Earth Day 2021: How Can Digital Companies be More Sustainable?

earth day 2021

Earth Day every year falls on April 22 and in 2021 this is one calendar hook that deserves all the attention. There’s no hiding from the fact that the world is heading in the wrong direction with the climate crisis. “We are on the verge of the abyss,” said the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday, as he unveiled the State of the Global Climate 2020 report. How come? Even despite the C02 reductions due to the pandemic and associated shutdowns, the planet set some alarming records in 2020. Here are the three key findings of the report:

  • 2020 was one of the hottest years on record alongside 2016 and 2019, around 1.2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period.
  • Concentrations of the major greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – are still increasing despite the reduction in emissions in 2020.
  • The sea level is still rising. Furthermore, there were record low Arctic sea-ice extents in two months of 2020, with circa 80% of the ocean experiencing at least one marine heatwave last year.

A change has gotta come

From David to Goliath, effort is required everywhere – and that includes in the workplace. So what can digital companies and startups do to contribute? As they often aren’t so involved in manufacturing, their emissions are often a lot less than other businesses – but they still exist and there are still steps digital companies and startups can take to make their workplaces and operations more eco-friendly and sustainable.  

The big global goal is to halve emissions by 2030, in order to reach a state of net-zero by 2050. And every little bit helps. As we head back towards our offices in the months ahead, we compiled five of our top tips for digital companies looking to be more sustainable – with a helping hand from carbon disclosure platform Plan A’s head honcho Lubomila Jordanova.

Earth Day? Every day! Learn more about Earth Day here.

Cut the biggies

air travel is considered the biggest emitter of C02 for digital companies

It’s time to take a look at where your company makes the most emissions. You can call it your greenhouse gas inventory. Not sure where to start? For digital companies, the common culprits often include business travel, heating and electricity and data storage and transfer.

But for a digital company – and we’re talking about a pre- and post-lockdown world here – business flights are likely to be your main culprit. According to the Leaders for Climate Action (LCFA), air travel contributes the most CO2 tons of the average digital company’s annual CO2 emissions (473 tons), with travel to work coming a close second (446 tons). In fact, one return flight from Berlin to London equals one employee’s normal work commute for a whole year. And if your business trips are a bit longer, here’s a staggering stat for you: one return flight from Berlin to New Zealand is the average German’s total emissions in a year.

So once you’ve worked it out, it’s time to get cutting. Business trips are already non-existent thanks to COVID and we can’t go back to where we were before. Videoconferencing tools have never been better – we don’t doubt you’re probably well-tuned to Zoom by now – and when a trip is necessary, why not take the train there? And if you have to fly? Fly economy. Economy flights are much less impactful on the environment than business class ones, with business class flights emitting two to three times as much CO2 as an economy one. Air travel is undeniably the first thing digital companies should cut to be more sustainable.

And make some more cuts…

One way to help the planet is to turn your food waste into compost

Lubomila Jordanova of Plan A suggests setting up a plastic-free office, by banning single-use plastic, reusable containers and bottles and repurpose plastic. She highlights a shocking statistic: German consumers use 2.8 billion disposable cups per year, an equivalent of 23 cups per person, with office workers using 156 plastic bottles on average. “You can easily reduce your company’s plastic waste by setting up a ‘plastic-free’ initiative,” she says. “A plastic-free office enables businesses to reduce their carbon emissions and create a sustainable employee culture.”

What were her other ideas? She focuses her second main tip on food waste. “Why not reduce your ‘foodprint’ by sharing food with your colleagues or by composting food waste?,” she says, honing in on some more surprising statistics. Each year, 1.4 billion tonnes of food (one third of global food production) ends up in landfill, while food waste represents 8% of greenhouse gas emissions. She finishes with some optimism and a goal: if we reduce up to 50% of food waste by 2050, we will avoid 26.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Make a dedicated taskforce

Goals are all well and good but some structure is what’s necessary in order to push forward your sustainability objectives. That’s why you should form a Green Team in your company to be accountable for the project. And it’s not just for show: make sure you include not just passionate people but also firm decision makers. Once you’ve done that, try and set actionable but ambitious goals for the next years and decades, with the eventual 2050 net-zero goal in mind.

Another tip: embed sustainability at a management level, even up to board level. This is easier for leaner, younger startups than bigger businesses, as they may have had a sustainable ethos embedded in them from their very conception. But it applies to all: there must be enthusiasm at the top too.

Use alternatives to everyday services

Ecosia is a search engine that plants trees

Companies can use green alternatives to everyday services, for example Ecosia. Ecosia is a search platform that uses the ad revenue from your searches to plant trees where they are needed the most. Or why not a fair trade coffee provider for your office? In Berlin for example, we have the likes of BERLINKAFFEE or Coffee Circle. And that’s not it: the list of potential eco-friendly alternatives to the status quo is staggering. From recyclable bin bags to organic cotton dish towels and catering your events with vegetarian or vegan food, there’s a whole host of alternatives for your office.

Get monitoring                                 


Plan A is a carbon accounting software that helps companies track their emissions

Track, track, track. There are also companies that help you to calculate and monitor your emissions, something that’s crucial for working out if you are on the right track. One you should take note of is the Berlin-based Plan A, which has a carbon management software to monitor, reduce, offset and report on your carbon emissions. And then there’s the likes of the Leaders for Climate Action (LFCA), a group of over 300 digital entrepreneurs from all over the world who can hold you accountable for your pledge to become carbon neutral. Sign up to one of these businesses so you can keep track of how you are doing. No doubt about it: tracking is the key for digital companies looking to be more sustainable.

There’s no time to waste. Track your emissions with Plan A here.

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