Anne-Laure Ligozat: “Carbon neutrality is a marketing argument”

How is the digital carbon footprint characterized?

The global carbon footprint is related to the life cycle of digital products and services. The main source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions depends on the energy used to produce and distribute these products, closely followed by the electricity consumption associated with their use.

In a standard company, it is the consumption of equipment, servers or network related materials. For digital companies like Google, Facebook or Apple, a portion of this consumption is done directly with users. Finally, the last source of emissions is related to the end of life of the products.

How can companies reduce their digital carbon footprint?

My first tip is to reduce purchases and make existing equipment last as long as possible. Production accounts for a large portion of the carbon footprint of electronic devices. For a mobile phone, this is almost 90% of the total. Thus, the company can extend the warranty period of its equipment for repair rather than replacement at the slightest problem.

Another important point: to have a logical use of devices. Before producing data, ask yourself the question of what is necessary. Reduce electricity consumption as much as possible, especially in data centers, by modifying their layout, for example. Finally, the company can work at the end-of-life of the products: Instead of throwing them away, reuse them as often as possible (reuse, retrofit, etc.) and then contact certified environmental organizations to recycle electrical and electronic equipment.

More and more companies are claiming carbon neutrality. Is this an appropriate term?

Carbon neutrality is the balance between carbon dioxide emissions2 and absorb them. If we absorb the most carbon dioxide2 emitted, this imprint is considered neutral. In my opinion, carbon neutrality is more than just a marketing argument, because we don’t really know what’s behind it. In fact, the company will instead offset rather than reduce its emissions, for example by purchasing equivalent carbon credits or by financing decarbonization projects.

It is therefore important for companies to clearly display their environmental efforts. Rather than talking about carbon neutrality, it would be wise to offer a dashboard with greenhouse gas emissions on one side and offset on the other, to make an honest presentation to the general public, because carbon neutrality can be misleading. Just because a company is carbon neutral doesn’t mean it isn’t polluting.

Especially since, often, only part of the emissions is taken into account to determine the amount of compensation: those from direct activity and energy consumption. Emissions related to purchases, business travel, or even waste management are not always taken into account, although they can be significant.

So compensation will not be relevant?

This mechanism has many drawbacks. First, a temporal problem. When, for example, decarbonization projects after five years absorb the equivalent of carbon dioxide2 issued by the company in the previous year. Then a geographical problem. Carbon offset projects are often located in southern countries, while northern countries are primarily responsible for emissions.

Ultimately, companies should aim to achieve a very significant reduction in their emissions. For those who can’t really be squeezed, compensation can be a temporary solution, but the main goal remains reduction.

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