Even tech companies that have pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions have a major climate-related blind spot, according to a new report published by three environmental groups. With their money and investments, Google, Apple, Meta and other tech giants indirectly finance fossil fuel companies.
While these companies may have taken steps to reduce pollution within the their own operations and supply chains, the financial institutions they bank with, are still funneling Big Tech’s profits in heavily polluting industries. The emissions associated with that financial activity are so significant that they are, in fact, much higher than the emissions from any company’s operations, the report finds.
That pollution has flown under the radar because it is usually not included in companies’ assessments of their emissions. But if the emissions related to the cash reserves for Google, Meta, Microsoft and Salesforce goods taking that into account, it would increase their carbon footprint by between 91 and 112 percent, the report said.
The problem stems from the way banks decide to use their customers’ money. When companies entrust their money to banks, the banks put that money to work. The money can be used to finance energy projects or provide loans to other companies. According to the report, the world’s 60 largest commercial and investment banks have collectively invested $4.6 trillion in the fossil fuel industry since 2015.
That kind of investment results in more of the pollution that warms the planet. Every $1 billion in cash a bank puts to work is responsible for pollution comparable to the annual emissions of 27,398 vehicles, the report said. That figure is based on a 2021 report that estimates that the carbon intensity of the U.S. financial sector is roughly equivalent to 126,000 tons of carbon dioxide per billion dollars. Those emissions can come from projects and companies funded by the financial sector, including things like utilities, mineral exploration, or even real estate and IT projects.
The report estimates for the first time the financial carbon footprint of nine different technology and media companies: Google, Meta, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Salesforce, PayPal, Disney and Netflix. Investigators got information about each company’s cash and investments from SEC filings. The report’s authors then coupled that with established measurements of carbon intensity for different types of investments to estimate each company’s financial footprint.
Apple reported $191 billion in cash and investments to the SEC in 2021. The report estimates that those billions of dollars generated nearly 15 million tons of planet-heating emissions. That figure is three times as much climate pollution as the emissions generated that year from the use of every Apple product in the world, the report said.
By 2030, Apple aims to reduce its own CO2 emissions by 75 percent. Towards that goal, the company has pushed hundreds of suppliers to reduce their own pollution. Companies like Apple that want to make a positive impact on climate change should think about putting the same pressure on banks, the report authors say.
The report was prepared by the international Climate Safe Lending Network, the think tank The Outdoor Policy Outfit and the Rockefeller family-founded BankFWD. The groups enlisted the help of financial data experts from the social enterprise South Pole, which advises companies on their sustainability goals.
“The strength of this report is that the data tells us that the leverage we use the least turns out to be the most powerful tool we have — where and how we choose to bank,” said Valerie Rockefeller, co-chair of the bank. BankFWD, in a press release. “Bank choice is a largely untapped frontier for climate leadership with huge potential for impact.”
Google, Netflix and Microsoft declined to comment on The edge on the plate. The other companies have not yet responded at the time of publication.
Check out the full report to see how each company’s financial carbon footprint is stacking up.