Green tech giants of the future?
Katie Jones, Online Lifestyle Editor, discusses what policies companies are implementing in an effort to go green
Microsoft outlined its sustainability plans at the COP26 stating its plans to be carbon negative by 2030. The company claims it will remove more carbon than it emits by shifting to clean energy and utilizing carbon removal methods using prototype technology like direct air capture. But while tech giants like Google and Microsoft keep expanding their green ambitions for their own companies, their own close relationships with Big Oil complicates the matter.
Can tech companies call themselves carbon neutral (let alone negative) when their cloud technology is used to better find and extract more oil to create more profit for the likes of Chevron? How can tech companies go further with their climate ambitions? What of Bill Gates’ belief that oil companies could transition fairly easily from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources?
Bill Gates is one of several leaders in the world of tech who descended on Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit — all the way there to argue that technology companies can lead the way into a greener future. Microsoft outlined their progress towards being carbon negative by 2030, Apple announced they have more than doubled their number of clean energy suppliers and Google is working to assist major cities map their emissions and air pollution. Jeff Bezos even made a pledge of $2 billion to restore natural habitats after being inspired by his July trip to space. Are tech giants proof of how the private sector could lead the way forward or are their words hollow?
Google is working to assist major cities map their emissions and air pollution
Tech giants produce a lot of carbon. From the energy to make and distribute their hardware, to the vast data banks sending and storing the world’s information; their impact on the environment could be immense. Greenpeace analysis shows that their net zero targets may be unobtainable through use of renewables and carbon capture technology if it weren’t for their partnerships with oil and gas companies.
There are three major stages in oil and gas production, and tech giants have their cloud technology ‘fingers’ in every pie. Machine learning tools provided by Microsoft and Google are being used by all the major oil and gas companies to improve their efficiency in finding new oil deposits, accelerating the time from exploration to oil production. Transportation is being aided by Amazon and Microsoft tools which optimise pipelines and provide predictive maintenance.
Some of this technology may help improve leak detection which is sorely needed, as it is often less a matter of if a pipeline will experience an oil spill than how long until it happens. However, spills still happen even with the technology being used correctly — considering the multiple incidents with the Keystone pipeline. Because of their partnerships with oil companies (specifically ExxonMobil), Greenpeace say that Microsoft will never reach their aim to be carbon negative. Their contact with ExxonMobil could lead to an increase in emissions equivalent to 20 per cent of Microsoft’s annual carbon budget.
Greenpeace say that Microsoft will never reach their aim to be carbon negative
When this claim was put to the President of Microsoft, Brad Smith, he replied that Microsoft are looking to find ways to help make oil and gas companies more climate friendly. They want to assist them so that “even when they’re producing a barrel of oil, it is a more climate friendly barrel of oil.“ When pushed on whether they would stop working with the fossil fuel industry altogether, he answered that “judging what we think of you before we sell you technology … would not make for a better world”. Although Smith left the door open for Microsoft to end their cloud computing contracts.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates certainly thinks that smart money does not lie in the oil and gas industry. Despite stating that oil and gas companies could easily shift to greener energy sources, in his latest book How To Avoid A Climate Disaster, he shared that he divested his direct holdings in oil and gas.
The IPCC has clearly stated that to stay below 1.5 degrees of warming, we must keep fossil fuels in the ground. Activists say tech giants prevent this by supplying the fossil fuel industry with the tools to expand further and faster. Whilst Silicon Valley itself may turn green without further policy change, they still have oil on their hands.