Sometimes there is not an obvious connection between our daily activities and the damage that could be doing to the environment. While driving a petrol car or taking short-haul flights are widely frowned upon, there is an inconvenient truth behind some of our other dirty digital habits – such as streaming, scrolling, and gaming.
These ‘invisible’ emitters are substantial, growing and, certainly in the case of gaming, one for younger generations especially to be aware of.
A recent report by sustainability firm AfterClimate says game makers created 81 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2022 – more than Greece (57 million tonnes), Finland (37 million tonnes), and Bolivia (23 million tonnes).
And that is a conservative estimate that does not necessarily take Scope 3 emissions into account.
While some of those tech giants are taking positive, meaningful action to reduce gaming emissions, others should be taking a long-hard look at themselves and their footprints.
According to AfterClimate’s Game Industry Net Zero Snapshot 2023, Tencent is leading the way when it comes to cutting emissions in 2022, with a significant reduction of 13.7%. Apple also does well, cutting emissions by 11%.
However, Google’s emissions rose by 1.6%, Microsoft’s by 16.5%, and Sony’s by 17%.
Tencent levels up with green energy
Tencent is top of the leaderboard when it comes to cutting emissions, quite the feat given it is the top gaming company in revenues worldwide. In 2022, Tencent's annual online gaming revenue amounted to US$23.95 billion, with smartphone games generating US$22.5 billion during the same period.
With an aim to be carbon neutral by 2030, Tencent is switching to renewable energy for data centres and purchasing green energy.
The company says that in 2022 it consumed 336,419.5 MWh of green power and avoided 241,952.9 tonnes of carbon emissions. That figure was boosted to 534,000 MWh in 2023, allowing data centres in Huailai East Park, Huailai Ruibei, Jiangsu Yizheng and Qingyuan Qingcheng to reach 100% green power.
Tencent has also introduced new solutions to support its low-carbon transition, including a zero-energy radiative cooling technology to protect glaciers, Asia’s first mineralisation storage project, and water-saving and drought-resistant rice.
And at COP28, the company globally launched its TanLIVE climate community platform, a dynamic digital hub offering a suite of collaborative tools for organisations, entrepreneurs and inventors.
Dr. Hao Xu, Tencent’s VP of Sustainable Social Value, said, "We’re not only trying to identify decarbonisation solutions for our own endeavours, but also to explore how we can apply the insights gained from our experiences to other industries, amplifying our impact on a larger scale."
Education and awareness are part of the strategy and the company is leveraging its experience in developing blockbuster games to raise public awareness about climate change.
Its interactive game – Carbon Island – raises critical environmental issues for Chinese audiences allowing players to learn how to balance sustainable and economic growth. The game has won awards from the United Nations Environment Programme’s Green Game Jam for two consecutive years, with more than 10 million people playing Carbon Island.
Scope 3 could spell game over
The problem is, the problem could be much bigger, and could be the industry’s own Boss Battle (to use their own terminology).
That is because most disclosures do not include Scope 3, Category 11 ‘use of sold products’ in their calculations, so that figure of 81 million tonnes could be a fraction of the real-world total.
Sony, Microsoft, and Apple did include estimates in their disclosures.
To be fair to Microsoft, they have been taking measures to mitigate their emissions. In March 2023 they announced – alongside Epic Games – that they had reduced the energy consumption of hit game Fortnite by 80MWh per day.
This project also produced the Xbox Sustainability Energy Efficiency Essentials guidelines that any game studio can use to help reduce their own energy wastage.