Sustainability

Sustainable solutions

Employ critical and reasoning skills to research tech companies and determine true commitment to sustainability and green energy from greenwashing.

Activity Image
NEW
Grade
10
Duration
45 mins
Type
Thought starter

Overview

Explore how tech companies are setting commitments and goals to use green energy and reduce their environmental impacts. Using critical thinking skills, your students will research a tech company to ascertain whether the company has a true commitment to sustainability or is greenwashing.

Instructions

What you'll need

  1. As a result of our technology explosion, large data centres are storing, processing, and disseminating data and applications, using vast amounts of energy and contributing to the climate crisis.
  2. Start with a discussion about hidden energy and how our technology comes with a much larger energy footprint than the energy required to charge our devices, and/or do the activity “What is hidden energy”. Review that significant energy, often sourced by fossil fuels, is used to move and store data impacting the environment and contributing to the climate crisis.
  3. Invite students to share their opinion on how these large companies operating and managing data can reduce their environmental impact. Consider solutions like switching to renewable energy, implementing innovative cooling systems, and locating data centres in cold climates to reduce cooling loads. 
  4. Have students consider the power we have as consumers to influence companies to adopt sustainable practices and strategies. 
  5. Ask students if they have noticed that many tech companies are making sustainability claims and promises to transform business operations to respond to the climate emergency. Share with students the sustainability commitments on the websites of a few large tech companies: Google states that in 2020 they are committed to run their data centres and campuses on 24/7 carbon-free energy by 2030, Amazon web services states they are on a path to powering their operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025, and Microsoft states they have been carbon neutral across the world since 2012 and commits to being carbon negative by 2030. 
  6. Discuss that many companies are striving to be truly sustainable, switching to low carbon and renewable energy sources but some companies make claims that are either misleading or site target goals that are not achieved. As a class consider how we can interpret and understand what is being promised, so we can make informed choices on what companies are truly sustainable, honest and transparent.
  7. Watch the OwlSwap Sustainability Initiative (Kennesaw State University) video, What is greenwashing  to understand what greenwashing is and how to identify sustainable companies who can back up their claims with reliable proof.
  8. Have students, in pairs, compile a list of tips to uncover possible greenwashing practices like: 
    • What motivation does the company have to make this claim?
    • What kind of language is it using? Is it vague or concrete?
    • What proof is the company providing that its claim is true? 
    • Is the company making certification claims? Are they verifiable third-party certifications? 
    • What other sources can you find to back up the company’s claims?
  9. Provide students with the Sustainable solutions student handout. Ask students to choose a large tech company and research their sustainability platform and commitments. Using this research with critical thinking and reflecting skills have students answer the questions in the handout. 
  10. Invite students to re-visit their opinion on how large companies operating and managing data can reduce their environmental impact. How have their views changed after researching these companies?

Modify or extend this activity

  • Students could choose a product and create a marketing label that showcases the green features, is factual but misleads consumers. Present the product to the class and see if they are able identify how you have misled them. An example could be clothing with a label that states, “locally designed in Canada”. As a consumer we might choose to buy local and reduce transportation impacts, but this claim is misleading if the product is actually made elsewhere. 
  • Ask students to build a marketing strategy to attract tech companies to locate their data centres in B.C. where BC Hydro produces clean renewable electricity. BC Hydro outlines in the Electrification Plan how it is committed to electrifying B.C. and switching from fossil fuel use. The Electrification Plan includes incentives to attract new clean industry to B.C., including data centres. 

Curriculum Fit

Entrepreneurship and Marketing 10 

Big ideas 

  • Social, ethical, and sustainability considerations impact design and decision making.
  • Ethical marketing, forms of marketing and online marketing concepts.


Science 10 

Big Ideas and content

  • Energy is conserved, and its transformation can affect living things and the environment
  • Local and global impacts of energy transformations from technologies

Curricular Competencies

  • Questioning and predicting: demonstrate a sustained intellectual curiosity about a scientific topic or problem of personal interest 
  • Communicating: communicate scientific ideas, claims, information, and perhaps a suggested course of action, for a specific purpose and audience


Socials 10 

Content

  • Environmental, political & economic policies: environmental issues including climate change and renewable energy 

Curricular competencies

  • Use Social Studies inquiry processes and skills to ask questions; gather, interpret, and analyze ideas and data; and communicate findings and decisions


Technology Explorations 10

Big ideas and content

  • Social, ethical, and sustainability considerations impact design.
  • Alternate energy sources

Curricular competencies

  • Applied design - IdeatingCritically analyze and prioritize competing factors to meet community needs for preferred futures

Teaching Notes

Hidden energy

Each day we charge our devices so we can use apps and create social media posts, often without considering that these apps, posts, and data storage use energy to take a physical journey around the world. In addition, data is kept in mega data storage centres where it is saved, processed, and the data and apps disseminated. Often the energy source used in this process is fossil fuels. 


Data centres

Hyperscale data centres are being built all around the world and contain IT products and tens of thousands of servers and hardware. This is in part a response to a rapid growth in cloud computing, SaaS (software as a service where software is licensed on a subscription basis and centrally hosted), e-commerce, gaming and video services. Many large tech companies, owning and operating these hyperscale data centres, are responding to the climate crisis with commitments to use green energy and sustainable business practices. 


Smart sustainability

With the increase in information flow and connectivity in our world, we need to be discerning about how to interpret the information. Greenwashing is when a business makes incorrect or misleading claims about its sustainable initiatives. But many companies are honestly striving to be sustainable by switching to renewable energy sources and adopting other sustainable practices. The challenge is to differentiate between the two. A sustainable company will share proof to support its sustainability claims and targets and will be transparent and honest about its progress in reaching these targets. 

Assessment

  • Assess students’ understanding of the energy used by large data centres and the need for tech companies to commit to a low carbon future. 
  • Assess students’ ability to apply a critical lens to company claims of sustainability.
  • Assess students’ critical thinking and reflecting skills to ask questions and find reputable research sources.

More activities from this lesson

We'd like to hear from you

We want to ensure that we’re providing activities your class will enjoy. Please let us know what you think about this activity by leaving us your feedback.

3D asset of teacher.

Join the Power Smart for Schools community to access:

  • Email newsletter to keep you up-to-date
  • Special events and contests with great prizes
  • Premium, time-limited education resources
  • Dashboard to organize and save your favourite activities and lessons
Sign up