Digital Transformation and the Journey to Net Zero

March 7, 2023
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In 1950 the world emitted 6 billion tonnes of CO2, fast forward just over 70 years and the figures have been released for 2022 … and they’re pretty startling. Globally we released 36.8 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, the highest ever levels recorded; something of a contradiction to the backdrop of carbon reduction that we’re aiming for. As business leaders we’re all aware of our responsibility to help reduce these figures. Most of us are trying, but let’s be honest it can be difficult to know where to begin, and even fully understand the situation … particularly when it comes to technology.

Let’s start with a quick overview of the terminology around climate targets:

Green House Gases (GHG): are gases which allow sunlight and heat into the Earth's atmosphere, but don’t let it then escape. Much like a greenhouse, hence the name!

Scope 1 Emissions:  the emissions that a company makes directly, for example running its vehicles, or production of heat from a boiler on site.

Scope 2 Emissions: these are the emissions that are released as a result of business operations, but not directly by the business, in most instances from the purchase of energy. This tends to be in four main areas; electricity, steam, heating and cooling.

Scope 3 Emissions: essentially these are all the other emissions that are related to business operations but don’t fall into 1 and 2. Examples include everything from staff commutes and business travel, right through to emissions generated by suppliers and waste disposal.

Net Zero: when the amount of emissions going into the atmosphere is matched by the amount being taken out of it.

Paris Agreement: a legally binding international treaty signed by 194 parties in 2016, which includes increasing commitments to reduce emissions and help in the fight against climate change. 2023 will see the first global assessment of how countries are progressing inline with their commitments.  

At Yopla we specialise in digital transformation and we're committed to achieving this for us and our clients with a firm focus on being green. That means looking at where technology, or often a consolidation of it, can help the environment and your businesses scope 3 emissions.

What is Digital Transformation?

The internet and digital technology generally have brought about considerable changes in how people behave. Simply put, digital transformation is the reorganisation of business, process and strategy to reflect these new behaviours in a digital age … it’s the journey from where a business currently is, to where it needs to be to succeed digitally and meet customer demands.

Globally the spend on digital transformation is expected to reach $6.8 trillion by the end of 2023, with 56% of CEO’s already reporting an increase in profits because of their focus on digital change. Improved productivity, higher quality customer interactions and feedback, and better resource management are all part of a successful digital transformation. With the right advice, these changes can also help to significantly reduce your carbon footprint too … good for business and good for the planet!

Government estimates suggest that this decade needs to see five times more carbon reduction than the previous two decades combined if we stand any chance of hitting the targets of the Paris Agreement commitments, and they’re aware that digital transformation is a major player in achieving this. Take the NHS as an example. In their race to net zero they’re estimating that using remote monitoring technologies will save around 6000 tonnes of carbon over 3 years. To put that into perspective, that’s around 28 million miles of combined patient travel that’s no longer needed, or the equivalent of taking 1283 cars off the road for a whole year. Combine that with the 4000 tonnes of carbon NHS Digital has saved by moving to more efficient cloud hosting solutions, and it’s a hefty reduction across the board.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a huge consideration in the future of the NHS too. While it’s still an emerging technology so needs more research into its climate impact, there’s a real hope that its introduction could lead to further environmental savings. For any readers interested in AI and the medical world, the Surgeons Hall Museum in Edinburgh has a fantastic exhibition dedicated to understanding its place in the future of medicine.

What can Businesses Do?

The first step in any endeavours to introduce digital transformation to a business is to have a thorough, company specific, evaluation to establish its digital maturity. Preferably this should be done by a third party who can be truly impartial and it should give you a comprehensive understanding of where your business currently is, where it would like to be, with a focus on the journey needed to get to that goal. Check out our Digital Evaluation page for a more detailed description of what a digital evaluation looks like.

Environmentally, digital audits have a significant part to play in helping businesses identify the best routes forward for them. DEFRA research suggests that each user of a company IT system has the same environmental impact as travelling almost 2000 miles in a car, having 428 showers, or charging 100,540 smart phones. With the advent of scope 3 emissions policies, these figures will be critical for businesses in lowering their climate impact. Once you know where your focus should be though, there’s a whole host of things you can do with ease to make a real difference to your digital carbon footprint, while catapulting your business into the future.

80% of the carbon footprint from ICT (information, communication and technology) could be reduced if there was a switch made to renewable energy sources. While a business aware of its scope 2 emissions may choose a green energy supplier for its office-based requirements, it’s just as important to look at the supply chain to see if their choices align with yours. For example, does your IT or cybersecurity provider use green energy, or is the software you choose hosted in an environmentally positive way? Many businesses still fall foul of software hoarding … do you have 3 programmes to do a job where 1 well chosen application would be better suited for the task at hand? The more data you’re storing, in more places, the worse your carbon contribution.

Be careful of panic buying too. We often see businesses who’ve rushed out to buy custom software, or been told off the shelf solutions will fix all their problems, only to realise it’s not right for them. Not only is this costly, but also hugely problematic environmentally … computer programmes all use considerable amounts of storage – anything that’s unused is taking up valuable resource. People often forget that the data centres hosting their software are massive environmental drains. Make sure your digital evaluation suggests the right products for your business considering all the factors that are important to you.

Hardware choices are key to good decision making and often impact more than the obvious areas. To negate the emissions outputted in manufacturing the average smartphone or tablet it needs to be in use for at least 10 years. With current trends seeing average ownership of tech being around 2.5 years, businesses need to lead the way in changing the mentality around device ownership. We can’t ignore the supply chain issues around technology either, it’s controversial to say the least, particularly when it comes to sourcing raw materials. PWC have a great article here outlining the major climate issues around smartphone manufacture, and highlighting why it’s so important to be aware of where technology comes from.

There are so many choices available when selecting hardware that it’s really important to get the very best advice for what’s right for your business. Buying items that aren’t fit for purpose means that you’ll need to change them and considering the 10 year carbon zero period on most of these, making them redundant shouldn’t be an option. Think about buying second hand where possible; older laptops particularly are often more climate friendly as they’ll not have energy hungry components. Look at how repairable and upgradeable items are too; being able to replace parts if and when required is much more sustainable than buying new. Pick products that are TCO Certified ensuring that you’re investing in tech manufacturers that are being held to the highest standards. The TCO website is a fantastic resource too for all things related to technology and sustainability!

What Next?

There’s no hiding from the reality of climate change, or the reality that businesses are going to be held accountable for their contribution. Scope 3 emissions and government policies are all incoming and they’re demanding significant change, fast.

Businesses are recognising the need for urgent action, and digital transformation is a massive tool in the arsenal for future thinking leaders. Jeff Bezos (Amazon founder) is quoted as saying:

“There is no alternative to digital transformation. Visionary companies will carve out new strategic options for themselves — those that don’t adapt, will fail.”

and John Chambers from Cisco as:

“At least 40% of all businesses will die in the next 10 years… if they don’t figure out how to change their entire company to accommodate new technologies.”.

With the right guidance and people on side though, business can thrive while doing its part to save the planet. Business can set the stage and lead the way for the future, being the example of how success, the planet, and people can coexist in harmony with one another. It may seem like a huge task, but lots of businesses, making steps in the right direction today makes all the difference to the world of tomorrow.

Further Reading

The 6 Best Sustainable Laptops for 2023

Supplier Engagement Guide | Exponential Roadmap Initiative

The role of digital technologies in meeting NHS net zero targets - NHS Transformation Directorate (        

Artificial Intelligence in the NHS: Climate and Emissions

A quick guide to your digital carbon footprint - Ericsson

How to reduce your digital carbon footprint - UK Government Sustainable ICT

Emissions by sector - Our World in Data

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Net Zero
Co-Founder, Yopla
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