Americans think tech companies are key to solving climate change

They’re also concerned about how global warming could impact the industry, from the supply chain to innovation.

Protestors line up as Andy Jassy the CEO of Amazon speaks at the ceremonial ribbon cutting prior to opening night for the Climate Pledge Arena

Two-thirds of poll respondents were concerned that the tech industry is a major contributor to climate change.

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Two-thirds of U.S. adults are concerned about the tech industry’s impact on the climate, and 73% believe that tech companies have an obligation to address the crisis, according to an exclusive survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Protocol.

The results, first shared here, also show the industry’s own workers are even more concerned and ready for tech companies to take action. That reflects a growing movement of tech workers putting pressure on their employers to lay out more ambitious climate plans and stick to them.

Climate change poses a number of challenges to the tech industry. Just last summer, we saw flooding decimate Zhengzhou, an iPhone manufacturing hub, while Amazon warehouse workers suffered through triple-digit heat in the Pacific Northwest. These incontrovertible impacts of the climate crisis are why more Americans than ever are alarmed about climate change, and, as the new results reveal, they’re also a concern when it comes to how people think about the tech industry.

The poll — which was conducted in March and includes roughly 1,000 respondents — shows what people are most worried about when it comes to the impacts the climate crisis could have on the tech industry. Among their concerns are that the tech supply chain, sourcing, manufacturing materials and growth and innovation could be affected. The majority surveyed — around 61% — are also worried that the tech industry’s reputation could be at stake, with 66% concerned that the industry is a major contributor to climate change.

More than half of respondents say tech companies can do something about climate change. Some 59% think tech companies should pursue purchasing renewable energy, 55% believe companies should pursue reducing operation emissions and half see improving supply chain sustainability and investing in new technologies as potential solutions. A number of companies are already taking some of these actions, particularly around buying renewable energy.

But decarbonizing the supply chain has proven to be more challenging as tech companies try to get a handle on Scope 3 emissions. Those carbon emissions are associated both with manufacturing goods and customers’ use of products. Microsoft, for example, saw its Scope 3 emissions rise last year. The same is true for other companies; Amazon saw its emissions increase 19% from 2019 to 2020, the last year with data available.

The public also wants to see venture capital firms get involved by investing in carbon dioxide removal technologies, even if they have yet to be proven. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said it was worth investing in. Most scenarios for stabilizing the climate will require some level of carbon dioxide removal.

Though people think tech companies could be doing more, 63% of respondents trust them to meet their stated climate change goals. An even greater 69% say that tech companies’ commitments to addressing climate change influence their opinions of companies.

Tech workers want the industry to do more

Tech workers are even more eager for the industry to do something about climate change. A stunning 94% of tech workers surveyed say that tech companies are highly obligated to address climate change, and 96% say tech companies should make commitments and investments to address it. Some 88% of tech workers say that a tech company’s commitment to climate change influences their opinion of it.

Activism at tech companies has exploded in recent years. High-profile unionization efforts have swept across Amazon, Apple, Google and elsewhere to improve working conditions. Employees at Amazon also organized to press the company to set climate targets, including pushing shareholder resolutions for the company to clean up its act. The company eventually fired two of the leading organizers, and it was forced to cough up back pay following a National Labor Relations Board ruling last year. The new polling shows companies can likely expect more pressure in the coming years.

A total of 60% of tech workers think the company they work at is doing more to address climate issues than others, twice that of all employed adults surveyed. But many also believe that companies can only do so much.

Close to two-thirds of tech worker respondents reported that the pandemic has impacted their employer’s efforts to address climate change. Other limiting factors reported include profit, shareholder considerations and the priorities of a company’s leadership. Despite these limitations, 82% reported wanting to see their company take more steps to address climate change.

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