Building sustainability into the heart of the digital economy

This week we spoke with Bryony Wilde, Social Impact Manager at The Panoply to discover what it means to be a purpose driven PLC

Welcome Bryony, please can you introduce yourself and tell us more about your role?

Bryony Wilde

I joined The Panoply earlier this year as Social Impact Manager. The Panoply aims to be a truly purpose driven PLC and advertised for my role directly after the IPO last year. It’s quite unusual for a company of this size, at this stage, to have full-time resource dedicated to impact but the board and the leadership team were determined that it was going to be built into the fabric of the group from the very beginning. That was the most exciting thing for me about joining the business. I don’t need to spend my time fixing existing problems or figuring out how we can do less harm, I have an opportunity to be proactive and figure out how, through our business, brand and operations, we can do more good.

Your background is in the fashion industry, how did that lead to working within the digital economy?

That’s right, my background in terms of sustainability is largely within the fashion industry where the environmental effects are pretty obvious and well understood. I have to be honest, I have never thought much about the impact of the digital economy on the climate. I think many of us just assume that if you can’t see the footprint, it doesn’t really exist. Tech has given us a guilt free pass for so long, we have swapped letters for emails and business trips for Skype conversations and feel like we’re behaving really responsibly, but that attitude has led to massive overconsumption and we rarely stop to think about how this vast network of always-on digital products is being powered.

So people are unaware of the environmental impact of digital technology, and by extension, the profound effect of the digital economy on our environment - which doubtless makes these issues harder to address?

This was our starting point for figuring out what The Panoply’s response to the climate crisis should look like. We finished our first carbon report earlier this year and our owned emissions are actually quite small (just 0.23 carbon tonnes per employee). Of course we began by looking at our internal processes and policies and seeing where we had opportunities to cut those emissions further - for example, we are in the process of switching all of our owned energy supply to renewables and putting in place sustainable procurement guidelines – but it didn’t feel like enough. The more we dug into it, the more we realised that regardless of how green our own operations became, the industry that we operate within and the products that we help to put out into the world had far bigger consequences to the environment than we had realised.

Can you share some examples that you discovered through your investigation that brought the issues home to you?

Did you know for example that data centres are about to overtake the entire aviation industry in terms of emissions? Or that, a single email with a large attachment can add 50g to your carbon footprint according to best estimates? As we started uncovering more facts like these we realised that everybody, even those working in technology, were shocked. We don’t feel the same guilt sending an email or opening a web page as we do turning on an engine but the end result is the same.

As a group, how do you hope to address this?

We realised that we could probably make a bigger positive impact in two ways. Firstly, by raising awareness about the effects of the digital economy and by encouraging people to link their digital consumption with their energy consumption and secondly, to help redesign digital services to make them more sustainable over their lifetime.

... and the timing of this ties in with the Global Climate Strike?

Yes. We wanted to launch this campaign to coincide with the global climate strike this week and show solidarity with all of the young people who will be marching for action, in fact many of our employees have taken matched leave to join them. That said, this is the very beginning of our journey. We are not pretending to be experts but think that we can effect real change if we’re honest and transparent about everything that we are learning and doing.

It’s a refreshing and confident move to make these commitments so openly, while there’s certainly a shift in attitudes from businesses, many are still reluctant to state their position publicly, why do you think that is?

I think that there is a lot of fear from businesses that making any kind of public statement or commitment will lead to tougher scrutiny and criticism. That’s probably true, but we would welcome that feedback to help us improve what we are doing. This isn’t a PR exercise, we really think that we can be part of the solution in building a more sustainable digital economy, and the more people who know about what we are doing and will engage with us, the faster we will get there.

What are the next steps within The Panoply and how will they integrate with your client work?

We’re not wasting any time in getting started and have invited the Green Web Foundation in this week to deliver training for our CTO’s on how to audit the carbon emissions of a digital supply chain. The Foundation has been doing fantastic work for many years to speed up the transition of the internet away from fossil fuels and its main strategy for doing that is simply open sourcing all of their research and findings. I truly believe that once somebody understands the environmental impact of a product, service or supply chain, they will look to reduce that impact through the design. It just hasn’t been on the agenda for digital products until now. We want to be able to advise our clients as standard about the environmental implications of the products we deliver as naturally as we currently do on cost, security and design.

Your belief is that other businesses will need to take these considerations on board and develop better ways of working within the digital economy while also addressing their social responsibility towards the environment?

I believe that we are going to rethink how we build and consume digital services if we are going to have any chance of tackling climate change. Businesses need to step up and proactively think about their own contributions, both good and bad, to their environments. Ultimately, they will be the people with the access and leverage to facilitate change quickly – surely we all already have enough incentive. Most of us understand and accept the long-term economic implications that the effects of climate change will have on our communities, we have a collective responsibility not to be short sighted and to start building a future which is sustainable for our people, our planet and our business.

Stage one of our plan is awareness...If you would like to stay in touch to hear about stage two and the one after that or if you would like to join forces, please leave your details -