Sustainable IT: The Path to Lowering Environmental Impact in Tech

Organizations should prioritize building a sustainability culture among employees at all levels, fostering awareness and feedback for continuous improvement...

In today's increasingly digital world, the environmental impact of our technology use cannot be ignored. Sustainable IT, a concept focusing on reducing the environmental impact of information technology, has gained considerable importance. As we grapple with the rising threats of climate change and environmental degradation, this approach provides us a way to align our tech use with sustainability principles. Let's explore this concept further with insights from a recent report by the Capgemini Research Institute. 

 

Understanding Sustainable IT 

Sustainable IT, as defined in the report, is an "environment-focused approach to the design, use, and disposal of computer hardware and software applications and the design of accompanying business processes.” It encapsulates four critical areas: 

  1. User hardware and devices: Repairing and refurbishing hardware to extend its lifespan, reducing raw material extraction and unnecessary production of new assets. 
  2. Cloud computing: Optimizing data center utilization by improving energy efficiency, cooling solutions, and utilizing greener electricity sources. 
  3. Networks and communication systems: Innovative solutions like edge computing are deployed to reduce network transfers and enhance data transfer efficiency. 
  4. Application and data: Greener devices and infrastructure are developed, incorporating sustainable artificial intelligence (AI).  
Implementing these areas requires firm-wide decision-making backed by clear environmental policies and transparent disclosure. 

 

The Environmental Challenges of IT 

The broad hardware and software used across organizations contribute significantly to global GHG emissions, magnified by ever-increasing tech activities across all economic sectors. The demand for data storage and management, coupled with the growing number of user devices, exacerbates the problem. 

Presently, data centers account for about 4% of global energy consumption and 1% of GHG emissions due to the continued reliance on fossil fuel-generated electricity. The production of electronic devices brings environmental and social challenges, from raw material extraction to end-of-life disposal. These processes often result in pollution, biodiversity loss, human rights violations, and poor waste management, all amplifying the unsustainability of technology. 

 

E-waste: A Growing Concern 

The irresponsible deployment of electronic devices leads to substantial e-waste. A staggering 53.6 million tons of e-waste was generated worldwide in 2019, a 21% increase in five years. Surprisingly, 89% of organizations recycle less than 10% of their IT hardware, reflecting a dire need for sustainable IT practices. 

 

Current State of Sustainable IT Adoption 

The report indicates that while 50% of organizations have a sustainability strategy embedded in their business plans, only a small fraction have an exhaustive sustainable IT strategy. Merely 6% demonstrated high IT sustainability performance. A major obstacle to improvement is the lack of standardized reporting for sustainable IT and the expertise needed to implement such strategies.  

However, organizations adopting sustainable IT gain numerous benefits, including improved brand image, customer satisfaction, higher ESG scores, and reduced tax costs due to green practices. 

 

A Three-step Roadmap Towards Sustainable IT 

Capgemini suggests a three-step roadmap for organizations looking to adopt sustainable IT: "Assess, Governance Plan, Implement." This involves: 

  1. Assessment: Establishing an IT footprint baseline and setting tailored sustainable IT initiatives with clear KPIs, targets, and milestones. 
  2. Governance Plan: Engaging stakeholders to align sustainable IT with business models and strategies. Commitment at all management levels is crucial for success. 
  3. Implementation: Actualizing sustainable IT initiatives with tailored software architecture and AI solutions. This also includes adopting greener energy solutions and efficient assets and infrastructures. 

Throughout this journey, organizations should prioritize building a sustainability culture among employees at all levels, fostering awareness and feedback for continuous improvement. 

 

TES: Embracing Sustainable IT 

TES, an IT lifecycle services company, exemplifies the implementation of sustainable IT through its focus on the circular economy. By pursuing energy efficiency and emission reduction measures, TES solidifies its position as a sustainable IT provider, fostering growth and longevity for stakeholders and the planet. As we increasingly rely on technology, let's strive to align our digital activities with sustainability, for a balanced and prosperous future. 

Acknowledgments 

A comprehensive exploration of this topic can be found in the Capgemini Research Institute's 'Sustainable IT Report. 

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