In our last blog post we highlighted the significant contribution of IT to global greenhouse gas emissions due to the high demand for electricity and raw materials. Thus, Net Zero ambitions must not stop at IT; on the contrary, achieving these ambitions is only possible with a sustainable IT. In the following, we will introduce five important levers with which your IT can support the path to Net Zero.
The five levers to support the Net Zero strategy
Lever 1: Storage and processing of data in the cloud
The amount of data processed and stored globally has exploded in recent years and there is no end in sight. Accelerated by the Internet of Things and new transmission technologies such as 5G, forecasts suggest a fivefold increase in global data production between 2018 and 2025. In order to make this data usable for a variety of purposes, more and more companies are moving to the cloud. For reasons such as higher utilization per server and higher energy efficiency in modern data centers, this also seems to make sense from a sustainability perspective. Unfortunately, it’s often much more complicated than it initially seems. For example, storing 100 gigabytes in the cloud can quickly cause up to 200kg of CO2 per year, depending on the hardware, power mix and PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness). A sustainable cloud strategy starts with the selection of a responsible provider and relies on transparency and common incentive systems to reduce the CO2 footprint. You can find more insights into the opportunities of sustainable cloud solutions in our specific blog series.
Lever 2: Efficient and effective operated applications
Applications are the heart of everyday operations of modern businesses. Due to historically conditioned construction and expansion, application landscapes are often very heterogeneous and characterized by a correspondingly high degree of complexity. This not only results in unreasonable costs for operations and maintenance, but also unavoidable redundancies. With a comprehensive analysis of the application portfolio, such inefficiencies and optimization potentials can be identified. Through a detailed capturing of the systems and hardware in use, including power consumption and utilization, the overall system can be optimized using sustainability criteria.
Already in the development phase of applications energy efficiency is key. This applies to both software architecture and coding practices. For systems with a high number of different hardware components, e.g. IoT solutions, the consumption of individual components must be observed, and the overall architecture must be optimized with regard to energy efficiency. Companies purchasing the majority of their software from external service providers should apply energy efficiency criteria in the software selection process to select the most sustainable solution.
Lever 3: Sustainable lifecycle management of end user devices
With the increasing number of end user devices – laptop, monitor, smartphone, etc. – the associated climate effects are also increasing. Accordingly, these devices are responsible for a significant share of the total emissions of IT and should therefore be considered additionally.
Most emissions come from the production of the equipment, which has extremely negative impacts due to the average lifespan of only three years. To counteract the negative effects despite the continuously increasing number of end devices, a key lever is therefore to extend the service life of the devices. The repair or reprocessing of devices can also make sense from a sustainability perspective.
Lever 4: Responsible employees
Even in an increasingly digitized world, the human factor continues to play an important role when it comes to reducing the climate footprint from the use of IT. Compared to other areas of life, like food or travel, we still lack knowledge and awareness of the impact our daily use of technology and digital services has on the environment. For example, did you know that an hour of video call causes 1 kilogram of CO2 and that this value is reduced by 96% when you turn off the camera?; Even small behavioral changes help to reduce the negative climate impact of corporate IT and thus support the ambitious sustainability goals of the entire organization. With targeted awareness campaigns, specific skills and know-how development, as well as appropriate tools, these levers can be moved in the right direction and employees can be turned into motivated “change makers” on the way to Net Zero.
Lever 5: Enabling sustainability with technology
Ultimately, an IT organization is not only required to reduce its own footprint, but also to offer technology-driven solutions that enable greenhouse gas reductions in other business areas. The potential that emerges from the use of technology is enormous and the expectations are correspondingly high.
A targeted analysis of the sector-specific value chain with regard to sustainability challenges and potentials lays the foundation for the identification of possible use cases. When prioritizing and ultimately making an investment decision, sustainability criteria must be taken into account. How does the climate impact reduction potential compares to the additional emissions caused is the key question in the “Sustainable IT Business Case”.
Thank you to the Co-author Michel Ehrenstein