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Sustainability in an age of digitization and artificial intelligence

Tips from Redbrick on developing a business sustainability plan

Marco Pimentel, the CMO of Redbrick. (Courtesy Redbrick)

GUEST SUBMISSION: Most Canadian publicly traded companies aren’t meeting the reporting requirements for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards, according to a recent study by ESG consulting firm Millani.

Earlier this year, the International Financial Reporting Standards introduced two newly issued global standards requiring companies to disclose the metrics of their sustainability-related risks and opportunities.

When companies measure their environmental impact, greenhouse gas emissions are categorized into three 'Scopes.' Scope 3 includes indirect emissions in a company’s value chain. This includes anything from employee commuting to purchased goods and services, transportation, investments, the use of sold products and more. 

What’s often overlooked is how digitization impacts emissions. Websites, data infrastructure, emails, video calls and generative AI all produce carbon dioxide. On a global scale, digital technology and internet usage are responsible for four per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions – and this is predicted to double by 2025. The reality is, companies can't ignore their digital carbon footprint. 

The environmental impact of AI

More recently, the adoption of generative AI has been skyrocketing across all industries with some of the biggest chatbots, like ChatGPT, emitting more than 500 tonnes of carbon over their lifecycle. Training AI models can produce about 626,000 pounds of carbon, equivalent to 300 round-trip flights between New York and San Francisco. 

As datasets become more complex, the enormous energy demand for training and running these models falls to non-renewable resources like fossil fuels. OpenAI researchers say the computing power required to train cutting-edge AI models has doubled every 3.4 months since 2012. By 2040, emissions from the information and communications technology (ICT) industry will account for 14 per cent of global emissions. ICT infrastructure, particularly data centres and communication networks, will produce the majority of those emissions. 

In the wake of these projections, businesses, especially those operating in the digital sphere, are under increasing scrutiny to shoulder their share of responsibility. Redbrick, the parent organization to a portfolio of software companies, is committed to reducing and offsetting their carbon footprint. Redbrick is also developing software that identifies the climate impact of digital technology and data infrastructure.

Ahead of this year’s International Day for Climate Action on Oct. 24, listed below are top-down strategies from Redbrick that business leaders should consider when creating a sustainability plan. 

Innovative office technologies 

When it comes to office space, innovative measures can significantly impact your organization’s overall emissions. Reducing the climate impact of your office can start with simple steps, like opting for energy-efficient office lighting. However, if you want to position your business as net-zero or a climate leader, integrating sustainability into the very design of your company’s building is a crucial step forward. 

For example, incorporating systems that use recycled rainwater for toilets and irrigation not only helps to save costs but also contributes to considerable water conservation and a long-term reduction in carbon emissions. With the growing popularity of electric vehicles, adding charging stations to parking spaces can encourage employees to embrace more sustainable commuting options. 

Employee incentives 

A top-down approach is essential, and the good news is there are many creative ways to get everyone at your company involved. Offering benefits like commuter reimbursements and biking incentives supports employees considering more eco-conscious methods of transit. For example, Redbrick reimburses employees working in an office and biking to work up to $500 per year towards a new bike, bike gear and maintenance. 

This incentivization encourages employees to make sustainable choices in their personal lives and fosters a collective commitment to environmental responsibility within your organization. 

Partnering for impact

Once you establish internal sustainable practices, it’s time to explore solutions for your digital carbon footprint. Engaging with offset partners is a great way to understand your footprint before taking steps to actively reduce it. Collaborating with organizations like Carbon Neutral Club or Synergy can offset your carbon footprint, measure Scope 3 carbon emissions and demonstrate leadership on the path to achieving net-zero emissions. 

Find opportunities to forge more creative partnerships with your local community. For example, working with local post-secondary institutions and engaging with students on climate solutions can yield significant results. Redbrick has established a meaningful partnership with the University of Victoria's INSPIRE program, collaborating with students to develop tools that help businesses calculate the carbon footprint of their digital assets. This groundbreaking tool will play a vital role in assisting organizations in meeting their climate objectives and becoming digital net-zero leaders. 

A collective responsibility 

To take significant climate action, you need to approach net-zero strategies through a holistic lens, engaging every team member. Leadership plays a crucial role in modelling behaviours that align with your company's goals and continually seeking ways to operate more sustainably. By fostering a culture of shared responsibility, businesses can champion the cause of sustainability and pave the way for a greener, more environmentally conscious future. 

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