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Three ways clean tech can help you tackle scope three emissions

Key takeaways:

  • Scope three emissions represent a huge proportion — often the majority — of the modern enterprise’s carbon footprint, but they’re hard to quantify and manage

  • As a result, it’s proven difficult to reduce them — especially in areas with poor transparency, like cloud services

  • New open-source capabilities can bring much-needed emissions visibility to your cloud environments, and help you see where things could be optimized

  • AI and machine learning can then help you model the potential impacts of strategic changes, informing critical sustainability decisions

  • Your data-driven insight needs to lead to action, for everyone. With the right behavioral shifts, you can empower people and enable a true culture of sustainability across the organization 

In the face of the ongoing climate crisis, businesses around the world are committing to reducing their carbon emissions. This isn’t easy, not least because of the complexity of modern businesses and the supply chains in which they are embedded. 


To help tackle this complexity, a framework has emerged to help organizations more easily identify the biggest contributors towards their emissions: scope one, scope two, and scope three emissions. Scope one relates to emissions from activities that the organization has complete control over — things like manufacturing processes; scope two covers emissions created to generate the energy used by organizations; and scope three covers emissions created by the company’s suppliers.


And because scope three emissions stem from external sources, they can be hard for organizations to measure, never mind control. But it needs to be addressed: scope three emissions can account for as much as 90% of an enterprise’s carbon footprint.


Fortunately, emerging clean tech solutions and practices can help businesses tackle this particularly challenging part of carbon reduction. At Thoughtworks, we’ve been helping clients do this through a combination of technology and culture change. Below, you’ll find three key ways those changes can help you better understand, limit and control scope three emissions across your operations.


#1) Cleaning up your cloud footprint


Because they fall under the scope three subcategory purchased goods and services, cloud services can represent a significant source of scope three emissions for web-scale or digital native companies. Although businesses recognize that there are emissions associated with hosting and running cloud environments and capabilities, getting visibility on what this actually means for their carbon footprint is challenging. 


It's still remarkably difficult to find timely and accurate information about the carbon footprints of the world’s major cloud service providers, and finding specific information that relates to your own use of their services is harder still. This makes it tough to make informed clean cloud decisions.


To help, Thoughtworks sponsored the development of the Cloud Carbon Footprint (CCF). CCF is an open-source tool that provides visibility and capabilities to measure, monitor, and reduce cloud carbon emissions. It enables organizations to translate their usage across multiple clouds into a single holistic view of emissions data that can be used by practitioners to make changes to optimize for costs and reduce emissions from cloud usage behavior. Gaining regular insights on how certain actions may impact not only cost but also emissions can incentivize practitioners to make more sustainable decisions.  


As an open-source tool, CCF is completely free to use. But today, we help lots of organizations apply it to assess their cloud carbon footprints and turn what they learn into informed decisions that help cut their scope three emissions, eliminate cloud waste, and build more sustainable cloud environments.


#2) Using AI and machine learning to make informed sustainability decisions


The first step in identifying opportunities to reduce scope three emissions is to create a baseline from which to work from. That in itself is a challenge. And even when you have that baseline, identifying the right path forward can be tough. A specific action like changing to a new supplier, or evolving your value chain may look like the correct move, but how can you be sure it’s going to have the right impact on carbon emissions?


That’s where AI and machine learning models become extremely useful. Using purpose-built forecasting and modeling algorithms, we help teams visualize proposed operational and technological changes and assess what their impacts may be. They give you a view of what a more sustainable way of working and operating could look like, while also helping to identify any unforeseen issues with your sustainability plans before you invest in them.


This gives organizations confidence that changes will make a meaningful impact on scope three emissions; in turn, this pushes teams to work to prioritize those goals. Plus, having a modeled view of a proposed change’s impact makes it much easier to secure funding and executive buy-in for a transformation — greatly increasing its chances of success.


#3) Building leading skills and embedding a clean tech culture


When it comes to increasing sustainability and cutting emissions, everyone in your organization has a role to play. Shifting your supply chain strategy or reviewing your cloud footprint is a good start, but for change to last, you need to embed and enable new behaviors across your teams.


At the cloud level, the CCF tool helps practitioners and executives alike to  see the environmental impact of their cloud choices. That visibility can help drive a shift in thinking for the teams actively using cloud services. When it comes to something like spinning up a new instance for testing, it can help them stop and think about whether that’s really necessary, or if they can reuse infrastructure and capabilities they’re already paying for.


Another area where new ways of thinking can have a big impact on emissions is in green software practices. The decisions that developers make — from the languages they code in to how efficiently their apps are designed to operate — effectively dictate the environmental impact of what they create.


By upskilling teams and helping them code in ways that support your organization’s sustainability efforts, you can empower developers to help reduce scope three emissions indirectly as part of their everyday workflows. In turn, that also helps your organization become a more desirable partner for other organizations. Green software practices can help you become a trusted provider of low-emission digital capabilities — a category that’s surging in demand as businesses just like yours take steps to reduce their scope three emissions and make more sustainable digital decisions.


Move towards a cleaner, greener digital future today


The climate crisis demands immediate collective action. That’s why decarbonizing the software supply chain is so important. At Thoughtworks, we’ve made a start by investing in open-source projects such as Cloud Carbon Footprint and helping to shape new carbon software standards through the Green Software Foundation.


If you’re ready to take action on scope three emissions, it’s important to understand and visualize your cloud carbon footprint, build greener cloud environments, embed sustainable ways of working across your organization, and reimagine your supply chain.


It can be a daunting project. But we believe it’s so important that action can’t be delayed.

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