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Sustainable IT & Reduced Digital Carbon Footprint

Not too long ago, the digital revolution changed how the world worked. The rise of the internet, the arrival of computers along with other advanced gadgets, and the unlimited possibilities forced businesses to adapt to the changing ways. From healthcare to media, from finance to technology, businesses transformed themselves and quickly reshaped their ways to meet the evolving demands of consumers. 

For people with disabilities, these barriers could be physical, for example, an out of order elevator, missing wheelchair ramps, or lack of braille signs, etc. And sometimes, these barriers could be less visible, for example, social stigma, negative attitudes, communication barriers, etc. These barriers can become huge challenges for disabled people and can also keep them from getting employment in organizations.  

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Recent times have witnessed growing concerns regarding sustainability. The impact of our actions on the environment has become obvious and more and more world leaders are exploring the options on how industries and organizations can reduce their carbon footprint. 

The UN has announced that we are required to reduce carbon emission by 45% by the year 2030 and bring it down to zero by the year 2050 if we want to solve the issue of global warming. In order to combat climate change, it is required for the enterprises worldwide to adopt new standards, introduce new policies, and comply with various laws as well as regulations. In simple terms, it means to change the way businesses do business.

Fortunately, IT is one of the areas where huge differences can be made by optimizing the current practices. 

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IT Industry’s Carbon Footprint

The IT industry has contributed massively to the environment by minimizing paper consumption, reducing waste, optimizing energy consumption, increasing productivity through automation, and promoting environment monitoring through various tools. The IT industry has made its fair share of significant positive contributions to the environment. 

But, IT still has harmful impacts on the environment. The good part is, that several organizations have already added sustainability to their list of priorities. But, in order to create a lasting positive impact on the environment, it’s important to understand and address the current and ongoing practices that harm the environment. Let’s take a look at how:

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Hardware Production

Production of hardware such as computers, networking equipment, servers, and more requires the usage of materials that are known for increasing carbon emission.

E-waste

The IT industry is known to produce electronic waste and this can include computers, cell phones, plasma TVs, radios, and more devices. Unfortunately, only a few organizations recycle over 10% of their hardware waste and 89% of organizations recycle less than 10% of their e-waste. Improper recycling methods of electronic waste also lead to carbon emission. In the year 2019, e-waste amounting to 52.6 million tons was produced by the IT industry, and this figure was 21% higher than in previous years. 

Energy Management

3.IT hardware, servers, and data centers require massive amounts of energy to continuously function. Large data centers also consume large amounts of energy, and due to increasing load, their energy consumption is also increasing by 10% to 30% per year. This alone contributes around 2% of the total emissions globally.

End-user Devices

COVID-19 pushed several professionals to set up their home offices, leading to an increase in the demand for electronic devices such as printers, desktops, laptops, mobile phones, TVs, and more, resulting in more consumption of energy. 

Supply Chain

5.The complete process of acquiring raw material, manufacturing, assembling, packing, loading, and transporting leads to a massive contribution to carbon emission.  

Irrelevant Data

6.Reports show that around 328 million terabytes of data are produced every day! And large organizations that thrive on data store all of it, increasing the burden on hardware and data centers. 

Old Equipment

7.Old Equipment still in use requires more energy to function, leading to more energy consumption, resulting in carbon emission.

Once the technology makes its way into the offices, the energy consumption never stops. Several devices produce massive amounts of heat, and then again energy is required to cool down the equipment. 

According to McKinsey reports, enterprise IT contributes approximately 350-450 megatons of emission! And according to the reports, only 43% of executives are informed about their organization’s carbon footprint! According to recent findings, by the year 2040, communication and information technology will contribute around 14% to global carbon emission. 

Steps to Creating a Sustainable IT & Lowering Carbon Footprint

Several IT leaders do understand the need to reduce their carbon footprint, but they simply don’t know where to start. The process can be confusing, and hence, it’s important to shift focus on some of the obvious steps. In other words, what can be implemented immediately?

Below are some of the steps that can help IT leaders understand their carbon emission better and take steps to get measurable results:

Categorizing Emission

The first step is to categorize the emission. This step will help you understand the areas producing maximum emission. Analyzing your current processes, devices used by your employees, energy consumed by your data centers, and the usage of your vehicles for commuting would be a good place to start.

Furthermore, emission can be categorized into three categories: 

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Direct Emission

Direct emission is the emission that an organization produces directly through company vehicles, gas leaks, manufacturing, and more. 

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Purchased Energy Emission

Purchase emission is produced through the resources that are purchased by the organization such as electricity, desktops, laptops, mobile phones, and more.

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Indirect Emission

Indirect emission is associated with the emission that’s generated through the supply chain such as metals, raw materials, packaging, etc.

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Tracking Carbon Emission

The more access to data organizations have, the more they can effectively target the areas producing the emission. After categorizing the emission sources, it’s important to track these sources in order to have clearly defined goals.

For IT organizations, this means tracking emissions from their devices, data centers, power centers, supply chains, production, and more areas. There are also several sustainability tools that are available that can help organizations track their carbon emission. Make sure you track some of the major sources of emission such as: 

  • In-house data centers & servers

  • Electricity and cooling sources required to manage the heat

  • Emissions from vehicles used for commute 

  • Office devices such as laptops, desktops, printers, cellphones, etc. Intercity, inter-state, and international travels

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Set Emission Reduction Goals

There are several businesses that have already defined their emission reduction goals and have taken certain steps to ensure minimized emissions.

Below are some of the steps any organization can take to reduce their carbon emission significantly:

  • Partnering with organizations that have clearly defined  sustainability goals

  • Automating processes can help you significantly reduce manual efforts as well as carbon emission

  • Promoting recycling within the organization and avoiding purchase of items that cannot be recycled.

  • Take measures to expand the life of existing IT devices to reduce e-waste.

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Promoting Sustainability As a Mindset

Only leadership alone cannot make a difference. In order to generate significant results, the complete organization needs to get involved. Leadership can incorporate sustainability into the culture by taking the following steps:

  • Inform the organization about your sustainability goals

  • Promote maintenance of the employee devices

  • Motivate employees to use fewer devices

  •  Educate team members about energy savings 

Sustainability isn’t easy. Organizations are required to make significant changes in how they work. Hence, in order to generate measurable results, it becomes important for everyone to weigh in. Leadership can outline the goals but these sustainability needs to be implemented from top management to the employees. 

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