Environmental thoughts

I went to an event earlier in the summer of 2019 that was run by Oxfordshire Greentech. It was really interesting and made me think a bit more broadly about the way that Geoger (I?) impact on the environment. As a physical geographer and keen environmentalist I am aware of many of the issues around anthropogenic impact on the wider world, but the detailed and amusingly-told explanation of the steps taken by Seacourt Print to move towards true sustainability really resonated. These ranged from small nudges on their staff behaviour through to huge changes in the way their suppliers were interacting with the company.

With that in mind I thought I would go through some areas of the Geoger business and assess their impact. Here goes!

Energy

I generally work from a home office. My partner and I are trying to make our home as energy efficient and green as possible, so I would hope that I score quite highly on this one. We have solar panels that easily power all my computing requirements during the day, and soon will also provide hot water for the property. Where additional electricity is required from the grid, we use a green energy provider. The only fossil fuels that will be used will be a bit of gas for the heating in winter. However, my home office has south facing windows and I am more than prepared to wear a thick jumper, and the thermostat is always kept at 20C or below, so the impact from this is small. But, I could do better here. Improved insulation is also being planned for the coming winter, to reduce gas usage even further. (To be open and fair, a lot of this is in place due to my partner who is more of the innovator in relation to renewable energy, whilst I am the early-adopter).

Travel

Where possible, I encourage Geoger clients to interact via video call so that unnecessary travel is minimised. Local travel around Oxford, and the wider region is generally via bus or bike, or using our Nissan Leaf electric vehicle. Longer journeys will be made by train, and I try (and often succeed) to minimise my air travel to one flight per year (I would rather not fly at all). If I need a car at a destination I would always look to use an electric vehicle if possible.

Food and Waste

One of the things that was interesting in the Seacourt presentation was the mention that the company encouraged staff to bring their own lunches to work and to reduce the reliance on single use packaged sandwiches. I am trying to reduce my consumption of meat and move to a more vegetarian diet. Where possible, I would like that to be using locally sourced produce. Tap water always take preference over bottled water. My day to day waste generation is pretty low, and as much as possible gets recycled, but it could still be improved on. I need to be more mindful of where my food comes from, and how I get non-food parcels delivered, so that I can continue to reduce Geoger’s impact in these areas.

Like most people, I drink a lot of coffee too. This is bad for our environment in many ways, from production to shipping and importantly for us as the consumer, to our water courses in the UK. Caffeine is showing up in rivers and (amazingly) groundwater resources. We need to seriously think through the implications of everything that we do!

Computing and Printing

I admit that at Geoger I have more computers than I probably require. Some (all??) of the components that go into these products (including mobile phones) are unlikely to be sourced in a particularly sustainable way. I know that I could make more of an effort to purchase greener technology. However, I do use the Linux operating system to try and increase the lifespan of the hardware so that it doesn’t require replacing so often. I print as little as possible and recycle as much paper as I can. The print cartridges are sent back to be refilled, but (I guess?) the ink is nothing out of the ordinary and probably not that great in terms of its environmental impact.

Data

The Seacourt speaker encouraged everyone to think about their suppliers and the impacts they have on the environment.

Primarily, I deal with satellite and aerial imagery. Rockets and aircraft. Not great in terms of emissions! Maybe I should start working more with drone collected data? Also, the data that I use is generally stored on servers and either downloaded or processed in the cloud. I have no idea on whether the European Space Agency and NASA servers are powered by renewable energy, or built to specific environmental standards. I need to find out.

Cat!

This is probably the least environmentally sustainable thing I can do! We have a cat. The impact of the generation of cat food is pretty terrible, the potential for the cat to attack birds is pretty bad too.

But…. it’s a rescue cat…. and it helps with mental well-being (???)….

Are those good enough reasons to justify having a pet? I must confess, having pets, any pet, is one of the things I find toughest to justify. But I do like our cat. So, tough.

Summary

Overall, Geoger isn’t doing too bad. But I think that I and the company can improve. I’m going to try to look into the issue of data capture and supply and the environmental impacts these might have. If I find out anything interesting, then I’ll share it.

I’m going to carry on moving my diet towards a vegetarian choice, and I’m going to make sure I stop and think whenever I need to buy new stuff.

One thought on “Environmental thoughts

  1. A very thought-provoking rabbit hole. I would argue that, in our line of work, we are net reducers of greenhouse gasses when compared to working without computers/servers/satellites etc. As an example, the physical Phase 1 habitat map of Wales took several decades. 10 years ago & with EO, it took a just few years. Now, with cloud computing and ML, maybe a few months? Less time taken may mean fewer resources used.

    So without the data from rockets and aircraft, all your outputs may have had to be drawn from physical surveys. That’s a lot of flying about, driving around, and paper. Without the data servers and cloud processing, your projects would take much longer, reducing your project output capacity. Fewer projects would mean an overall reduction in the positive environmental impact from your work. These are my thoughts whenever a new EO satellite has been launched.

    On balance, I would imagine that you are part of the solution, and not the problem. However, it would be very interesting to find out the impacts on the data supply chain we use. Maybe compare it to how a project would be done without EO and computing. So yes, chase that rabbit!

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