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A roadmap to implementing sustainable IT


In the first two articles in this short series, we noted how little emphasis is typically being given to IT sustainability, and we also looked at the benefits of taking action.

In this, the third and final article, we’ll consider the elements needed to develop an IT sustainability roadmap.

Stage #1 – perform the assessment

There are three stages to the roadmap we suggest, and they’re pretty logical.

The first stage is to perform the assessment that will set the baseline for the program on which you’re about to embark. Remember in the first article, we noted that few organizations have established the carbon cost of their IT operations – and that it’s hard to fix what you haven’t measured? Well, that’s something that needs to change.

Carbon emission assessment tools should be used to conduct a diagnostic assessment of the environmental impact of the organization’s IT. In addition, maturity assessments across the enterprise and within individual business units will highlight where critical action is required.

The sustainable IT strategy that emerges from this assessment needs, of course, to be aligned to the organization’s wider sustainability goals, and with the enterprise-wide ESG (environmental, social & governance) framework. Key performance indicators, targets, and frameworks need to be defined, so a carbon cost to IT operations can be set. These frameworks are likely to include those provided by the International Standards Organization (ISO), as well as the GHG Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard.

Stage #2 – create an effective governance plan

To some extent, governance is about demonstrability – in other words, about being able to show regulators and other external stakeholders that efforts are being made, and that standards are being met.

But governance isn’t just an outward-facing proposition, and that’s true in the case of IT sustainability in particular. Buy-in from the organization’s own stakeholders, including senior leadership, is vital. The survey conducted by the Capgemini Research Institute (CRI)[1] found that, of organizations with high levels of maturity in sustainable IT, two-thirds said they make sustainable IT part of the board-level agenda, compared to a global average of around half that (34%).

It isn’t just the people at the top who matter – it’s also those who own the brief. Creating a dedicated team is important, because if sustainable IT is simply an objective among many others for the broader IT function, it’s less likely to get the attention it deserves. The CRI survey showed that 95% of organizations with high maturity in IT sustainability have dedicated sustainability teams, compared to just 39% elsewhere.

Effective governance also means that organizations need to align their services, business models, and go-to-market strategy with their sustainable IT norms, in order to ensure that their focus on sustainability is consistently reflected in their overall business strategy.

Stage #3 – implement sustainable initiatives

Well, I did say the three stages were logical, and this last stage – actually doing something – is perhaps the most self-evident of them all.

Here are a few operational areas to consider within the implementation of a sustainability initiative:

  • Ensure sustainability is a key pillar of the software architecture – the CRI’s research shows that most organizations that have been able to scale their software sustainability not only achieve a carbon reduction but additional cost benefits
  • Identify the environmental impact of artificial intelligence (AI) during the design and training phase – AI technologies have their own carbon footprint, and analysis and remediation in this area is still at a comparatively early stage
  • Make environmental impact a criterion in the selection of IT vendors – this not only helps your own organization meet its goals: it encourages the IT industry as a whole to redouble its own efforts
  • Develop a sustainability culture – engaging employees in the process is hugely important. Even simple acts, such as powering down computers outside working hours, can make a big difference – and it will save money, too
  • Select and scale use cases – in the second article in this series, I gave a few examples of quick wins. Those are a good place to start – but in addition, the strategy developed in Stage #1 above ought to identify not just these quick-win initiatives, but those that will scale up to deliver the highest carbon reductions.

The list I’ve just given is by no means exhaustive, but you’ll find these areas and others are covered at greater length in the CRI report.

Towards a Frictionless Enterprise

As I’ve noted in the previous articles in this short series, sustainability is one of the five pillars of what we at Capgemini call the Frictionless Enterprise, which is a business concept that enables information to flow smoothly and intelligently between people and processes.

If you’d like to see how IT sustainability forms part of the bigger Frictionless Enterprise picture, you’ll find the whole concept – and its significant benefits – neatly summarized here.

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.