IT is responsible for nearly 4%[i] of global greenhouse gas emissions (up from 2%[ii] in 2007) and causes over 50 million tons[iii] of e-waste annually. Maintaining the global IT infrastructure consumes about as much electricity as Germany, France and the UK combinedi. In the context of the globally advancing digitalization, as well as new particularly energy-intensive technologies such as blockchain, a further increase in greenhouse gases caused by IT seems inevitable. It is therefore essential that operators of large IT infrastructures actively include the issue of sustainability in their future planning.
IT as both solution and problem
Although IT itself is a polluter, technology can also contribute significantly to addressing the climate crisis. Technological progress has the potential to enable CO2 reductions many times greater than a its own footprint. Of course, technology cannot eradicate the climate problem, but it can definitely make a contribution.
To the extent that technology today is part of the problem, but at the same time it has sheer potential to be part of the solution. In the context of sustainability, IT must therefore be viewed from two perspectives. On the one hand, technology itself must be operated more sustainably – Sustainable IT.
On the other hand, technology must be used to provide more sustainable business models and services – IT for Sustainability.
IT for Sustainability
IT for Sustainability is a topic whose potential was first identified more than 15 years agoii. Society and experts are rightly pinning great hopes on the possibilities offered by new technologies for overcoming the climate crisis. After all, the use of new technologies holds the opportunity to provide existing products, services, processes, etc. in a more sustainable manner, as well as to enable new, sustainable business models. If we think of artificial intelligence, big data, edge and quantum computing, blockchain, IoT, 5G, etc., we get an impression of the potential.
However, the use of technology must never be an end in itself; at its core, it must either
- prevent a climate-damaging activity – eg., virtual collaboration instead of business travel,
- further optimize an existing process – eg., the use of predictive maintenance to avoid long downtimes, or
- enable new sustainable activities or business models – eg., smart cities, sharing platforms, as-a-service offerings, etc.
A key challenge in this field is to define and select the right use cases and the appropriate technology. It is advisable to proceed systematically and to first define the basic principles and success criteria before use cases are identified through internal and external screening before they are prioritized. Capgemini Invent offers a wide range of proven approaches and tools to support you on this journey.
Given the footprint of global IT discussed above, it may sound paradoxical to want to address the climate crisis through even greater use of technology. Therefore, it is a compelling requirement that ongoing digitization is done in a sustainable way to make the leap from problem to solution. This can only be achieved through a strategic approach and a holistic view of all dimensions of IT management. However, our Sustainable IT study shows that less than half of all companies know the footprint of their IT, let alone have deployed a sustainability strategy and/or concrete target figures for their IT.
There is an urgent need for action, which we primarily locate in the following three areas:
- Sustainable IT Strategy: Measure and analyze the footprint of your IT and derive tangible goals and action measures.
- Sustainable IT Transformation: Modernize and streamline your IT to meet today’s and tomorrow’s needs better, faster, cheaper, and more sustainably.
- Sustainable IT Employees: Sensitize your employees and take them with you on the journey to a more sustainable future.
Each area requires dedicated approaches and measures so that the development towards a sustainable IT organization can succeed. A continuous process for the sustainable optimization of IT should be firmly anchored in the organization.
Just like digitization itself, sustainable IT is a development that affects every industry and every type and size of company. The topic belongs on every corporate agenda, not only because it is right and important, but also because it is increasingly demanded and rewarded by customers, shareholders, employees, and society. The time is right and favorable to become active and to gain an advantage through sustainable IT as well as to contribute to a climate-friendly future – a future for all of us!
[i] The Shift Project, “Lean ICT – Towards digital sobriety”, March 2019
[iii] United Nations institute for Training and Research, “Global e-waste surging: up 21 percent in 5 years,” July 2020,
Co-Autor: Andreas Pages, Director Business Technology Zürich