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An approach for sustainable IT implementation

Marius Vöhringer
27 Jun 2022

Sustainability is becoming an integral part of corporate agendas

The current German IT-Trends study by Capgemini shows that the reporting obligation on sustainability is expected to be significantly expanded from 2023 onwards. It is planned that all companies in Europe with more than 250 employees, as well as small and medium-sized capital-market-oriented companies, will then have to submit a report showing concrete measures to promote sustainability. Nearly 71% of companies intend to reduce their annual greenhouse gas emissions, by an average of almost 37% by 2026. The vast majority also consider this value to be realistic.

IT is still neglected in the sustainability agenda

At the same time, as another study by Capgemini shows, IT still plays no or only a minor role in the sustainability strategies of most companies (“Sustainable IT: Why it’s time for a Green Revolution for your organization’s IT”). Although half have their own sustainability strategy, only one in five companies includes IT in their sustainability agenda.

IT itself causes a CO2 footprint but can also make a profitable contribution to CO2 savings. However, only 43% of executives know the carbon footprint of their corporate IT and only 18% have defined a comprehensive strategy with clearly defined goals and timelines.

CO2 footprint reductions of IT can be achieved primarily by optimizing and streamlining IT landscapes and architectures and require a corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy that addresses the levers for reducing environmental impacts in the various business areas.

Introducing a framework for sustainable IT implementation

We recommend the following process to implement a sustainable IT strategy with clear and measurable goals, and defined milestones which also indicate necessary adjustments to the organization, processes, and culture.

  1. Sustainable IT Employees
    Promote a sustainability culture that includes cooperation with cloud Hyperscalers like AWS, Microsoft, or Google. Adapt teams and corporate culture accordingly to achieve and accelerate sustainability goals: everyone must take responsibility for the environmental cost of cloud use.
  2. Sustainable IT Strategy
    Define a corporate sustainability strategy including your vision of sustainable IT, embedded into a broader approach to CSR, and conduct a baseline assessment of the IT’s overall environmental footprint and sustainability maturity. For implementation, establishing a Sustainable IT Lead helps to control activities by KPIs and sets up the necessary governance.
  3. Digitalization for Sustainable Business
    Analyzing the value chain and target areas of the current business will evaluate the measures and focus areas to assess improvements in the value chain, e.g., through disintermediation. Another way to achieve added value in the business is through a significant consolidation of extensive application landscapes with targeted shutdown of applications.
  4. Assess and Calculate
    Based on data-driven business and IT assessments, a digital twin of the IT and application landscape helps to determine current CO2 emissions and simulate CO2 reduction potential. Decision criteria, defined in a joint approach, help to identify the potential for improvements within the IT landscapes and architectures. The effect of measures can be extrapolated and simulated. Combined with an on-premises facility (DC) sustainability assessment, consider the leverage of the power usage effectiveness (PUE) of cloud data centers by cloud transformations.
  5. Design and Plan
    Architecture is the key for data center setup, landing zones, network, and communication. Building a sustainable IT platform will allow significant efficiency gains by moving workloads and storage to cloud, which consumes less energy.
    By using the cloud and automating the scaling of necessary hardware resources, large energy savings can be achieved. Cloud-based application landscapes achieve compute resource utilization rates of more than 60%, whereas classic on-premises data centers typically achieve utilization rates of less than 20%.
    While cloud computing – compared to the usage of traditional data centers – can play a significant role in reducing the use of energy, it causes extra energy consumption for required networking and communication. A sustainable architecture will thus strive to reduce network transfers and use efficient data transfer mechanisms, including the deployment of edge computing. That overall planning approach will be the foundation for a holistic planning based on portfolio analysis with focus on sustainable modernization paths.
  6. Development and Green Coding
    In addition to switching to green electricity, data center emissions can also be significantly reduced by modernizing the workload through improved software architecture as the design of the software architecture impacts required hardware sizing and electrical energy consumption. Sustainable application development and application transformation with a focus on green coding thus needs to be a part of your approach to sustainable IT. Some companies have already saved 50% of the energy demand of optimized applications and reduced CO2 emissions accordingly.
  7. Operate
    DevOps can contribute to a better energy management if DevOps processes and automation are used for continuous optimization. Establish site reliability engineering to create efficient, scalable, and highly reliable software systems through automation and continuous integration and delivery. Use modern DevOps tools and technologies, automated CI/CD pipelines, and tests to detect defects early in the process before they hit production. Use monitoring systems and act on the alerts before they turn into incidents. In this way, you reduce the waste of resources that can be used more effectively for other efforts.
  8. Re-Calculate and FinOps
    Use calculators for on-premises and cloud-based infrastructure to determine the carbon footprint of your IT and establish greenhouse gas emission dashboards. Make sustainability part of FinOps to achieve maximum business value within the financial and environmental management of IT/cloud systems by shaping the use of resources.