How ‘big’ tech is becoming ‘good’ tech in the drive to sustainable IT

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As big tech firms take a proactive stance on the environmental impact of their operations, what lessons can they share with enterprise IT?

There’s a lot sitting on the shoulders of IT leaders. As well as having to fundamentally change how they deliver corporate IT services over the past year, they’re being tasked with helping their organizations become sustainable businesses. How? By using technology to drive sustainability initiatives, such as digital collaboration platforms to reduce travel, and applying AI to optimize supply chains that reduce wastage.

While this potential for IT to be an enabler of sustainability is hugely positive, there is a growing recognition that enterprise IT is itself a contributor to the global carbon footprint. According to a new report from the Capgemini Research Institute (CRI), the rising demand for computing power and data storage poses “a significant environmental challenge.”

Big tech takes proactive steps

This challenge must be tackled. But where should enterprise IT leaders begin? Capgemini Invent advocates a journey to sustainable IT built on the four pillars of Sustainable Strategy, IT Transformation, Employees, and IT for Sustainable Business — a topic covered in our recent blog and addressed by our Sustainable IT services. IT leaders can also ramp up their ambitions by observing and learning from the big tech firms taking proactive steps to decarbonize their operations. In fact, 48% of the 1000 organizations surveyed for the CRI report said technology firms should be setting standards and decide the norms for sustainable IT.

In the CRI report, we learned that many of the tech giants are making decarbonization and wider environmental impact pledges. For example, Microsoft is planning to become carbon negative by 2030, and 70% of its massive data centers will run on renewable energy by 2023. Likewise, HP has set a target to ensure its global operations are powered with 100% renewable electricity by 2035. And Samsung has a goal to recycle 7.5 billion pounds of electronics waste by 2030. The report adds that sustainable IT is not only limited to the migration to more sustainable hardware and energy but extends to initiatives such as application portfolio rationalization and efficient coding.

4 practical use cases from big tech

For enterprise IT leaders seeking similar outcomes, there are some practical use cases from the world of big tech in the CRI report — the figures cited all appear in the report:

  • Procurement: Only 43% of organizations say environmental impact is critical when selecting an IT vendor. Tech giant Cisco takes a wholly different approach with its proactive sustainable IT stance. Cisco directly influence suppliers to ensure they are using carbon-focused sourcing strategies, model designs, product fulfilment, manufacturing energy use and transport mode selection. The company is working with the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) so that it is transparent about progress against its overall goal to cut one million metric tons of GHG emissions across its supply chain.
    Learning 1: Ensure your technology vendors are transparent and accountable on sustainable IT norms as part of a sustainable IT procurement policy.
  • Carbon cost: Setting a carbon cost against IT operations can help different functions within the organization really understand the impact of their IT footprint — currently, however, only 27% have set a cost. Microsoft is a pioneer in this area, having introduced internal carbon fees as far back as 2012. These are levied on internal business units for the carbon emissions associated with the company’s global operations for data centers, offices, labs, manufacturing, and business air travel.
    Learning 2: Use carbon cost setting as a driver and incentive for sustainable IT, challenging business units to include the cost of carbon in their annual budget.
  • Utilization: Data centers guzzle energy. In 2019, data center operations accounted for nearly 1% of the world’s energy demand. And currently, only 17% of organizations have deployed measures to use sustainable energy sources in their data centers. Google is one of the big tech companies to act on this, having shifted execution of non-urgent workloads in its data centers to when low-carbon sources of energy are abundant.
    Learning 3: Use artificial intelligence/machine learning to optimize data center utilization. AI/ML can deliver critical load balancing techniques that optimize workflows and enable dynamic scheduling based on renewable power.
  • Rationalization: Only 19% of organizations measure the energy impact of their pre-production application environment (development and testing) and only 21% measure the sustainability impact of the production environment (live applications). Intel has developed the Software Development Assistant, which enables programmers and engineers to take energy measurements from a system as it executes specific workloads.
    Learning 4: Rationalize applications, and audit applications to identify and decouple energy-intensive ones — experience shows this can cut operational costs by 11%.

Sustainable IT levers

The above offers a small flavor of the use cases and learnings discussed in our latest research report. Further practical use cases include moving from on-premises infrastructure to cloud computing for significant energy savings; adopting more energy efficient data-transfer mechanisms, for example shifting to edge computing to reduce energy use by processing data closer to the source; and auto switch-off for hardware in the office.

The task of IT leaders is to identify the right levers as part of their sustainable IT strategy and not fall for trends which aren’t the right fit for their ambitions. Also, it’s important to prioritize spend with partners that share common objectives, so that we can scale impact, promoting the enterprise IT as a true enabler of sustainability.

Find out more

  • Want to continue this conversation, contact me here
  • Find out how Sustainable IT from Capgemini Invent can support your transformation here
  • Read the CRI Report here.

Author

Courtney HolmCourtney Holm

Vice President, Sustainability Solutions at Capgemini Invent

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