Why is IT sustainability so underrated in businesses?

Industrial smoke forming the word Co2 in the sky
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Do you know the carbon footprint of your IT infrastructure and operations? It’s a question increasingly being asked of CIOs and digital decision-makers as companies examine the true impact of their operations upon the planet.

But today, less than half of business leaders are aware of the carbon footprint of their end-to-end IT landscape, from end-user devices to the cloud. Even fewer - 18% - have a mature and comprehensive strategy to reduce it.

Here’s why IT is the next frontier in decarbonization, and the steps that companies need to take to accelerate its efficiency as we all face critical climate change goals.

Data’s carbon footprint is bigger than we imagine

Every major business in the world talks about driving digital acceleration by adopting new technologies. However, this can imply a growth of their businesses’ carbon footprint because of the increased energy consumption of IT resources, devices, tools, and platforms. But how does this translate into figures? The number of connected devices is expected to reach 55.7 billion by 2025, of which 75% will be connected to an IoT platform. The data generated by those devices is expected to be 73.1 zettabytes in just two years’ time. This growth in data volumes will also lead to growing adoption of technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, which is the key to drawing value from massive stores of data.

I strongly believe that digital transformation and sustainability must go hand in hand. Digitization and technology play an essential role in decarbonization – in fact they are the key to success. But at the same time digital technologies are often part of the problem. This paradox seems obvious, however promoting IT-led sustainability initiatives is not an imperative for CIOs or tech leaders yet. According to Capgemini, only 18% of companies have a mature and comprehensive sustainable IT strategy with well-defined goals and target timelines.

Elizabeth Hackenson

CIO and SVP at Schneider Electric.

Tackle the problem now

The need to tackle CO2 emissions in IT with a comprehensive approach has been on my radar for some years, and for over four years we’ve been working on this as part of a company wide program. at Schneider Electric. It’s something we’ll increasingly see organizations paying attention to – with Leaders in their fields already tackling this enigmatic problem.

Nonetheless, IT sustainability is a relatively young discipline, and there is not an abundance of published use cases with directions on how to approach it. Where to start? How can we adapt our enterprise IT initiative to the objective of climate neutrality? How can we embark on intelligent decarbonization pathways? These questions posed a significant challenge as organizations continue to see the competitive advantage of handling more and more data through more and more technological solutions.

My team and I have tackled these challenges over the years, resulting in a deep understanding of our technological stack and how carbon intensive each element is. This transparency has afforded us the knowledge and therefore power to start decarbonising, piece by piece. We know where we’ve already made a difference, and have a clear vision of where we are going. This approach shapes our IT decisions not as a secondary consideration but one of the key tenets in our strategy.

Making IT green is a strong strategic move

Increasingly, companies striving to make an impact are placing ESG values at the core of their company. Indeed, we’ve been doing that too – and with Green IT a significant element of this, the results speak for themselves: in 2022, we made a carbon footprint avoidance and reduction of 3,171 T Co2 emissions (equivalent to 12.5 million kilometers or 7.8 million miles driven by car).

Collaboration between businesses is one of the best ways to slow global warming and achieve goals including the Paris Agreement. As a result, I wanted to share our four pillars to a thorough Green IT strategy:

  • A focus on IT end-user devices and best practices, such as promoting an IT circularity economy of reusing, refurbishing, and recycling strategies.
  • Connected IT Infrastructure assets, that help to achieve more sustainable, efficient, adaptive, and resilient sites where data is stored. For instance, connected cooling technology can reduce the carbon output of data environments from small Edge applications to large Cloud data centers
  • Business collaboration strategies that position efficiency and sustainability strategically, so everyone across the enterprise and in partner organizations feels motivated to make business decisions that ultimately reduce carbon footprints
  • Green adoption practices available to all employees via internal communication and training

The impact of Green IT cannot be understated in truly reducing the carbon footprint of a company. It’s a new frontier for so many organizations, but it shouldn’t be an intimidating process involving compromise or the use of less data. When built into the business strategy, it’s possible to keep up with our data and insights-driven world, whilst also making steady reductions to your IT’s carbon footprint.

I leave you with one recommendation: if you are a CIO and beginning your IT sustainability journey, take a holistic approach to identify and rank the best opportunities to make a meaningful difference, fast. When you know where you are, you can plan where you want to be – and start to work towards true impact.

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Elizabeth Hackenson is CIO and SVP at Schneider Electric.