How SK ID Solutions joined the Green Tiger Academy and what became of it
Photo: Gertu Djakov
In autumn 2021, SK ID Solutions joined the Green Tiger Academy to learn how to measure the footprint of their digital services and how to make the world greener while doing it. At the end of the Green Tiger programme, Estonian business newspaper Äripäev published a thorough article about SK’s experience and most important lessons learned.
“As an international digital services company, we have a good idea of the economic added value our services offer people. Our services handle more than 2 billion transactions a year, and we can see just how much time is saved by using them. Even before joining the Green Tiger Academy, we knew that although our services are fully digital, they still have a very specific impact on the environment, and so do we as a company. What we didn’t know, however, was how to measure the environmental impact of our services, taking into account both what we spend on providing them and what we help our customers to save. We also wanted to learn how to differentiate the environmental footprint of our services to guide the development of our services in a more environmentally conscious way. Of course, we also wanted to compare our services with our competitors – we believe that this is essential in the future, and we need to prepare ourselves in timely manner. When joining the Academy, one of our main expectations was to learn to measure the environmental footprint of SK services and to be able to make smarter development plans based on it, ”said Kalev Pihl, Chairman of the Board of SK ID Solutions.
One of the most important lessons for SK was that the total impact of digital services cannot yet be assessed uniformly, and that the measurement is mostly limited to very large generalizations or a very narrow scope. This is particularly difficult for digital service providers, as in many sectors the first recommendation is to digitize the services, at least partially. But what if they are digital from birth?
“It all started when we wanted to know if our services, such as Smart-ID or the new Mobile-ID, are really environmentally friendly or just seem like that. We asked ourselves whether digital services are really automatically green just because they reduce paper usage and transport costs? Would there really be a paper signature for every digital signature in an alternative world, or would the convenience of giving signatures add to them in large quantities? Does the act of signing have to take place only in a specific physical location? What do digital services really mean for the environment? In which area do our services offer the greatest savings? These were and still are important issues for us, because we at SK believe in the positive environmental impact of our business, but some evidence in addition to good faith would be also good. In other words, the impact of our services is definitely wider than the paper and time saved on giving one signature. Of course, SK is by no means special – other companies are struggling with similar issues. I hope that our experience can be extended to other companies providing digital services as well,” explained Liisa Lukin, Member of the Management Board of SK, the invisible part of the environmental impact of digital services.
Digitalising needs justification
The footprint of SK services is largely invisible to the users of these services. For example, in the case of Smart-ID, the users only interact with the app installed in their phones, but actually there are many other things in the background that keep this app running. For digital services, it is easiest to measure the amount of CO2 emitted.
According to Kalev Pihl, SK’s role in the environmental footprint is mainly related to the creation and management of infrastructure: „First, we need servers for operating our services. These servers are manufactured somewhere, and then transported to us. Secondly, we have placed our servers in secure rooms that need to be regularly maintained and also expanded together with the growth of our services. And thirdly, no digital service works without electricity, and it has an impact on the environment.”
The infrastructure and electricity needed to operate digital services already make up a considerable footprint. At the same time, SK’s services have been using exclusively green energy and hosted in Telia’s environmentally friendly data centres for many years – nothing much will improve from there. Thus, SK can improve its digital services, but it is necessary to monitor every small change, because one small switch is multiplied potentially millions of times already in the first month of use.
SK’s process manager Kiret Rooba confirmed that the total cost of electricity consumption of servers is only one part of the whole equation: “It is also important for us to know how the footprints of our digital services differ. For example, how much does Smart-ID and how much Mobile-ID burden the environment? Knowing this, we would be able to assess SK’s wider environmental impact and be able to recommend the most environmentally friendly solution to our customers. This can sometimes make it clear that digitization may not be the best solution. ”
In the Green Tiger Academy, SK examined both the comparison of its services and the environmental impact of the biggest recent changes. As a service provider, SK is able to measure that replacing one person’s visit to a bank office with biometric identification and digital document control creates a digital footprint more than ten times larger. At the same time, it was much harder to say what justifies such an additional footprint. However, in the Academy, it was concluded that people visiting a bank branch creates several times larger footprint than the increased volume of data processing and storage at SK ID Solutions.
Kiret Rooba emphasizes the importance of always understanding what is being replaced and what is being improved by digitization. For example, going to a bank branch on average 10 kilometers to renew a certificate using means of transport, we get an average of 5.462 kg/CO2 per renewal, while using biometric identification only generates 0.2 ‰ CO2 (per mille) of CO2.
The Green Tiger Academy makes one think more broadly
According to Kalev Pihl, participation in the Green Tiger Academy was definitely useful for SK as it taught to better understand and measure what the environmental footprint consists of, i.e. how and how much CO2 a company’s activities generate: “If we want the debate on green issues to improve in the society, we need to learn to understand what the footprint really consists of. Often, businesses start reducing their footprint from the simplest and usually it is the office – the temperature is turned lower, only green electricity is bought, and the use of a single-use dishes is abandoned. At the same time, there are not many companies whose office creates a larger environmental footprint than the products and services the company offers. In fact, one should measure and deal with the overall footprint of business, and how it changes over time. This is what the academy taught us: instead of green washing, one must make really well-thought-out and considered decisions that really benefit the environment, not doing it only temporarily and seemingly. I believe that the entrepreneurs who participated in the Green Tiger Academy are much smarter and can see the bigger picture and understand that thorough (preliminary) work is needed to understand the real environmental impact.”
This article was published in Äripäev on 26.05.2022.