Sustainable IT: how tech can harness ESG principles to build a greener future

Sustainability, reducing emissions, saving costs, and investing in tech are all high on most company’s agendas, and while technology can help reduce emissions, it also has its own consequences. Here’s how by using environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) principles, businesses can make better use of their technology and help build a greener future.

5 mins read
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over 1 year ago

​While technology plays a positive role in helping businesses cut emissions and reduce their energy consumption, it also has unintended negative impacts.

For example, a positive outcome of the growing use of cloud technology is that data centre energy consumption is reduced, but then the negative consequence is the vast infrastructures of the public cloud service providers that also need to be powered, as well as the private and hybrid clouds operated by businesses.

A recent report by global tech company Capgemini revealed IT accounts for around 3% of global CO2 emissions. However, the report is optimistic the tech sector has the potential to cut 9.7 times as much carbon emissions as it emits by 2030, but this will only be achieved by businesses prioritising sustainable technology. And in today’s digital age, with more and more organisations investing in digital transformation, it’s vital companies consider the negative impact IT is having and look at ways to use tech more sustainably.

What is sustainable IT?

Sustainable tech, or green tech, refers to the efforts made to positively contribute to the environment through the design and production, use, and disposal of technology. It also encompasses the activities used to develop hardware, such as responsible mining of finite rare minerals, and water conservation. The purpose of sustainable tech is to protect the environment and conserve the earth’s natural resources for future generations.

There are myriad benefits to investing in sustainable tech. Firstly, and most importantly, it will reduce your emissions and limit your impact on the environment, but the Capgemini Research Institute’s survey of 1,000 organisations worldwide found those who implemented sustainable IT practices also saw greater ESG scores, improved brand image, better customer satisfaction, and financial savings.

Harnessing ESG principles to make tech greener

​As the world is relying more heavily on technology, green tech should be included in your company’s ESG strategy and be a top priority. Here is how ESG principles relate to sustainable tech:

Environmental

Businesses have been heavily focussed on improving their environmental impact over the past few years. And while the use of the technology can help reduce environmental impact (such as remote and hybrid working cutting down on car emissions and reducing energy consumption in offices) there are other considerations businesses need to be aware of when it comes to the negative environmental impact of technology.

The definition of sustainability according to the United Nations is: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” But the minerals that are mined to create tech devices are finite and are already leading to deforestation and water pollution. If humans continue to deplete the earth’s natural resources at this rate, then it is not sustainable for future generations.

In addition, global e-waste is forecasted to grow to over 74 million metric tons by 2030. Tech devices use substances like mercury, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and brominated flame retardants (BFRs), all of which can create a toxic environment when disposed of at landfills.

All of these need to be considered when purchasing tech equipment if you want to meet the environmental aspect of your ESG strategy.

Social

The social aspect of ESG refers to how companies foster people and culture, approach diversity and inclusion, and their impact on the community.

When it comes to technology, the community aspect is a great place to start. Donating old or unused technology is one way to make your IT more sustainable. Whether you are donating this to schools, other businesses, or community centres, recycling devices can limit landfill waste and help those in your area.

Corporate governance

Before implementing a sustainable tech initiative, it’s vital you have an effective governance process that can support the strategy.

All stakeholders need to be on board with the strategy, and effective governance should be applied to ensure objectives are met, and the business is running in such a way that will support the initiatives. This includes business leaders making ethical decisions about the company’s sustainability practices, being held accountable, and the way in which they communicate and engage with the wider business about their sustainability goals.

Ways to make your tech more sustainable

Prior to launching or renewing a sustainable IT initiative, you first need to evaluate what you have in place in terms of IT infrastructure and determine where improvements can be made.

However, if you are unsure where to start, here are some ways you could make your tech more sustainable:

  • Work alongside procurement teams to reduce embedded carbon in devices and purchase equipment made from recycled materials

  • Minimise your e-waste by improving disposal of tech equipment

  • Consider hybrid working where possible to reduce energy consumption of large office buildings and make sure employees have the software and tools to effectively collaborate virtually

  • Consider migrating applications and data to a greener public cloud

  • Extend products’ shelf life by fixing and repairing instead of just buying new

  • Invest in ESG management software that collects data and enables you to track, manage, and report on areas such as energy consumption, water usage, waste generation, greenhouse gas emissions, workplace safely and compliance metrics

  • Improve efficiency of devices to reduce energy consumption and prolong devices’ battery life by reducing exposure to high temperatures, keeping it at 100% charge for long periods, and avoiding fast charging unless urgently needed

  • Run cloud cost optimisations to reduce waste clutters in cloud usage

Ultimately, technology has the capacity to improve the environment and reduce carbon emissions, but there are still consequences. In order to be a truly sustainable organisation, you need to consider the impact your tech is having and find ways to make it more sustainable as we all work together to build a greener future.

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