Prevention or Compensation: CO2 Offsetting vs. CO2 Prevention

"Prevention is better than curing." This holds especially true for CO2 emissions. The more emissions we prevent, the more pleasant life on Earth remains. It means avoiding further rising sea levels causing floods, despairing environmental migrants, and other adverse consequences of climate warming. Your IT usage contributes to this, as it also generates CO2 emissions. In practice, you can choose to compensate for or prevent these emissions. In this blog, we'll explore the differences and how you can steer towards CO2 prevention as much as possible.

CO2 Offsetting: Cake and the Occasional Salad for Weight Loss

CO2 offsetting compensates for emitted carbon by performing specific actions. While offsetting is well-intentioned and sometimes the only way, it's akin to eating cake every day and thinking you're losing weight by occasionally having a salad. Relying solely on CO2 offsetting won't save the world. Additionally, calculating how much to compensate is challenging due to the absence of a standard method to measure CO2 emissions and thus how to precisely offset them. This leaves room for greenwashing, such as 'preventing' the felling of a forest where no one had such intentions. Or transplanting trees that were previously planted, resulting in double counting, undermining the value of compensation projects.

Greenwashing or Not?

Data centers also suffer from a lack of standards. Companies like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon have ambitious sustainability goals, extensively reporting on them. But how reliable is this, and how much do they genuinely compensate? It's not genuine greenwashing because the actual level of compensation is unverifiable without a standard. While the European Commission is working hard on digital sustainability, it's trailing behind the rapid developments in our data consumption. With a standard, we could stick a label on how much CO2 is being compensated, but its actual long-term effect remains uncertain. Even environmental scientists are occasionally astonished by the rapid decline - and occasionally, by how resilient nature can be.

The Power of CO2 Prevention

One thing we know for sure is that CO2 prevention is inherently better because emissions prevented don't enter the atmosphere. Instead of compensating for the exhaust gases from a car, let's focus on the engine itself. Reducing emissions at the source by making the engine more efficient so it emits less or no smoke. This can be achieved by transitioning to renewable energy sources and reusing exisiting materials. That's precisely what Leafcloud does. In buildings with a central hot water supply (Leaf sites), we place servers. To power these servers, we use green energy. The heat generated by the servers is reused as warm tap water in the building. For instance, someone could have a hot shower using the same energy previously used to calculate the minimum resistance of a solar car. This means the energy is used twice, and fewer fossil fuels are needed for the warm water. Thus, the emissions from IT usage through our servers are even CO2-negative. By preventing this gas usage, we prevent 1776kg of CO2 per kilowatt-hour of energy sent to the servers, roughly preventing nearly 13 thousand km of driving in a car per kilowatt-hour.

Balancing CO2 Offsetting and CO2 Prevention

Almost every organization has sustainability embedded in its strategy nowadays. Practically, it's about balancing sustainability with profit. However, we're increasingly seeing the scale tip towards sustainability because consumers reward genuine sustainability. Organizations engaging in or suspected of greenwashing are being penalized more frequently. If your organization aims to take that step towards greater sustainability, consider focusing on preventing CO2 emissions rather than compensating for them. Admittedly, this won't always be feasible, but we must honestly explore possibilities and track developments to prioritize prevention over compensation in your strategy. Additionally, transparency about your emissions is crucial. Ensure transparent reporting and monitoring and actively request this from your suppliers. If we keep each other accountable in this way, we can maintain the credibility of CO2 compensation projects and continually make improvements.

Prioritize Prevention

When devising sustainability strategies, many organizations focus on mobility, production, and business locations, overlooking the CO2 emissions from IT. Don't overlook these in your strategy. For more tips on making your business IT more sustainable, if you choose an environmentally friendly provider like Leafcloud, you won't need to compromise on your IT usage and needs. With Leafcloud, you're replacing your engine, eliminating the need to compensate for your motor's exhaust gases. The more organizations that join in and the more data stored, the greater the impact. So, if you're eager to start preventing instead of compensating today, contact us to discuss the possibilities offered by us as a full-fledged cloud provider.