It’s the United Nations Development Programme Global Goals Week and business leaders and government officials from around the world are convening to tackle climate change – let’s see who’s been pulling their weight lately. Notably, Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft have been powering clean energy in the U.S. with their big bank accounts. Last year, these companies led big tech to surpass government capex expenditure in signing purchase contracts with renewable power generators to meet their electricity demands for sustainability goals, positive media coverage, and to eliminate long term variability in power prices. Technology companies signed 47% of U.S. contracts; the government and universities signed 13%. Big tech knows that caring about the environment is good for business.
The democratization of technology means that the world doesn’t need to wait for big businesses to drive innovation anymore, so they are stepping up. The Bloomberg New Energy Outlook 2018 report estimates $11.5 trillion being invested globally in new power generation capacity through 2050. Clean energy projects built to meet the demands of big tech drive down the costs of clean energy because of greater deployment, but more importantly, it creates an influx of investment from other sectors. Companies care about what big tech does – but is the U.S. government feeling the pressure? Apparently not so much.
Countries are turning to China – where birds go to die – to lead the fight against climate change, because the U.S. decided to renege on its commitment to the 2015 Paris Agreement. Xurya is a private solar development and asset management company based in Indonesia that partners with the world’s largest solar panel manufacturer, Jinko Solar, headquartered in Shanghai, China. Nicholas Basuki, commissioner and advisor of Xurya, said that “unlike U.S. companies, Chinese companies are influenced by their government, and unlike the U.S. government, the Chinese government understands they need to go green, fast.”
Luckily, in the U.S., if big tech steps up, everyone steps up. This reflects the shift away from government leadership. Last month, governors and mayors joined business leaders at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco to uphold the U.S.’s commitment to the Paris Agreement. Facebook, Google, and Microsoft were among the sponsors.
These companies are also members of Re100, a global collaborative uniting more than 100 influential businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity. When profitability is directly related to avocado eating, kombucha drinking millennial attitudes today, you’d probably want your company’s name there. Earlier this year, Gary Cook, senior corporate campaigner at Greenpeace said in an online statement that “CEO Mark Zuckerberg has reaffirmed Facebook’s place among business leaders in the race to be coal-free and 100 percent renewable-powered.”
Big tech may eat up the world, but it also builds it.