Sustainable IT – attention needed

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Advances in technology means environmental challenges are likely to intensify. Few organizations are taking practical steps – it’s hard to fix what you haven’t measured.

You’re probably familiar with our concept of the Frictionless Enterprise. It signifies an organization that’s designed to enable information to flow smoothly and intelligently between people and processes – as, and when, and where, it is needed.

It’s a concept that’s built on five pillars. You can read more about each of them here, but in brief, they are hyperscale automation, cloud agility, data fluidity, sustainable business, and secure business.

It’s the fourth pillar that is the subject of this short series of articles. Our topic – and it’s an important one – is sustainability.

Gaps in awareness…

IT sustainability may be a pillar for us at Capgemini, but it seems that for many other organizations, it isn’t as significant a factor as it ought to be. In research conducted just a few months ago by the Capgemini Research Institute (CRI),[1] it was found that globally, only 43% of executives said they were aware of their organization’s IT footprint. Half of businesses said they have an enterprise-wide sustainability strategy, but only 18% said they specifically have a comprehensive, sustainable IT strategy, with well-defined goals and target timelines.

The range of factors implicit in sustainable IT is quite broad. It isn’t just about the levels and kinds of energy used. It also includes the carbon cost of data center and user device hardware, such as the use of rare minerals and water in its manufacture; the extent to which hardware is (or isn’t) recycled or refurbished; the degree to which carbon-friendly cloud computing models are being adopted; the rationalization of infrastructure and applications; and the governance of the supply chain from an environmental perspective.

As you might expect, the onward march of technology means that environmental challenges are, if anything, likely to intensify. For instance, the CRI report tells us the e-waste generated by hardware disposal globally is expected to grow from 53.6 million tons in 2019 to 74 million tons in 2030. Even new technologies make an impact. The carbon footprint of operations of a major cloud computing solution provider was stated in the CRI report to have been 295 thousand metric tons of CO2e in 2019 – a 4.31 times increase from 2015. Also, a study from the University of Massachusetts quoted in our report found that training an AI language processing system produced 1,400 pounds of carbon-equivalent emissions – about the amount produced by flying one person on a round-trip between New York and San Francisco.

… and in remediation and governance

The problem isn’t just one of awareness and strategy. As yet, few organizations are taking practical steps, either. CRI’s research shows, for example, that of those surveyed, only 15% had taken steps to reduce the carbon footprint of IT hardware, with 46% only at pilot stage, and 39% taking no action at all. Even lower proportions had undertaken carbon reduction measures on cloud computing, networks and communication systems, or apps and data.

Governance is also an issue. Overall, only a third of organizations surveyed in the CRI report said they have established policies mandating the reporting of their enterprise IT carbon footprint. This is perhaps not surprising: after all, effective reporting is difficult when few organizations (27% in the survey) have established the carbon cost of their IT operations, and with only 29% saying they use carbon assessment tools.

In addition, most organizations said they do not extend disclosure requirements to their vendors.

Reasons for inaction…

One of the main reasons for lack of activity on IT sustainability can be found right here, as a factor in the governance issue above. If it’s difficult for organizations to establish policies when they haven’t quantified the problem, this lack of knowledge also makes it difficult for them to start taking practical steps. In short, it’s hard to fix what you haven’t measured.

The other main obstacle is inexperience. Over half of organizations in the CRI survey (53%) said they do not have the required expertise, and 48% said they are concerned about the high cost of setting up a green infrastructure. Almost as many (45%) said they were concerned about the impact sustainable IT measures might have on business continuity.

… and for action

In the next article in this short series, we’ll look at the benefits of taking steps on IT sustainability: the advantages are commercial as well as environmental. And in the third and final article, we’ll look at how to develop a roadmap to get there.

Read the full CRI paper entitled “Sustainable IT is the backbone of a greener future to learn why it’s time for a Green revolution for your organization’s IT.

Learn more about how the “sustainable business” pillar of Capgemini’s Frictionless Enterprise concept can help your organization factor in responsibilities to the environment and society.

 

Pierre-Louis Seguin is the global sales officer for Capgemini’s Business Services global business line.

 

[1] Source: Capgemini Research Institute, Green IT survey, December 2020 – January 2021, N = 1000 organizations.

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