I may have my head in the cloud but I believe Big Tech can help to save the planet – Colin Bryce

by | Feb 2, 2023

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Written by Colin Bryce 

Commercial organisations seeking to tackle climate change have, what’s known in the business as a ‘hard sell’. 

Global corporations pushing a sustainability message tend to meet the kind of resistance Ronald McDonald or Colonel Sanders would face if they co-wrote a book about the benefits of veganism. 

As a Glasgow-based company, we really caught the green bug as the city prepared to host the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in 2021. 

 
 

Since then, we have implemented the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development goals, establishing a sustainability committee, and developed a new suite of sustainable products to offer our clients. 

Basking in the glow of our own self-satisfaction, we can generally rely on a positive reception when we recount our contribution in helping to save the planet – until we reveal that we are one of the UK’s principal, full-service Google Cloud partners. 

After that, things can often go a bit quiet. Of course, it depends on the audience, but it’s fair to say there’s a commonly held prejudice among some people against global corporations – particularly Big Tech – that their propensity to do ‘evil’ corresponds directly to their size. 

 
 

While tabloid stories concerning the opinions and peccadilloes of the billionaire owners of such corporations often do little to counter such prejudices, it’s left to evangelists like us to put the other side of the story. 

It might be a hard sell, but it’s a sell worth making because of what’s at stake. While leaders continue to gather for routine rounds of what Greta Thunberg calls ‘blah blah blah’ without appearing to make any progress, the clock is ticking on the most urgent issue of our time. 

Unless you’re a climate change denier, you will accept that the future of humanity depends on our ability to reduce global warming, and the reality is that we can’t do it without the help of the world’s biggest companies. 

 
 

A Google agent talking-up the green credentials of Google will, inevitably, invite cynicism but we make no apology for doing so. If we are to halt the march of global warming, businesses of all sizes have to play their part. 

Companies that support the UN’s Sustainable Development goals must be profitable enough to implement them, and the successful ones will be better placed to do good than those which are not. 

While it doesn’t follow that ‘big is bad’, nor is it automatically the case that ‘big is good’ and each of us – as consumers, employees, business partners and regulators – have a duty to hold the feet of large corporations to the fire, to ensure they are contributing all they can to the effort. 

One of the images that ‘Big Tech is bad’ denouncers often cite, is of remote data centres, packed with thousands of loudly humming servers, pumping millions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. 

We live in an era of Big Tech and what cloud-based technology offers is a progressive alternative to the more polluting past, when all businesses, of every size, ran their own servers in cupboards and basements. 

Cloud technology allows people in separate locations to collaborate as teams, as though they were in the same room, cutting down on the need to travel and to provide office space. 

Kingston Council recently adopted cloud-based services to save on energy usage and reduce levels of commuting by employees. It calculated that it would have had to plant some 3,700 acres of mature forest – around one-and-a-half times the size of London’s Richmond Park – to remove the equivalent amount of pollution from the atmosphere. 

Not every global tech company has, as yet, followed Google’s pledge to be carbon-free by 2030. 

And, moreover, the contribution of an organisation towards tackling climate change is about more than the size of its carbon footprint. Reporting also plays an important role in helping consumers to see who’s doing what to help save the planet. 

Because Spotify runs on Google Cloud, it is possible to measure how much or how little an individual download is contributing to global warming. Not all music streaming services provide that level of reporting and so it is impossible to provide a comparison. 

Everyone has their part to play in tackling climate change, from small-to-medium sized enterprises like ours, to global companies like Google and we can only hope that neither politics, nor prejudice, gets in the way of us making real progress. 

Colin Bryce is Managing Director of Cobry, a Glasgow-based digital transformation company and Google Cloud partner

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