“Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

Brundtland Report (1987)

Why Sustainability?

In the light of the current climate crisis, corporations and individuals have the responsibility to take actions to reduce their environmental impact and contribute to the cause of climate action. The motivation to embrace the concept of sustainability can be different for different actors. For individuals it could be to reduce their personal resource consumption levels. For companies, a variety of factors could go into walking the path of sustainability such as:

1. Responsibility as a company to proactively participate in the fight against climate change.
2. Align with UN Sustainable Development Goals to become a Responsible Manufacturer.
3. Attract investors, customers, partners, and new talent.
4. Public Reporting and get recognition for early voluntary action.

Why Sustainability in Quantum?
Part of the reason for the current climate crisis can be attributed to the lack of awareness and proactive effort in topics related to sustainability in the past. Barrier free economic gain and technological acceleration was the primary target but their negative impact on the environment was left unchecked. The lack of stringent norms and regulations gave companies freedom to operate without any regard to the environment. However, the situation is different now.

The recent developments in Carbon Footprint Assessment tools and Life Cycle Assessment Databases and methodologies combined with the strict regulations push companies to take responsibility for their operations and their products. For emerging technologies, the question of speed versus impact is an ongoing debate. Especially with technologies that can have substantial environmental and climate change impact - which we hope to be true for quantum - reaching a stage of maturity and full potential fast is highly significant. But the path towards maturity is equally significant, if not more, because the environmental crisis is happening right now and not in the quantum future. So, being aware of the sustainability aspect of quantum advancement is of utmost importance. Startups and enabling tech companies have their role to play in embracing and empowering this idea throughout the quantum value chain.

What we have now is an opportunity with quantum, an opportunity we missed in the first and second IT revolutions, namely an opportunity to develop this technology sustainably.

So how can we take this opportunity?

For startups, addressing these issues can seem to complicate matters of immediate priority: switching conventional procurement practices to sustainable sourcing throughout the supply chain has the potential for delays, to impact quality or even price. How may a startup navigate through the dilemma of prioritizing such conflicting topics?

There is no patented golden bullet solution available. Part of the reason to embed sustainability into the way of doing business is to make such conflicts visible in the first place. The company will then need to find a way to strategically weigh various topics. This will depend on the corporate culture and how much sustainability thinking has been embedded into the business already.

Our intention is to provide a simplified guideline for how to begin incorporating sustainability in your organization.

This guide does not claim to illustrate all activities needed for developing a sustainable startup ecosystem. Rather, it introduces topics and creates a starting point for startups. Each of the steps mentioned below can be subject to further discussion on its validity and implementation at your respective organization.

1. Setting short and long term goals: Before delving into the complexities of sustainability, it is crucial to understand why your organization in particular needs to embrace this concept. The reasons don't necessarily have to coincide with the ones stated above. They could be different. Understanding them and setting a preliminary attainable goal is the first step. A good short term goal could be to calculate the first Corporate Carbon Footprint (CCF) of the company which then aligns with the long term goal of making the company carbon neutral or net zero. Engaging in open discussions with employees can help in setting goals that are attainable and aligned with the company values.

2. Identifying key products: Identify a key product of the company and conduct a detailed Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). This assessment is crucial for subsequent analyses. The key product could be the most sold, the most in demand, the most material-intensive, or one that shares many traits with other products. Consider using third-party consultants for comprehensive LCA solutions.

3. Building a sustainability team: Ensuring that sustainability does not only become a secondary task for any team or individual is crucial, as this can lead to frequent neglect of the topic. The following steps in this guide are best implemented through a dedicated sustainability team. Hiring a working student or intern can be an initial step in this direction. Having a separate team alleviates the time constraints of the management team, allowing them to focus on sustaining the business, which is always the primary goal for any startup. The sustainability department should work closely with management to effectively influence decisions and employee behaviors.

4. Evaluating your CCF: Firstly, set the organizational and operational boundary for the company and choose a reporting year. The first reporting year is usually the base year with which other years are compared to. Then perform a rough assessment to calculate key emission sources. The GHG Protocol provides standards and guidelines to calculate emissions from all scopes and categories. Getting familiarized with the protocol will help in making an accurate assessment and avoid double counting. Scopes 1 and 2 are of great importance in any CCF. Although only through incorporating scope 3 emissions, can a company get an accurate picture of its overall carbon footprint. Based on the initial rough assessment, reassess critical categories in more detail. Assumptions and average data can be adopted for other categories.

5. Measuring ESG performance: Apart from carbon emissions, there are many ways an organization can have an impact on the environment and society. Only through a comprehensive ESG (Environmental Social Governance) assessment can such environmental risks and opportunities for damage reduction be identified. That is why performing a double materiality ESG assessment plays a crucial role where topics material to the company are identified from an impact and a financial perspective.

6. Staying up-to-date with latest regulations: The Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) is expected to come into effect in stages from 2024. Under this regulation, more and more companies are required to engage in sustainability reporting. Companies with more than 500 employees and a net turnover of more than €40 million or a balance sheet total of more than €20 million are subject to mandatory sustainability reporting. Being aware of such information and latest regulations aid in making strategic decisions as the company grows.

7. Developing a sustainability strategy: The CCF assessment together with the ESG analysis provides the big picture of the company and the current position of the company with regard to sustainability. Extract insights from the assessments and use the insights to develop a sustainability roadmap for the organization which contains short term action items and long term projects.

8. Taking action: To take effective action, it is essential to ensure that the departments affected by the planned changes are on board. Changes to internal processes can be time-consuming and often face resistance. Plan the implementation step by step and engage with the relevant departments to understand their constraints. Avoid pushing the topic too hard and be empathetic to prevent it from becoming an added burden on employees.

9. Keeping Track of the impact: Repeat the CCF assessment each year and improve the model each year. Make sure that the model is robust and does not require frequent updating. Revisit your goals and ensure that the company's operations are still aligned with them. Track the implemented short term actions and measure their impact.

10. Communicating Openly: Transparent and bidirectional communication regarding sustainability matters is of great importance. Inform the team about the reason to dedicate time and effort for the topic. This will help to spread awareness on the topic, make sure everyone understands the key concepts, and fosters a cohesive approach to sustainability. It will also boost morale and pride among the employees as they understand how their work contributes to environmental and social goals. Presenting key insights of assessments like the CCF and product LCAs will build a sense of shared responsibility of the topic and help in procuring constructive criticism.
Following the above steps will help in setting up the sustainability function at your organization. We are working on developing detailed guidelines for some of the steps, tailoring them to quantum startups. Stay tuned for further updates.

There are two main considerations that every startup must undertake when devising their sustainability strategy:

1. Avoid - Reduce - Offset strategy towards net zero: The possibility of offsetting carbon emissions should not translate into the freedom to emit however an organization wants. Avoiding emissions in the first place is the best thing that you can do for the environment, but the problem with an avoidance strategy is that it is expensive. The second best thing is to reduce emissions throughout the value chain. After taking emission avoidance and reduction measures, only the remaining portion of emissions should be offset. Offsetting should be the last resort in any emission reduction strategy.

2. Sustain-ability: A startup must first ensure its own viability to achieve sustainability. While numerous challenges arise during the growth stage, sustainability should not be viewed as an additional burden. Instead, it should be embraced as a guiding principle—a green blueprint for conducting business. Sustainability is a strategic approach rather than a problem to be solved. Therefore, it is crucial to integrate sustainable practices gradually and thoughtfully.

This guide can be followed by any startup and not only those which belong to the quantum sphere. Startups involved with quantum technology either directly or as an enabler must consider how the picture changes as the technology scales up. Product development should be mindful of both the scaling energy demand and material use. Companies need to identify critical materials in their supply chain and study potential environmental risks from these materials as the business grows. This supply chain assessment should be performed from both a scalability and sustainability perspective. Quantum technologies demand the use of certain rare earth elements, whose extraction and mining often poses various environmental risks. Extraction of rare earths is also a question of geopolitics as more than half of the rare earth mines and processing centers are under Chinese autonomy. So, ethical sourcing of these materials also needs to be ensured.

Quantum Technologies – sustainably developed sustainable technology
Mankind has seen the development of various technologies. It has seen how the lack of a defensive and unconstrained development strategy can drastically harm the environment and society. The current climate crisis stands as an evidence to our ignorance and unethical technological advancement. However, the story of quantum technology can be different if the industry takes a collective effort and takes anticipatory measures to mitigate the potential negative impact of the technology. We are not trying to solve the problem of sustainability in quantum, rather we should try to design a sustainable roadmap for quantum that will become a blueprint for technologies to come. This brings us back to our earlier point: What we have now is an opportunity with quantum, an opportunity we missed in the first and second IT revolutions, namely the opportunity to develop this technology sustainably. Why not take it?

The sustainability team at PushQuantum is dedicated to the sustainable development of quantum technology. We are determined to bridge the knowledge gaps in the industry and learn from the things that went wrong with previous technological advancements. We understand the vital role startups and SMEs play in laying the foundation to the Quantum revolution. Also, their unconventional style and adaptive nature of doing business makes them the ideal ground to breed sustainable ideas. So, we believe, such a  shift in developmental mindset should take place within such startups. If the foundation of Quantum is strong, we need minimal error correction later on!

So, in this light, we present a sustainability guide for startups. Startups and other SMEs can follow this guide to initiate their sustainability function. This is a growing document and as research at PushQuantum and our collaborators progress, we will be updating it. So, stay tuned and entangled with us!


Emily Haworth
Harris Mubeen
MSc Sustainable Resource Management - TUM
Yelyzaveta Vodovozova
MSc Mathematics in Science & Engineering - TUM