Can IT drive your company’s sustainability strategy? 

by | December 14, 2023

Today’s green landscape spans across industries. Companies are committing to sustainability with increasing resolve and dedication, yet according to G2, “90% of business executives recognize the significance of sustainability, [but] only 60% of firms have a dedicated sustainability strategy in place.” That number could be higher, for the good of the planet and the business’s growth and success.

Studies consistently show that consumers care about sustainability – NielsenIQ finds that “78 percent of US consumers say that a sustainable lifestyle is important to them,” and many prefer to place their dollars and their trust into a brand that shares their green values. According to Makersite, “about one-third of consumers worldwide today are prepared to pay up to 25% more for more sustainable products.” The future lies in sustainability, and many companies are making sustainability strategies a priority in the near future.

As organizations begin carving out their path to a sustainable future, IT is not to be overlooked. In fact, the IT organization can be the spearhead for transformation and the leader in sustainability across the enterprise.

The IT piece of the green puzzle 

Technology is an often overlooked contributor to climate change and other environmental crises. Studies estimate the portion of global carbon dioxide emissions caused by technology to be “between 2.3–3.7 percent,” comparable to the carbon output of aviation. And, IT-related emissions are forecast to grow 30% annually. With this impact weighing more heavily now on the public conscience, consumers are increasingly wary of the impact of not only the products they buy, but the companies who make them.

Apple has rolled out a series of initiatives and actions to assuage the public about their sustainability and human rights practices, as mentioned in our recent podcast episode “The Role of Sustainability in IT – Zachary Smith & Jacob Smith.” In 2019, Apple was named in a lawsuit alongside other technology giants, including Microsoft and Dell, “accusing the companies of aiding and abetting in the death and serious injury of children who they claim were working in cobalt mines in their supply chain.” As publicity mounts surrounding the ongoing cobalt mining practices and the e-waste generated by devices that utilize cobalt batteries, Apple has publicly re-committed to sustainability in several areas. Apple shared public support for California’s SB 244 bill which aims to fight e-waste through device repair options, as well as announcing their plan to convert to 100% recycled cobalt batteries by 2025 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.

“People just care about it [sustainability] and obviously we need to care about it, but it’s becoming a business differentiator—the ability to kind of do better there isn’t just greenwashing, it’s going to be a competitive advantage, and not just a cost,” says Jacob Smith.

As evidenced by the commitments and strides made by enterprises like Apple, sustainability is becoming a differentiator, and there are many opportunities to green up technology. Here are just a few of the many ways that IT can spearhead company-wide sustainability efforts.

1. Optimize data storage and power usage

Power availability and utilization is a major issue across the technology industrychannel. We often hear about this in the context of data centers, which utilize large amounts of electricity and water, much of which goes to waste. Traditional data centers operate at a lower utilization rate than cloud data centers, meaning more wasted power and water. Data centers make up roughly “3% of global electricity consumption today and are projected to touch 4% by 2030. The average hyperscale facility consumes 20-50MW annually – theoretically enough electricity to power up to 37,000 homes.” The water usage of an average data center can range from “1 million [to] 5 million gallons of water a day — as much as a town of 10,000 to 50,000 people.” The bandwidth of a data center is often at odds with actual usage, meaning a good portion of this goes to waste, especially in single-company and hyper-scale data centers. At UPSTACK, for example, we recommend data centers who have a greener footprint, often coupled with a hybrid approach.

Going with a hybrid approach allows enterprises to balance the environmental benefits of cloud architecture with the necessities of hardware in their infrastructure.

Colo is yet another option for making the most of your data center usage while lessening the environmental impact. While a shared space allows companies less control over sustainable practices, it does give them the chance to share the overall impact – power usage and water usage – with other organizations, lowering the amount of resources that are attributed to their overall digital footprint. UPSTACK works with companies like yours to find data centers with sustainability practices that align with your goals. 

Hosts Alex Cole and Greg Moss discussed at length the opportunities to optimize data center and power usage in The UPSTACK Podcast, “The Role of Sustainability in IT,” featuring guests Jacob and Zachary Smith, co-founders of the digital infrastructure company Packet. Give the episode a listen to learn more.

2. Reduce emissions with tech

Though technology causes its fair share of environmental issues, it can also help us improve our carbon footprint and resource usage in other areas. The rise of IoT and AI play a frontline role in helping to plan and execute simple switches that not only improve upon sustainability but solve other grievances in the process.

For example, company cars, transport trucks, and other vehicles used across industries put out carbon emissions with each and every ride taken. You can reduce the amount of environmental damage by switching to EVs, but that may not be in the budget or the realm of possibility anytime soon. Tools like AI route planning can meet you where you are. AI route planning allows you to customize driving directions to avoid traffic, shorten drives, and more, aiding in the conservation of fuel, the lowering of emissions, the efficiency of travel and deliveries, and more. Plus, no more sitting in bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic.

AI and IoT both present options for making sustainable changes in your building with no renovation or energy conversion required. Simple changes like auto on/off or remote controls for HVAC systems, lights, appliances and more can help you steer clear of “energy vampires”– devices that raise your bill and your environmental impact by wasting power when off or idle.

We have a wealth of new capabilities that can help companies stack up little changes and make great strides toward their sustainability goals. But what about the IT industry at large?

3. Source (and discard) responsibly

While it’s crucial to reduce or offset waste, emissions, and other unsavory by-products of tech, arguably the best way to tackle sustainability is at the root of the issue: devices.

“It’s hard to be agile with physical things,” Jacob Smith muses. “You can’t just apply agile method to hardware. It’s difficult. The cycles are long. It takes time.”

McKinsey states that “End-user devices—laptops, tablets, smartphones, and printers—generate 1.5 to 2.0 times more carbon globally than data centers.” The production of these devices, as well as their ultimate fate, contribute greatly to environmental issues like global warming, human rights abuses, and e-waste– all of which are interlinked.

Though companies like Apple are campaigning on sustainability initiatives, the bottom line on responsibly sourcing devices is actually sourcing less devices in the first place. It’s crucial to whittle down to the essentials, make device recycling a consistent practice, and to make devices last as long as possible through proper maintenance and optimization of the technology architecture that surrounds them.

As mentioned in our blog “Why Sustainability Should Be a Priority for Your IT Team,” virtualization services like Desktop as a Service (DaaS) can help “cut down on the amount of new or upgraded equipment needed to support operations. Other cloud-delivered services, like UCaaS and CCaaS, can similarly reduce the need to deploy new hardware, replacing desktop phone equipment with softphones, for example, allowing you to optimize the use of existing devices, saving money and the planet in the process.” Virtualization is a great way to reduce the amount of new devices brought into the business.

These changes add up quickly. McKinsey claims that “50 to 60 percent of emissions related to end-user devices can be addressed through sourcing changes, primarily by procuring fewer devices per person and extending the life cycle of each device through recycling.” Besides the global impact, you can lower your own emissions significantly and make leaps in your sustainability goals through proper device sourcing, management, and recycling.

Taking the first steps

Stiffening regulations and overall limited resources make it crucial for IT organizations to operate with maximum efficiency, for the benefit of the planet and the bottom line. As customer interest in sustainability rises, investments into green technology grow larger, and regulations threaten the usual turf, adaptability is key. Companies with agile outlooks on IT, who prioritize sustainability, are getting ahead of the curve with ease.

The very first step to creating a sustainability strategy is awareness. Once sustainability is on your radar, it’s crucial to understand the specific issues surrounding IT, and your options for making change. UPSTACK specializes in creating agile and flexible solutions that account for your specific technology needs, architecture, and requirements for achieving compliance or enterprise-wide goals.

Ready to make a change? Contact UPSTACK today.