2022 Carbon Report
Since 2020, Disco has operated as a carbon-neutral business. We set this goal because we believe that only through the direct action of individuals, businesses and governments do we have a chance to avoid catastrophic environmental and societal damage over the next hundred years.
This document breaks down our carbon footprint and offsets for 2022. The general approach we use is detailed in our inaugural 2020 Carbon Report.
As a quick recap, our approach focuses on:
- Reliably estimating our annual carbon footprint, to serve as a baseline for reduction efforts and to serve as an input to our offsetting efforts;
- Offsetting all of our estimated emissions for 2022; and
- Identifying concrete steps we can take in 2023 to reduce our emissions.
In 2022, we were able to reduce our year to year emissions by around 20% from 2021, despite team growth, increased travel as we came out of the COVID-19 pandemic, add expansion of our cloud infrastructure.
As always, we welcome feedback from anyone on how we can improve in 2023 and beyond, and conversely would be more than happy to answer any questions to help other small companies like ours take similar steps.
Last year, we made the spreadsheet we used to estimate our emissions public - we’ve done the same this year with our updated estimator spreadsheet for any business similar to ours keen to generate a rough upper bound footprint for the same purpose.
Estimating our carbon footprint
We use tCO2e (metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) to measure our footprint. This keeps our calculations simple and allows us to use a single number for offsets and future comparison.
Wherever possible, we’ve leaned conservative in our estimates (for example, while we had employees join us throughout the year, we calculated their emissions on a whole-year basis).
Offices (8.39 tCO2e)
We have a single co-located office, at The Commons in Cremorne. Since 2019, they have been 100% carbon neutral (one of many reasons we’re located there), and they do a fantastic job of encouraging sustainability within the office.
In 2022, many local Disco employees chose to return to the office more frequently after a couple of years of near-100% work from home. Of course, with a number of full-time remote employees and our flexible working policy, many employees chose to work from home a significant amount of the time.
The electricity used to power employee workstations, and the energy used to heat their home at times when they would otherwise be in the office, are attributable to Disco.
We survey employees to find out how their heat and electricity is supplied, then work on an average number of work from home hours per week (26 hours across the company for 2022), for 45 work weeks per year, to get total electricity and heating emission estimates.
Our number crunching here came out with emissions of 2.95 tCO2e per year for electricity, and 5.44 tCO2e per year for heating, for a total of 8.39 tCO2e per year for our offices.
This number is down 19% from 2021 - primarily as a result of fewer work from home hours post-pandemic. In previous years, we have attempted to further reduce these emissions by promoting local carbon-neutral energy providers.
Equipment lifecycle (1.64 tCO2e)
In addition to the ongoing emission cost of running our workstations, there’s a a lifecycle emission cost associated with the sourcing, manufacture, and shipment of our hardware. These emissions are often much more significant than those generated by ongoing use, so it’s important to factor them into our overall footprint.
We source all of our hardware from Apple, who very handily provide Environmental Reports for each product they manufacture (example).
Our calculated 2022 lifecycle emissions for new purchases in the year were 1.64 tCO2e, a mere third of our 2021 lifecycle emissions. This was primarily due to reduced employee onboarding and need for new equipment.
While there’s not a lot we can do to further reduce these emissions (our tech equipment are the essential tools of our trade), we can continue to work with suppliers who provide transparency around their lifecycle hardware cost.
Cloud hosting (60.78 tCO2e)
Cloud hosting dominates our carbon footprint, and we’d hoped to make significant inroads on this number in 2022. To some extent, we did this, reducing our cloud hosting emissions by 10% from 2021 levels, despite an overall increase in the computing power required to run our infrastructure.
As outlined in our 2020 Carbon Report, we use a simple, conservative formula for calculating the carbon footprint of our cloud hosting based on a per-vCPU (0.2987 tCO2e/year), per-GB RAM (0.0747 tCO2e/year) basis. This year, we expanded the formula to calculate emissions on a per-vCPU-hour and per-GB-hour level of granularity - this not only allows us to better factor in the scaling up and down of services over the course of the year, but it’s also made it easier to extract our overall usage from billing reports.
Our current infrastructure is spread across three providers: Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and Digital Ocean. This year we achieved a goal of ensuring all of our AWS infrastructure was hosted in carbon-neutral zones, and started a general migration of many applications to GCP, which is certified carbon-neutral across the platform.
Unfortunately, Digital Ocean still (a year after our last Carbon Report) does not provide any official information about the green certification of their infrastructure, and there’s nothing on reliable third-party sites like The Green Web Foundation. We did reach out to our account representative to see if we could clarify the situation - in the interests of transparency, their response (as of November 2022) was that:
“The carbon accounting audit process is ongoing and they should have some concrete details soon.
The team is working on a sustainability strategy as Digital Ocean recognizes the environment is central to our community. While the team can’t share more details right now, we are accountable to deliver on our commitments and with that, we look forward to sharing more specific details with you soon.”
Hopefully, this is something Digital Ocean can deliver on in 2023 as it is an important consideration for businesses like Disco. Given the absence of reliable green data, we treated usage of their platform as “dirty” for the purposes of our calculations and after applying our formula against usage for the year our cloud hosting emissions were estimated at 60.78 tCO2e.
Looking ahead to 2023, the biggest impact we can make on our carbon footprint is to ensure that all of our infrastructure is certified carbon neutral.
Travel (1.43 tCO2e)
Business-related travel has never been a major part of Disco’s operations, although we do travel domestically (and occasionally internationally) for the purposes of company gatherings, conferences, and events. In 2022, there were a number of domestic and international flights taken - however, we don’t include emissions from those flights in the numbers here as our policy is to always offset air travel with the airline at the time of purchase.
Historically, we have not tracked or offset emissions from ground transport related directly to Disco’s business activities. That transport has been extremely limited in 2022, so we use a very conservative estimate of 1,000 kilometers of rail travel and 1,000 kilometers of car travel for a total of 0.47 tCO2e.
As for previous years, we decided to include a conservative upper bound for personal travel to and from the office in the course of normal business. Happily, out Carbon survey this year highlighted that the vast majority of commutes at Disco in 2022 were via foot, bicycle, or public transport - no employees used a car as their primary method of commute throughout the year.
We did decide to generate a conservative upper bound for emissions generated in our commutes by assuming a weighted mix of transport methods across an average number of in-office days, at a distance equal to the employee that lives furthest from the office.
Plugging these numbers into a calculator gave us 0.96 tCO2e for the year, taking our overall total travel emissions to 1.43 tCO2e.
Buffer (7.22 tCO2e)
While our estimates this year have been conservative as always, we again include an ~10% buffer to account for miscellaneous emission sources we’ve missed. The worst that can happen is we become carbon negative!
For 2022, that buffer is 7.22 tCO2e (10% of 72.24 tCO2e).
As for 2021, there are some things we know we haven’t taken into account, either by choice or because their overall contribution to emission totals are so small we are confident they are covered by our buffer. These known exclusions include:
- Embodied emissions for non-workstation physical items, such as office furniture, merchandise and gifts. These are very minimal for Disco’s operations.
- Emissions from third-party software vendors. We use a large number of third party software services in our business, and we’ve seen some other companies consider their hosting emissions as part of their own footprint. We’ve excluded these from consideration as Disco is likely a very small percentage of those emissions, and we have no way of knowing which hosting providers are in use or whether they are using renewable energy sources or not.
- Banking. Our business accounts are managed by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which does not have the best record when it comes to sustainable investment practices. We haven’t managed to find a good resource for estimating the indirect emissions stemming from our deposit accounts, but are keen to explore this further in 2023, either in the form of offsetting these indirect emissions or by moving to a different bank.
Total (79.47 tCO2e)
Summing the above, our total estimated carbon footprint for 2022 is:
- Offices: 8.39 tCO2e
- Equipment lifecycle: 1.64 tCO2e
- Cloud hosting: 60.78 tCO2e
- Travel: 1.43 tCO2e
- Buffer: 7.22 tCO2e
for a total of 79.47 tCO2e.
Offsetting our carbon emissions
This year, we once again chose to work with Pachama, a carbon offset provider focused on carbon capture through forestry projects in Africa and the Americas. Trees are currently the most scalable and efficient way to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and while there is a need for longer-term capture solutions down the road, the project bundles offered by Pachama were a straightforward way for us to offset our emissions.
We purchased carbon credits for 80 tonnes of CO2 from Pachama for a total of USD$1,131.20. We’ve made our certificate available here.
The per-tonne carbon offset price dropped this year from USD$24.60 to USD$14.14, making offsetting this year more economical for the business.
Looking ahead to 2023
As for last year, the highest-impact move we can make is to reduce our cloud hosting footprint, as that category now constitutes 80% of our total emissions.
While we made some inroads on this last year, increased usage and inertia on the migration front has meant we haven’t executed as fully as we would have liked. Let’s do better in 2023!