on e.g. AI, 5G networks, drones, and much more, that will help reduce emissions even further.

The climate partnership recommendations

The illustration below provides an overview of the suggested focus areas discussed in the climate-partnership report. I can only recommend spending a bit of time reading through the report yourself. If you find yourself pressed for time, it includes a handy two-page summary that gives a great overview. (Unfortunately, the report is only available in Danish).

Overview of the four objectives and thirteen suggestions (illustration from the climate partnership report)

I don’t think you need to look at this illustration for more than a minute to discover a playground filled with fun technology and exciting projects.

At first sight, it looks like suggestion 1: Take advantage of the potential in data, IoT and AI would be the obvious place to look, at least if you are a techie looking for fun stuff to do. However, taking a closer look at the other suggestions I can imagine digital solutions playing a part in implementing almost all of them.

The climate partnership report is a playground for innovation and technology

For me, the recipe for an engaging and fun project is to address a meaningful problem while applying technology in new and innovative ways, and the report provides a playground of opportunities in this area. Here is a set of examples from the report, translated from Danish to the best of my abilities:

  • “Denmark needs to bet extensively on research in AI….for energy- and climate solutions.”
  • “Denmark should take a front seat in the use of digital solutions, data analysis, AI and new business models to increase the flexibility of power consumption.”
  • “The Danish Agency for Digitisation (Digitaliseringsstyrelsen) should provide access to anonymized data on waste, water, power consumption, district heating, and patterns of transportation.”
  • “With minimal effort, companies can apply IoT and sensor-data to monitor and control energy-consuming processes, and to receive alarms in case of irregularities…..in important sectors such as production, utilities, manufacturing, construction, and retail”.
  • “The 5G network provides new opportunities for creating IoT-solutions. To support this, we recommend using already existing (national) funds for digital solutions and innovation.”
  • “The term ‘Smart Community’ covers a wide range of integrated solutions, aiming to improve quality of life and support the development of ‘green’ cities and communities. This is obtained through the use of communication technology, interconnected units, and data analysis to optimize the use of resources.”
  • “The government should set aside funds for commercial pilots with transport and logistic centers and prioritize research in intelligent cloud-based route- and logistic applications to register all steps in the delivery process, and coordinate with carriers on foot or bike”.

Each suggestion is described in much more detail in the report and the report appendix, including examples of real-life projects and, use cases as well as expected gains in emission reductions.

If your company works on contracts for the public sector you might expect to be met with new requirements in the future as well. The report suggests using both carrot and stick: requests for proposals by the Danish municipalities or regions should set hard requirements on sustainability, and it is suggested to establish innovation-partnerships with funds that companies can then apply for.

Example projects from my own back yard

I work in Aarhus for a tech company called Trifork. At Trifork we have been involved in projects for many large Danish manufacturers and organizations. If you have a smartphone and live in Denmark, I’ll bet you have an app on your phone that we played some part in developing. We have been involved with the development of applications for DSB (Danish State Railways), Danske Bank, LEGO, Velux, Vestas, Danfoss, and many more. On top of this, we also work on several projects within the Danish health care sector.

From my work at Trifork, I know of several projects that align well with the ideas presented in the climate partnership report. These projects may originally have been motivated by a desire to optimize work processes and reduce cost, but luckily this often aligns well with creating environmentally-friendly solutions. Here I’ll present two cases from Trifork:

Telemedicine cuts down on transportation

As the corona crisis really started to pick up speed here in Denmark, Trifork undertook a very accelerated development effort to add an online video consultancy feature to the MinLæge app (MyDoctor).

Video consultations via MinLæge app, are now available to most Danish citizens.

With the new video consultancy feature just being released, I couldn’t help but take notice of this quote from Dansk Erhverv (The Danish Chamber of Commerce) when reading through the climate-partnership report:

Telemedicine is an obvious source of carbon dioxide reduction. If one out of five practitioner visits in Denmark were handled online, it would save almost 8.000 tons of carbon dioxide per year.

By comparison, the average emission per Danish citizen is just short of 9 tons per year.

The new feature was released in late March, and about one month after the release, we see around 2.000 to 2.500 video consultations per normal weekday, performed through the app. For comparison, Denmark had around 20.000 (normal) consultations per day, each workday of 2019. It will be interesting to see what these numbers look like when things start getting back to normal. If you would like to know more, TV2 Østjylland recently published a small piece on the new functionality.

Smart thermostats reduce time and energy waste

At Trifork, we have worked with Danfoss to develop the IoT solution, DEVIweb™, to minimize manual processes and save both time and energy-related to the heating of large facilities, such as hotels and nursing homes. You can read more about the project here.

“This solution has helped our customers save so much — not only in the time it takes to install and commission the thermostats, but also in energy consumption” — Gasper Benedik, Head of R&D Danfoss

Building operations, including heating, ventilation, and cooling, is a major source of carbon dioxide. I was surprised to learn, that the emission-related to building operations in Denmark even surpasses emissions related to transportation (not considering international shipping). In the report it says:

The impact on the environment from building construction and operations amounts to 37 percent in Denmark, thus being the single largest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions. The impact is mainly due to building operations, including heating…

The potential for impacting the environment through smart buildings and smart communities is significant, and the report has numerous suggestions and examples on how to achieve this. The report also mentions an IoT solution by Danfoss to monitor cooling systems, and signal alarms in case of irregularities, hence reducing time used on monitoring the systems and minimizing the loss of goods — in this case, food.

Tech-companies should use their influence to create environmental awareness and impact the behavior of their employees

So, there are a lot of ways in which we can have a positive impact on the environment using digital technologies within sectors such as manufacturing, construction, buildings, and transportation. But what about the tech sector?

With the tech sector being directly responsible for less than 0.5 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, one might thing there is little reason to look inwards. However, that is not necessarily true.

An angle I hadn’t considered prior to reading the report, is how the values and actions of a company may influence employee behavior in their private life. With the climate partnership representing 65 percent of the Danish work-force, this is obviously an important area to focus on. From the report:

…the workplace becomes a catalyst for the green transition at home. Likewise, if we understand that certain job-related transportation patterns have a positive impact on the climate, then we will bring these improved habits home with us.s.

Here I could think of many topics to focus on, for instance:

  • Canteen food quality and waste. What kind of food does the company feed its employees? It is organic? Meat-to-greens ratio? How much food is wasted?
  • Sustainable office-buildings. Has the office-building been constructed with materials with low emission impact, or perhaps with a focus on circular construction? How is the building heated and ventilated? And how about smart solutions for heating and ventilation as mentioned in the Danfoss case above.
  • Employee transportation. Does the company offer dedicated parking spaces and charging stations for EVs? Are company cars EV?

Looking at the office where I work, I see many things that we could improve in this area. Just to give a few examples that you may also recognize from your office. The food service is fairly meat-rich and non-organic, and we see quite a lot of surplus food being thrown away on most days. We make cold bottled water freely available for convenience, while high quality tapped water is just three feet away. We often choose flying over train or bus for company trips, if flying is just a little more convenient or faster.

On the other hand,…

Trifork is building a new office space in Aarhus, built of wood, with a high focus on the use of sustainability both in construction and operations. Maybe this is our start to company-wide increased environmental awareness.

If you find the Trifork “woodhouse” project interesting, drop me a comment below, and I will consider a separate blog post on this.

How do we get started?

So how do you start taking advantage of the new business opportunities offered by addressing the climate crisis? And how can you help create an increased awareness of environmental issues within your company? I have a couple of suggestions on this:

If you are a leader in a tech company

  • Create a sustained and explicit organizational focus on the environment. More and more companies appoint Chief Sustainability Officers (CSO), Chief Green Officers (CGO), or Chief Environmental Officers (CECO). According to Wikipedia, as of 2005, nearly all of the 150 largest companies in the world had a sustainability officer with the rank of vice president or higher.
  • Make environmental issues part of your company vision and objectives and let this fan out into specific initiatives. Microsoft has set a goal to be carbon-negative by 2030. What are your company goals?
  • Translate company vision in this area to quantifiable results. Use the tools that you already have for making your company strategy operational, or perhaps consider a framework like OKR (Objective and Key Results) to break down your vision into quantifiable results and concrete initiatives.
  • Offer your employees attractive terms if they choose to engage in environmental projects, thereby sending a strong message on company values. These values will reflect on the employees’ personal values. The outdoor retailer Patagonia sets a high standard in this area:

After a year at Patagonia, you can take up to two months off, with pay, to volunteer with an environmental organization or project.

If you (just) work in a tech company

  • Engage the grassroots of the company: user- and study-groups, slack-channels, guilds, hacker-days, or what other tools or structures your company may have. Engage the groups and the question: how do we start applying fun and cool technology to the problems at hand? Use the report from the climate partnership as an inspiration catalog.
  • We have work environment representatives at most Danish companies. They help ensure a safe and healthy work environment: do we have proper tables and office chairs, ventilation, lighting, and much more. Maybe we should also have (just) environment representatives: what is the content and quality of our canteen food, and how much is being wasted? Have we implemented solutions for optimizing energy consumption related to office building operations? Transportation. Recycling. Parties. Etc.

It’s good for business!

The climate partnership report talks a lot about how the climate challenge must be solved through growth. Economic growth. Green growth. And funny enough, it especially talks about growth within service, tech, and counseling. Moving jobs to this sector are even argued to be part of the solution in itself, due to the low and steadily falling emission-numbers within the sector. Very convenient, but hopefully true, nonetheless.

I want to end this post with a quote from Morten Albæk’s book “One Life — How we forgot to live meaningful lives”:

“A research study was done on the 500 largest companies listed on the stock exchange in the United States, comparing the performance of traditional companies with that of companies that are organized around a higher moral purpose. A purpose that reflects the impact that the company seeks to make on society. Over a 15-year period, the so-called purpose-driven companies had a shareholder return that was no less than 14 times bigger than that of the average company” — Morten Albæk

By Søren Toft
Software Pilot, Trifork

About me

I work with software solutions and technical leadership at Trifork in our offices in downtown Aarhus. I have a strong passion for agile practices, cool technology, and a growing interest in sustainable solutions in almost any context. If you have questions or comments regarding the post, please write them in the comments section below. For anything not directly related to the post feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn.

References

Destination AARhus-TechBlog

Engineers sharing knowledge and insights into current IT challenges, development, and and features.

Destination AARhus-TechBlog

A team of IT and digital experts from Greater Aarhus, Denmark — sharing ideas, knowledge and insights. Are you a passionated engineer too? Check out our many opportunities here: https://destinationaarhus.com/vacant-positions/

Søren Toft Odgaard

Written by

Destination AARhus-TechBlog

A team of IT and digital experts from Greater Aarhus, Denmark — sharing ideas, knowledge and insights. Are you a passionated engineer too? Check out our many opportunities here: https://destinationaarhus.com/vacant-positions/

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