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Sustaining tomorrow: The importance of sustainability in IT

- 8 minute read

IT plays a huge role in companies achieving their environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals. From digital transformation to more efficient processes, IT can drive organizations towards a better business future.

Despite this, when it comes to sustainability, IT is also a key part of the problem. It's predicted that 74.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste will be generated globally in 2030.

Not only this, but enterprise IT’s contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is set to grow annually; by 2025, enterprise IT will have the equivalent carbon footprint of 463 million passenger vehicles driven for a year.

There's a need for organizations worldwide to place a more pronounced emphasis on their sustainability efforts in IT. In this blog post, we'll explore sustainable IT and how businesses can work to achieve it.

What is sustainable IT?

Sustainable IT covers the manufacturing, use, management and disposition of IT products in a way that least impacts the environment and society.

In the IT industry and offices worldwide, energy is used to power technology devices like servers, desktops and laptops. The mining of resources and production of assets can also have a significant environmental impact as well as an impact on the lives of people in mining communities.

Whether producing equipment, charging devices or cooling down servers, the IT industry can implement changes to become more sustainable.


The impact of IT on the environment

There's an ongoing challenge within organizations worldwide to implement new, sustainable ways of doing business. IT significantly contributes to the world's carbon footprint, so it plays a critical role in tackling climate change.

It's clear from these numbers alone that the IT industry has a huge impact on the planet's carbon footprint, so it's no surprise that sustainability is a key driver in 69% of organizations worldwide regarding their IT.

Your company’s overarching sustainability strategy will likely have a clear focus on your IT’s impact, and aligning with the goals outlined your overall strategy is key to meeting environmental KPIs.


Aligning with your company’s overall sustainability strategy

Due to the impact that IT has on the world’s carbon footprint, it’s vital that your processes align with your company’s overarching sustainability strategy.

Maximise economic, environmental and social value from IT asset disposition

To align with your company’s overall sustainability strategy, your department must focus on maximizing the economic, environmental and social value of IT asset disposition. 

A sustainable IT asset disposition strategy prioritizes the reuse, refurbishment or recycling of IT assets, leading to reduced waste and energy savings. You can also recoup value from your IT assets by refurbishing or repairing them, extending their lifespan and allowing them to be resold or reused.

Minimize risk of reputational harm or legal action that can arise from improper disposition

Improper IT asset disposition practices can lead to legal ramifications or reputational harm, so ensuring your disposition processes meet regulatory standards is essential.

This is achieved through a robust IT asset disposition policy that adheres to environmental and data privacy regulations, such as the R2 (Responsible Recycling) certification program or the NIST 800-88 standard.

Your policy should include strict data destruction procedures to protect sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands. These procedures should meet or exceed industry regulations to protect your business and its stakeholders.

Report accurately on asset disposition and carbon emissions

Reporting is a key part of aligning with your company’s overarching sustainability strategy and can be done by implementing a clear IT asset management system that tracks assets from procurement to disposition.

The system should also include accurate reporting tools that offer insights into sustainability metrics, such as carbon emissions. Referencing these figures will give you an understanding of how your implementations are tracking against your company’s strategy, highlighting progress and identifying areas for improvement.

An essential part of this is working with ITAD companies that provide absolute transparency of an asset’s end-of-life phase, as asset management systems don’t provide this level of detail. This will result in your reporting being both accurate and useful.


Achieving sustainable IT

There are several areas to investigate to ensure your business is as sustainable as possible regarding its IT choices.

1. Adopting eco-friendly processes

Power management is an easy way to reduce your company's energy usage. Simple things such as automating components to switch off after a period of inactivity is a small but meaningful step your organization can take towards more sustainable practice.

Data centers have a high energy demand, so ensuring they have as little energy waste as possible can make a big difference. Sustainable implementations include outside air cooling, automating controls and not over-cooling.


2. Virtualization

Developments in cloud computing have presented opportunities that transform the traditional data center.  Data center virtualization is the process of transferring physical data centers into digital — or virtual — data centers.

Virtualization can decrease the amount of hardware you use in your data centers, meaning fewer coolers and lower energy consumption.

Aside from the sustainability viewpoint, cloud computing can offer other benefits, including higher security, better protection against data loss and increased collaboration across company departments.

Although utilizing the cloud is significantly greener than running an on-premises data center, it’s not the zero-carbon strategy that many people may assume. Your business data will still have to be hosted somewhere, presumably in a large data center that uses a lot of energy to operate. It's important to keep this in mind when reporting on your emissions data.


3. Recycling or reusing equipment

Reusing existing IT equipment is a simple way to minimize environmental impact, providing a cost-effective alternative to buying new hardware. Old computers and servers can be repurposed and used for other business processes, helping to prolong the hardware's lifecycle.

This equipment can be reused for several purposes, such as backup servers, file servers, testing and development environments, and edge routers. Old laptops and desktops can also be repurposed as thin clients or used for simple tasks such as word processing or web browsing.

Old servers can also be repurposed for business purposes. A company can use an old server to store backup data, for file storage or as a testing and development environment. You can also repurpose old servers to be used as a web or application server.

Companies retiring IT assets is known as IT asset disposition (ITAD), and refers to handling assets at the end of their first lives in ways that mitigate compliance, data security and environmental risks.

A reputable ITAD vendor will start by employing secure reverse logistics and streamline the refurbishment and disposition of assets through remarketing. If this isn’t possible, spare parts can be harvested from assets that can give components a second life.

This allows you to not only recover value from assets, but it maintains the circular economy of IT assets.


4. Adopting best practices for e-waste

If an asset is no longer usable and has lost its residual value, it should be recycled via a certified e-waste program, reducing the requirement for virgin materials in product creation.

From pick-up to repurposing, these services process electronic waste using sustainable processes. An example of how e-waste recycling works with TES can be seen below.

TES process

Poorly discarded electronics can pose a considerable environmental hazard, as they contain toxic materials that can leach into water and soil. Responsible recycling or disposal of assets can recover valuable resources for reuse and reduce the negative environmental impact.

How can your business ensure sustainability in IT?

Knowing where to start with reaching your sustainability goals can take time and effort. From ensuring your IT asset disposal procedures align with your company's sustainability goals to sustainable IT management, implementing adequate procedures can be a long road.

Thankfully, we've put together a checklist that you can use to maintain socially responsible procedures when disposing of your IT assets.

It covers business continuity, risk management and asset value optimization to ensure you're sustainably and efficiently disposing of e-waste.

To access your copy of the checklist for life, click below.

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