How tech companies big and small are tackling the climate crisis

James Milligan, Global Head of Hays Technology

When it comes to the climate crisis, there is a consensus that we are running out of time to change our course. In terms of identifying solutions, the tech sector will be pivotal if we are to reduce and repair the damage done, whether through finding clean alternatives or adapting technical assets to make them more sustainable.

With this in mind, leaders at cleantech organisations, and companies committed to a greener world, have spoken to Hays Technology about their stories, challenges and goals.

Motivation and innovation

In Spain, tech startup ESUS Mobility was named in the top 10 of the CleanTech and Industry Challenge categories at the Super Connect for Good 2021 competition. Its story began with the realisation that, while environmentally friendly, electric scooters were not suitable for everyday needs. William Venturim, CEO, explains how electric scooter users in Valencia were travelling with groceries, packages, and sometimes small children – none of which was safe. The mission became to provide vehicles that would meet the needs of modern citizens and still run on electric power.

A regional winner in the same Super Connect for Good competition, UK-based Electric Miles offers solutions for electric vehicle (EV) users. For CEO and founder, Arun Anand, EV adoption is an effective method of reducing carbon emissions; he also wants to ensure efficiency and that drivers do not waste energy using this type of transport. In a recent Tech Founders live event with Hays Technology, Anand said: “90% of the time, cars just sit on the driveway and do nothing…in a week or two weeks, if you don’t touch the car the battery will be depleted."

If 90% of the time it’s sitting there, it could actually become a moving power plant. You could do so many clever things. You could power your house, your washing machine, your dishwasher – all while it’s sitting there.

Andy Gomarsall MBE, former Rugby World Cup winner with England in 2003, is now Executive Chairman of N2S, an organisation that recycles and reuses electronic equipment in the UK. The company’s purpose is to reduce e-waste by extending the life of tech hardware, with the aim of creating a circular economy. He uses a sporting analogy when discussing his motivation for leading the business: “Change the game and do it for the betterment of future generations. We're not exactly leaving this place in a good way, right? That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.”

Despite having worked at N2S for close to 12 years, Gomarsall is still finding reasons to fight for a sustainable world. He references a recent documentary on life in lockdown during 2020: “It is just the most remarkable piece of filming I've ever seen, and it made such an impact on me. In India, people go on their roofs and suddenly they could see the Himalayas because the smog had gone. When we stop and look at what pollution has done to our planet, there's this kind of realisation.”

Using tech to reduce carbon emissions and pollution

Thanks to technological advancement, strides are being made to reduce pollution and harmful emissions like never before. However, if this technology is not implemented correctly, we’re not going realise the full potential benefit.

How can we know that we are on the right track?

Linian Li has managed Modern Water’s business in Greater China for over a decade, having previously worked and studied in Canada and Europe. Modern Water uses cutting-edge technologies, such as artificial intelligence, to monitor pollution in water supplies. Li explains that there has been greater demand for the company’s equipment in the post-pandemic world as more and more people are waking up to our reality. Recognising that this is a global problem, Modern Water has taken steps to share its insight and analysis with the public in order to improve environment quality, especially in underdeveloped regions.

Reducing our dependency on gas-fuelled vehicles would help, commented Anand. Given consumer habits and economic factors, is it likely that EV ownership is close on a global level? When asked about the possibility of adoption in South Asia, he said: “The India market is very interesting obviously. There’s 1.4 billion people. Are we going to get 100% EV adoption ever? No. Don’t even think about it, that’s the wrong strategy.

Who are the biggest polluters of the road in countries like India and Indonesia? You’ve got buses and trucks - let’s electrify them first! Forget the passenger market, it’s too expensive and there isn’t the infrastructure.”

This is an issue worldwide. Gomarsall, who actually gives his interview while cycling through London on a partially electric bike, reveals: “Friends of mine have asthma and they sometimes can't come into London because it's so bad. When you start to learn about air pollution, you learn seven-and-a-half million people die around the world each year purely because of air pollution. That’s just unacceptable - it's just crazy!”

That, Gomarsall explains, is where N2S are trying to make a positive impact, but it’s not easy. “We've got a challenge in our world and in our environment where we're using fossil fuels on the front end to get energy and to build products, and on the back end there’s a fossil fuel equivalent. There’s detrimental air pollution, water pollution, and a heavy demand on those things. It's a real negative front and back.”

Andy Gomarsall with his bicycle.

Finding a driving force

In the short term, heavy emission enterprises face greater pressure”, says Li. “The backdrop to the real demand in China for this energy-efficient technology is the success of China’s industries.”

Li also credits governing bodies for driving innovation and environmentally friendly practices, “As governing bodies regulate waste-water discharge from industries, more and more companies are compelled to adopt brine concentration technology systems as a necessary solution in order to reduce their impact on the environment.”

Gomarsall believes that government buy-in is crucial. On the subject of growing N2S’s business, he reveals: “We’re lobbying at government level because the UK are the largest exporter of WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment). So that's our raison d'être - our goal is to become the greenest recycling business for B2B technology companies, blue chips and the government.

ESUS Mobility have actually received support from the Valencia City Council, having participated in the Col·lab accelerator programme that earned them a workspace in an administration building at Las Naves. However, a new policy also forced the company to innovate - in a completely unintended way. Venturim recalls: “The idea of the family scooter came first but then, in the middle of our project, there was a change to the laws here in Spain that said that this sort of lightweight electric vehicle can only be used by one person! We found ourselves in a situation where we had a vehicle capable of carrying two persons, but we could only carry one. We came up with the idea of a base vehicle with different cargo modules. You could deliver packages, carry equipment for cleaning the streets, your work tools, groceries or airport baggage.

Albeit inadvertently, they no longer had a vehicle just for personal use, but had found a new target market of municipal workers, tradesman and couriers that would otherwise use transport fuelled by gas.

What’s next?

Tech is offering solutions for creating an ecologically friendly and sustainable culture, and there is uptake. Li reports that Modern Water has increased its manufacturing capacity to meet the growing demand. Another project for the company, she shares, is, “to create optimised, miniaturised and more cost-effective instruments that collect data efficiently to be processed by artificial intelligence models to deliver more detailed results, faster.

For a startup such as ESUS Mobility, the future is about developing their product to suit customer needs and making sure that adoption is as widespread as possible. Venturim and CMO, Fran Soriano, that they are developing technology that will allow the vehicles to circulate through pedestrian zones safely. This might seem farfetched but, as Venturim points out: “It’s a little difficult to say what’s realistic, because sometimes you'll see things on the news that look like sci-fi!

For Gomarsall and N2S, the next step is clear: “In the sector that I sit in, I've always maintained that we need to get to a circular economy."

There are 62 metals in a phone – until that technology is from 100% recycled material, or at least getting to that point, and until we have evidence of the entire supply chain of every component in that technology, I won't rest easy."

We've all got a job to do - however small or big.
 
What can technology leaders do to combat the climate crisis? Read more on sustainability and tech here.
 

Author

James Milligan
Global Head of Hays Technology

James Milligan is the Global Head of Hays Technology, having joined in 2000. In his role, he is responsible for the strategic development of Hays' technology businesses globally.

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