Why Sustainability Should Be a Priority for Your IT Team

by | February 2, 2023

Consumer attention to the corporate responsibility of the brands they buy from, as well as knowledge of their environmental impact, is on the rise. The public has become more sophisticated in their understanding of what sustainability practices are and how they are being implemented by brands. Their microscope extends past the business itself, zeroing in on the supply chain. Today, the public rewards authentic efforts, not corporate greenwashing– and they definitely know the difference.  

While the IT department certainly isn’t in control of the practices of the enterprise, they can be sure they are contributing in a positive way and not being a weak link in the sustainability chain. Let’s talk about some of the ways IT can benefit from integrating sustainable practices, and how those who don’t go green may be missing out in the long run.  

Brand Reputation in the Era of Greenwashing  

In an age of educated consumers with environmental priorities, good sustainability practices can be a strategic advantage to your brand, and bad practices a big risk. 

Consumers are aware of how brands choose to take responsibility for the environment. To choose otherwise is to risk harm to your brand reputation and bottom line. Brands of all sizes have been affected by environmental scandals, from household names to smaller businesses– one of the most popular being accusations of greenwashing.  

Greenwashing refers to the “spinning” of environmental initiatives, wherein a company makes sweeping claims about sustainability commitments that are easily undermined with a bit of research. Whether this means technicalities (coffee pods that are ‘compostable’ — just not at home) or initiatives that malign with daily practices (such as ‘sustainable clothing lines’ from fast-fashion retailers), greenwashing not only draws the ire of the public, it can also lead to costly fines and lawsuits.  

And these examples demonstrate what happens when an increasing number of consumers do care about–and know about– sustainability, and when the brands they buy from don’t.  

What does this have to do with IT? More than you may realize. For example, if you are running a business that is publicly promoting its sustainable or Earth-friendly approach, you don’t want to be caught running an inefficient, power-hungry data center without regard to how it’s being powered. Nor do you, as an IT leader, want to be the cause of the customer backlash when you are found filling landfills with end-of-life equipment that could otherwise be recycled or upcycled.  

Data Centers: Mitigating Risk Amidst Restriction 

As you’re likely well aware, we’re facing an energy crisis that reaches around the world, impacted by global conflict, pandemic fallout, and other international factors. Moratoriums in the US are preventing new oil and gas leasing, a move that many say threatens the security of US energy as costs inflate and the fight for power becomes increasingly competitive. There are many national and international factors behind the scarcity of energy, driving up competition between high-usage technology entities– Crypto miners, Colo and data centers, and other industries– and putting high pressure on existing energy infrastructure in the process.  

In Europe, political crises are heavily affecting and reducing the availability of gas, causing some officials to look at redeveloping as a solution to tenuous existing dependencies. In 2020, the EU proposed new green regulations for data center energy practices, pushing data centers to create a self-regulation pact to mitigate the “unwelcome possibility” of overarching regulation.  

Around the world, an even more concerning call to action has begun– the advocacy for banning new data centers. The Netherlands and Singapore have already made headway in banning or severely restricting data center construction, part of the rising global trend.  

But, not all of the issues plaguing data centers are problems for a future day. As large-scale energy consumers, existing scarcity, rising prices, and regulations are putting strain on data center campuses, and the challenge affects businesses that utilize them, too.  

Gas-fired turbines, a once-lauded solution for energy efficiency in data centers, are now obsolete, and while wind and solar energy are promising options with clean environmental track records, they’re unpredictable– and critical data centers can’t risk a sudden outage on a cloudy day, necessitating backup options. So, how do we address the environmental effects of data centers while mitigating risk amidst an energy crisis? 

A new and increasingly successful option that some data center providers are turning to is the microgrid. They assemble microgrids using three layers of power, the first two being sustainable and insulated from energy market constraints, and the third and final being utility power as a backup option. An example of how a microgrid could work would be using wind and solar power at the forefront, battery storage as a buffer, and rounding out with diesel and utility options as a third-layer failsafe. Listen to this episode of The UPSTACK Podcast with Kevin Sanders to learn more about this exciting new option for clean, sustainable, and reliable energy for data center campuses, and other considerations for data and colo centers throughout this crisis.  

Recently, UPSTACK partnered with one company leading the charge in sustainability for data centers, Wyoming Hyperscale White Box LLC, to build a brand new and fully sustainable data center. WHWB wanted to reimagine the data center not as a drain on communities, but as a provider of community resources. Learn more about this project here. 

Cut Waste by Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling Old Tech  

We all know the phrase “reduce, re-use, recycle,” and this rings especially true in the world of technology equipment. The ecological impact of buying new and disposing of old hardware can be mitigated with recycling, upcycling, and virtualization. 

If you’re looking to reduce your carbon footprint, consider downsizing your equipment needs with virtualization technology, like Desktop as a Service (DaaS). DaaS allows users to access virtual desktops accessible from a wide variety of devices, helping 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.  

For times when an upgrade or deployment is simply unavoidable, consider donating or recycling equipment– you’ll likely be rewarded with either tax credits or cash compensation.  

Some larger brands have their own buyback programs, trading devices eligible for recycling or re-use for cash. Many cities and municipalities have local technology recycling programs, but may not offer compensation, while private businesses like Gazelle and GadgetGone may accept and offer cash in exchange for in-demand or needed devices. When donating or recycling old hardware, you can be far more certain that used devices will end up in new hands or stripped to build new hardware– a far cry from the 75% of unrecycled American electronics creating “e-waste” across the globe. 

At Computers With Causes, your company can donate old computers to organizations serving those in need, such as schools, public libraries, medical services, and even animal welfare and nature organizations. 

Heading Towards Sustainable Futures 

IT is an area of opportunity when it comes to sustainability, with many chances to combat overconsumption and innovate for a better planet forecast. Not only does it feel good to do good– it can be just plain good business too, insulating the enterprise from risk and giving it a truly green story to tell.  

There is certainly a shift from the top down. Sustainability is taking over the tech and IT world, from saving energy through cloud deployments for businesses to consumer-ready zero-waste tech products. And, we think now is the time to prioritize sustainability with your IT team to make a positive impact. 

To learn more about topics discussed in this article, listen to The Power of Power, episode one of the UPSTACK Podcast, featuring insights from Kevin Sanders, Principal Consultant, Data Center Strategy, EYP Critical Facilities.