Sustainability is one of the most important topics of our generation. It concerns not only our planet’s future, but the way technology will evolve over time. If we want to help prevent civilization-changing climate change we need to change the way we work in IT. So why should we worry about the IT industry’s footprint? And what can we do about it? Let’s talk about that.
The State of IT Sustainability
There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that things have changed a lot in the past decade. In 2009 it was assumed that a 4°C increase in global temperatures was inevitable by 2100. Those are apocalyptic numbers. However, recent metrics give us a more positive outlook. This is in part due to a raising awareness of the importance of sustainability and better implementation of policies and targets. But how are IT industries keeping up with the demand for better emission control and carbon footprint reduction?
In a study by Capgemini from 2021 we learn that at point of writing, 53.6 million tons of e-waste were generated in 5 years. An increase of 21% since previous years. Data centres alone accounted for nearly 1% of the world’s energy demand. What is even more telling; only 50% of the firms surveyed out of 1,000 organizations had an enterprise-wide sustainability strategy. Only 18% of those had a comprehensive strategy, with defined goals and target timelines to compliment it.
These aren’t great figures, but they are improving. In recent years, greater pressure from the EU in the form of regulations have forced computer manufacturers such as Dell to limit their use of lead and mercury. Technological advancements also help us create more efficient hardware with less resources. Recycling initiatives such as Circular Computing help us re-use existing hardware which would otherwise be thrown out as e-waste.
What Companies Can Do
It’s not just about being responsible with the beginning and end of the hardware lifecycle. Current IT assets also require streamlining. Using renewable sources for power, or working from home to reduce power costs, are some of the easiest ways for IT companies to start on a greener path. Additionally, companies can invest in more power efficient hardware, or even more efficient software, such as cloud tech. IT companies can also focus more manpower into greener applications which are cheaper to run and require less resources. Better optimization means large servers that might run multiple apps won’t need to spend as much power running them all.
Logistics also come into play here. Supply chains must strive to reduce their carbon footprint and optimize every stage of the network’s process. This involves prioritizing renewable energy where possible, product recycling, better working conditions and minimize travel time for products. These goals require innovation and critical thinking, but companies have proven they are capable.
What’s clear is that companies need organization. Not just promises and vague ideas, but actionable plans. Top leadership need to take the initiative and get the ball running, not delegate responsibility to others. IT sustainability should be part of every businesses’ roadmap as part of wider initiatives to improve existing systems, not just as separate, one-off projects.