Examining How ‘Sustainable’ Our Businesses Really Are
As the end of April nears, so does the end of Earth Month, when people are encouraged to examine their environmental impacts and consider ways to shrink their ecological footprints. Businesses have the opportunity to do the same, from reviewing resource use and the impact of their supply chains to instituting composting and recycling programs at the office.
It’s important to check assumptions: Are digital tools really sustainable? How much energy does the business actually use? Below we take a look at how some companies are asking — and attempting to answer — these very questions.
Powering the World on ‘Smart Energy’
Let’s start with the numbers: For nearly a decade, energy generation has been the largest single source of global greenhouse gas emissions. The average U.S. home energy use requires the burning of more than 8,000 pounds of coal every year. That’s the equivalent of 4 tons of coal, which is the equivalent to the emissions burned by leaving three cars running continuously in your driveway every day, every year. Multiply that by the 127 million homes in the U.S., and you start to see how the energy use in our homes quickly adds up.
And nearly nine out of 10 people believe we should move toward a clean energy future.
This data combination led to the founding of B Corp Inspire, which is building a “smart energy” platform that buys renewable energy credits and makes them available through a monthly subscription service to homeowners and businesses. The company explains, “Smart Energy is designed to improve the efficiency of the home, eliminate environmental impact, and automate energy savings. It’s a combination of clean energy with smart technologies, allowing us to reward members for the energy they don’t use.”
For businesses, it can create an energy-use reduction (read: money savings on utilities) of up to 25 percent.
What Grade Does the Internet Get for Sustainability?
“People don’t think much about the potential impact their website, smartphone or internet use in general have on the environment. We mostly take these things for granted. Yet pixels require electricity,” shares Tim Frick, co-founder of B Corp digital agency Mightybytes.
Mozilla’s recent Internet Health Report for 2018 notes: “Global communication technologies will be responsible for more carbon emissions in 2025 than any country except China, India and the United States.”
Mightybytes’ free Ecograder tool grades websites on sustainability criteria, providing users with a report for making their website more people- and planet-friendly. This Earth Day marks the tool’s fifth birthday, during which time the following data have been collected:
- Ecograder has crawled nearly 1.7 million URLs.
- Ecograder generates a total score on a scale of 10 to 100 (100 being the best possible). An average score of 52 leaves significant room to improve most websites.
- Less than half of the URLs crawled by Ecograder were of responsive websites, which scale to fit the size of the screen being used to view the site. (Responsive sites use less energy.)
- Mightybytes partnered with The Green Web Foundation to assess whether the sites it crawls are powered by renewable energy. Of the 21.5 million websites the GWF has crawled, only 14 percent were powered by renewable energy.
But there are signs of progress, including online resources for digital designers such as Sustainable Web Design and Designing for Sustainability. Sites that are easier for users also are good for the environment—and another reminder that simpler generally is better for all of us.