You all know the situation. Somebody asks you what you do for a living, and you try and work out how best to explain exactly what it is that you do. This can be tricky, as every industry has a range of somewhat arcane job titles, and IT is no exception.
So when I tell people that I look after sustainability for an IT provider, I tend to get asked a couple of questions. The first is usually “What’s sustainability”? When I try and explain, I’m often greeted with, “Oh, you’re a tree-hugger”! This always bemuses me – don’t get me wrong, I like trees, but I’m not prone to displays of physical affection towards them, especially as they’re usually covered in moss, insects, and various other not so huggable creatures!
The truth is that many people – and businesses – have yet to make the distinction between “sustainability” and “green”. The two are strongly related, but sustainability is a far broader issue. Sustainability is about ensuring that a business is able manage its activities in the face of changing resource availability, energy pricing, fluctuating costs, government legislation and taxation. It affects brand identity, profitability, the ability to recruit and retain quality staff, and, in many cases, a company’s ability to operate. That’s why so many of the world’s leading companies have made sustainability a key part of their business model.
The second question I get asked is, “So what does IT have to do with sustainability”? Luckily, that’s much easier to answer! In short, IT can do a lot to not only lower carbon emissions, but also to significantly reduce cost and increase productivity. In a report for the World Economic Forum, it was highlighted that the ICT sector is expected to be responsible for about 3 percent of the world’s carbon footprint by 2020 – more than the aviation industry! More interestingly, if used correctly ICT has the capacity to reduce the global carbon footprint by 15 percent – five times its own potential impact.
So, here are five easy tips to help your IT department become sustainability champions.
- Use video conferencing to reduce travel. This sounds so obvious, it makes you wonder why everyone’s not doing this already! The reason why it hasn’t happened has been down to one thing – the experience.To improve sustainability and gain a return from any investment in VC, you need to make sure that the experience is a good one. Although having great technology can help with this, it’s how it’s used that’s most important. You need to try and make video part of the company culture, which means putting a strong program in place to increase adoption. The old adage of “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” is also true – you should have a system in place to help you understand what carbon, money and time savings are being made.
- Make sure your data centre as efficient as possible – The US Environmental Protection Agency reckons that data centres account for 1.5 percent of the US’s total energy consumption. Reducing this is clearly vital, not least because energy is expensive!One of the biggest changes you can make in your data centre is to use virtualisation – basically a way of cramming more computing into less physical boxes, reducing energy consumption and the amount of space required.Choosing the right equipment is also important. The energy efficiency of different models of servers can vary by as much as a factor of ten, and your cooling systems often make up between 40 and 60 percent of your data centre’s overall energy consumption.
- Use IT to help create “Smart Buildings”. If data centres consume a lot of energy, that’s nothing next to buildings which make up 39 percent of overall US energy consumption. What does this have to do with IT? Well, although sustainable building schemes like LEED and BREEAM do exist, they don’t really consider the additional savings (30 percent in some cases) that can be made by using the IP network to manage the building’s systems. Using one network not only makes great efficiency savings, it also means that these systems could communicate to provide a better experience, for example by using a PC application or tablet to control a meeting rooms lighting and temperature, rather than a collection of remote controls.
- Manage the lifecycle of your IT equipment. Understanding how long you need to keep the IT equipment you purchase is important. It may be that your equipment is extremely old and replacing it with newer equipment with better support and greater energy efficiency would be more cost-effective. Or everything may work well and could run for a few more years before being sent to the big IT graveyard in the sky. Either way, the important thing is having a method of understanding the lifecycle of your assets.On the subject of that big IT graveyard in the sky – there’s no such thing! Getting rid of old IT equipment can be a challenge and, as two-thirds of old PCs end up on landfills, it is worth taking the time to make sure that your lifecycle management includes a method of cost-effective, secure and sustainable disposal.
- Evaluate and maximise your supply chain. Checking the credentials of your equipment and suppliers is a key step to improving your own overall sustainability. Certifications, such as ISO14001, help to demonstrate a commitment to environmental management, while public reporting provides useful indices as to how well your suppliers are doing in their own sustainability efforts.
The great thing about all of these tips, is that all of them help to not only lower your carbon footprint, but they lower costs, reduce risk, and increase efficiency. After all, sustainable businesses should be profitable and productive businesses, and IT can be the sustainability champions that make this happen.
Now, I’m off to hug that tree…
Director of Sustainability