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Shadow and light: How tech can save the environment

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Business has always had a dark side. It’s “the cost of doing business,” while social good initiatives often get shot down because they “don’t fit the program” – this is the serrated edge of profit and PR.

For a long time, businesses were able to make showy gifts to charitable organizations or tout internal, employee-driven recycling programs to demonstrate a kind of moral fiber. That time is over.

The danger of social media outing a company as not toeing the environmental line isn’t solely a PR nightmare; it’s a recruitment threat.

Consumers, potential employees, and the competition are all looking to identify who talks the talk, who walks the walk, and, most importantly, who is worthy of their time, attention, and money.

It’s not about creating a future; it’s about saving it

We’re living in a culture that has baseline expectations of participation in environmental sensitivity. Millennials, who comprise the largest group in the workforce and are responsible for more than $1 trillion in consumer spending, grew up with the term climate change.

Gallup Poll revealed that of people aged 18 to 29, 67% believe that global warming is real, human-made, and a severe threat, as do 49% of those in the 30-49 age bracket. Is the answer for companies to act out of fear?

No.

What needs to happen is that the environment needs to become a factor in profitability, because, with a burning globe, there will be no profit.

Reecently, at Davos, Coca Cola announced that they would not be eliminating plastic bottles. Their Head of Sustainability Bea Perez, said, “Business won’t be in business if we don’t accommodate consumers.

So as we change our bottling infrastructure, move into recycling and innovate, we also have to show the consumer what the opportunities are. They will change with us.”

She went on to say that the switch from single-use plastic to glass and aluminum exclusively would increase their carbon footprint. She’s not wrong.

Some people care about the environment as long as it is isn’t too inconvenient. If that is the case, how do you create measurable change? What can businesses do when consumer demand conflicts with greener practices?

How tech can save the environment: Examples

Let’s talk about planned obsolescence—the idea that rather than updates or add-ons, products age out and are thrown away. Less than 16% of old phones are recycled (in 2014, the figure was 50 pounds of electronic waste per American).

Consumers, in turn, think of things as eventually being thrown out because they are no longer of use. One could argue that it creates a lack of trust between consumers and brands. Why sell me a product you know won’t last? Why not make a better product?

Dell and HP are joining Cisco in designing products capable of upgrades so that consumers can use them for years by replacing parts. Greenpeace has recognized Apple as one of the greenest tech giants. The power of their data centers is 100% renewable energy. While they haven’t worked out a plan for phones not being replaced, they have found ways to recycle old phones to create new phones.

The potential for industry-wide change needs a shared light, bringing how industries and consumers enable one another to avoid positive change out of the shadows — sharing insight, committing to change, and daring to challenge how we grow with how we rehabilitate.

SAP is looking at the Plastics Cloud as a way of influencing change within the tech realm. The idea is that by creating a mechanism for increased common data and a better understanding of global, regional, and local laws and opportunities, innovation, and waste reduction can be more effectively driven by more companies.

How we hold ourselves accountable becomes the roadmap to how we get ahead and live up to what the world expects and, more importantly, what it needs.

The Global Plastic Action Partnership exists “to drive the transition towards a circular plastics economy while helping to restore our natural systems and creating growth opportunities.” No one is saying that these changes or alliances are easy or turn-key. As citizens of the global economy and partners in whatever world we want to leave for the next generation, we have to apply our collective energy, intellect, and conscience to do the work.

How we hold ourselves accountable becomes the roadmap to how we get ahead and live up to what the world expects and, more importantly, what it needs.

Ready to do your part? 
Learn how global leaders are tackling environmental concerns.

Amanda Magee
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Amanda Magee

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