We step into 2022 sticking firmly to our promise of remaining optimistic and hopeful when it comes to the ever-changing world around us. You can’t be blamed for feeling helpless and, at times, hopeless as we move into the third year of the global pandemic. But in many ways, 2021 was a great year for eco-consciousness and sustainable efforts from businesses, governments, councils and communities.
We took away some positives from last year’s COP26, including the UK’s net zero emissions targets. We attended the brilliant Greentech Festival, full of innovators and entrepreneurs ready to make change across numerous sectors. And we also looked at a small handful of brilliant climate software startups (of which there are too many to name – thousands, in fact).
Green software startups are something particularly tangible for us. We understand their language, we know what it takes to launch a digital product, and most of all, we entirely believe in their cause. Like theirs, our own roadmap for the next few years is incredibly clear. We want to work on products and platforms that make the world a better place, and people who put the planet before profit.
When we look at sustainable technology, we are filled with excitement and wonder. There are so many businesses large and small channeling their efforts into solutions for various sectors, whether that be emissions reduction, energy storage, farming, packaging and even Web3 technologies (which we admit, has a little way to go before it can be seen as sustainable).
Here’s a look at what we’ve got our eye on for 2022, and why it matters.
Electric public transport
We touched on this a number of times in last year’s series on smart cities. Primarily, electric public transportation reduces CO2 emissions in what are usually built-up city areas where air quality is already unacceptably low. But what’s also key here is the digital infrastructure. For instance, traditional fossil fuel buses can be retrofitted with GPS, sensors and cameras to somewhat modernise the vehicle, and this allows councils and authorities to monitor bus routes or optimise schedules based on passenger data.
But given the opportunity, retrofitting would not be the answer, and budgets should be redirected to green energy investment. A great local example is Guildford town centre’s fleet of fully-electric park and ride buses, not only running off entirely renewable energy, but giving commuters and shoppers a clean, affordable and reliable way to get in and out of town without adding additional cars to the road.
Researchers estimate that the electric bus market will reach 704,000 vehicles by 2027, which is a huge step towards regions reducing their reliance on fossil fuels for public services. We’re interested to see how these transport solutions integrate into wider smart city plans, and how consumer technology (such as apps and platforms) removes friction and makes the idea of a bus journey far more appealing, particularly as we become a cashless society.
Carbon capture and utilisation (CCU)
A device that sucks carbon out of the atmosphere and converts it to energy? It’s a crazy world we live in when we are building machines that emulate the behaviour of plants, but here we are.
A number of startups have developed high-tech processing plants that quite literally take in air from the atmosphere and separate CO2 from other pollutants before it is redirected to transportation pipelines.
Most CO2 used by industries is a byproduct of the fossil fuel process. Whilst some of that CO2 is used as energy, much of it is released into the atmosphere. So there are two opportunities here. Firstly, becoming less reliant on the geosphere (CO2 from the ground) and more reliant on abundant CO2 in the atmosphere. Secondly, starting a wider move away from fossil fuel mining altogether, thus reducing emissions and winding down the energy intensive and environmentally damaging processes we use to extract gas and oil.
Carbon utilisation is still in its infancy, and it is a complex operation not only in terms of carbon capture and storage, but also in implementing an infrastructure that makes it a viable domestic energy source as well as industrial. It will be some time before we see our homes being powered or heated by CO2, but the groundwork has begun and we’re excited to see the technology and infrastructure that comes into play to support this transition.
Renewable energy storage
Hands-up who would love an electric vehicle, but doesn’t quite have the right setup at home to charge it. Yep, that’s me. With more and more EVs entering the market from bold new startups and established motor manufacturers, an electric vehicle is incredibly desirable.
Whether you go full tech bro and land on a Tesla, keep it small, simple and stylish with a Honda E, or perhaps you want something a little more sporty (hello, Polestar), you’ll also need to think about home charging. And whilst this isn’t actually renewable energy storage, it’s part of the very slow transition that UK homes will need to make towards being more green.
There are a number of renewable energy options when it comes to powering and heating the home, as well as charging your EV, but they can be a hard sell.
Solar is an expensive retrofit, but it’s encouraging to see many new homes being built with solar panels fitted as standard. The UK climate doesn’t lend itself too well to ground or air source heat pumps, and installation on older homes is incredibly disruptive – be prepared to have your garden completely dug up, or to have to rip out all of your existing radiators and copper pipework.
But let’s imagine a home where none of this is a problem. Your electricity is provided by solar, and your home is warmed by a heat pump. On those long sunny days, you may well find yourself with more energy than you need, and the key to not letting that go to waste is energy storage.
The Tesla Powerwall is a great example of a domestic energy storage solution, but it comes with a hefty price tag. Of course, as this technology becomes more prevalent, other brands will surface and price points will start to come down.
Sustainable web technologies
Turning your website from white to black? That’s a start. But sustainability in web design is a bit of an iceberg. It may look simple and straightforward from the top, but when you start to dig deeper, it’s a monster.
Which programming languages are less energy intensive? Where do you host your assets? How is caching setup on your server? How well optimised are your images? Is your CMS energy intensive? What’s your video strategy?
The tick list for a sustainable website is not short by any means. And it’s not all technology or marketing choices, either. The user experience is also fundamentally important, because you want visitors to be able to find what they’re looking for quickly and easily.
A website with a clean UI and clear UX is the difference between a visitor finding what they need, versus them browsing your site for longer than they need to, and ultimately giving up and heading back to Google to pump out more CO2.
We’ll be looking at sustainable design and development a lot more this year, so whilst this is just the tip of the iceberg, it’s a fascinating subject (to us, at least) and we hope to make it easier for our visitors, and most importantly, our clients, to understand how they can exist online without having a detrimental environmental impact.
Carbon offsetting in IT procurement
With all of this said, we can only achieve a more sustainable future if we all get involved, change our mindset, and adjust our working practices. Mindset is key here, and whilst it’s a long road ahead of us, we hope that businesses will start to think with a more sustainable approach when it comes to IT procurement. That’s everything from hardware to software, hosting to email, and so much more.
Offsetting is just one way to sequester carbon emissions, and whilst we know it’s not the answer, it’s one way to improve the carbon footprint of your businesses, whatever its size. Carbon offsetting is easy, and we’d like to see it baked into each and every procurement decision that a business makes.
Something we’ve seen recently that we liked: an agency who plant trees at key business milestones (such as launching a new website or onboarding a new staff member). The payoff here is promising, because not only are you offsetting on behalf of your client or your employee, but you’re also increasing awareness of such strategies and hopefully influencing them to do the same.
Be a #changemaker
Much of what we’ve spoken about here is cost-prohibitive to many. A lot of it is emerging technology that won’t trickle down to a consumer level for some time. But what we can do is start the conversations, particularly with clients and agency partners.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a business owner, a designer or a salesperson – sustainability can be applied to just about any stage of a digital product build, and we encourage you to ask yourself a key question wherever you are in a project…
How can I make this more sustainable?