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When it's applied well, technology helps organisations to thrive, innovate, and be competitive. Today’s digital landscape boasts a wealth of new business models, cost efficiencies and improved bottom lines. The impact of technology on the environment and its contribution to our carbon footprint is often myopically overlooked in organisational strategy and planning though. A peer-reviewed study stated in 2018 if the IT industry continues at the current rate, the sector will contribute to 14% of the global carbon emissions by 2040.
With that in mind, how can businesses define technology sustainability without resorting to a morass of buzzwords, or merely ‘Greenwashing’ what they do? Sustainable technology takes into account natural resources and fosters economic, social, and ecological development. The ultimate goal is to reduce environmental and ecological risks and drive long term societal value for all.
Many organisations have been slow to adopt meaningful technology sustainability initiatives, and some claim there are too many different metrics to measure sustainable technology adoption effectively. Its clear pressure from organisational stakeholders has increased significantly though. Nearly 1 in 3 consumers have reportedly stopped partnering with certain companies because they’ve had ethical or sustainability-related concerns. Similarly, when companies want to buy new products and services from suppliers, modern procurement teams assess the sustainability position of the supplier. Organisations would therefore be wise to ‘think big and start now’ and factor sustainability into their technology operations.
Tackling the impact of global Technology adoption
As of 2021, almost 60% of the Earth’s population are active internet users. As businesses and individuals generate more data than ever before, the technology industry is faced with the challenge of mitigating the impact data centres and other IT Infrastructure have on the environment and on natural resource consumption. The world’s data centres reportedly now use more electricity than the United Kingdom’s total electricity consumption, to provide the power and cooling needed to maintain temperature-controlled environments that function 24/7.
Cryptocurrencies are also incredibly resource-intensive, especially ‘proof of work’ currencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. At the time of writing, they are massive drivers of data centre resource consumption. Bitcoin is currently estimated to have a similar carbon footprint to Kuwait, consume as much power as Thailand, and generate similar amounts of electronic waste as Holland does. A single Bitcoin transaction consumes as much electricity as an average U.S. household does in about 75 days, and generates e-waste equivalent to throwing two iPhones straight in the bin.
The number of data centres worldwide has grown significantly from 500,000 in 2012, to more than 8 million today. The amount of energy used by data centres continues to double every four years, resulting in the IT sector having the fastest-growing energy footprint globally. It’s clear data centres have a massive impact on sustainability globally, which has led software giants like Google to make sure they’re following a path via net-zero to being fully carbon neutral (and in some cases, carbon-negative). As the first Cloud Service Provider to go carbon-neutral in 2007, Google is the frontrunner in committing to using renewable energy sources and ensuring its data centres use 50% less energy than the industry average. The company is targeting being fully carbon-free by 2030 globally and has implemented highly efficient evaporative cooling solutions, smart temperature, lighting controls, and custom-built servers which use as little energy as possible.
Using Cloud migration to reduce a carbon footprint
Many organisations don’t have the financial resources available for extensive, dedicated sustainability initiatives for their data centres and wider technology operations. Net-zero actions, like buying enough high-quality carbon offsets to offset carbon impact, and carbon-neutral actions like converting or upgrading data centres to be carbon neutral, are both costly.
There are measures that can be put in place relatively easily to become more energy-efficient and reduce your technology carbon footprint. The biggest opportunity lies with Cloud computing. Choosing a public Cloud provider like Google who is actively neutralising their carbon footprint, and are committed to and focussed on going beyond net-zero, is a relatively easy ‘win’.
A key factor in the technology industry’s reduction of CO2 emissions has been the consolidation of on-premise data centres into larger-scale Cloud-based facilities. Cloud Providers’ data centres leverage economies of scale to manage power consumption efficiently, optimise cooling (and hence water consumption), deploy power-efficient servers at scale, and maximise server utilisation. Organisations can take advantage of these benefits as well as the improved security, scalability and potential operational and cost efficiencies migrating to the Cloud brings.
Accenture’s report The Green Behind the Cloud corroborates this by stating migrations to the Cloud will reduce global carbon emissions by as much as 59 million tonnes of CO2 annually.
The future of sustainable technology
Momentum in the sustainable technology movement has been building for some time. It’s no longer possible (or reasonable) for organisations to overlook their obligations to society, and not implement sustainability best practices. Technology industry consumers, partners and stakeholders are committing to sustainable and ecologically positive behaviour and expect businesses in the sector to do the same. For many organisations, Cloud migration (or further Cloud adoption) is the fastest and best route to get to fully carbon-neutral IT operations. Being Cloud-based means organisations use less power and help them reduce their carbon emissions. Businesses operating in the Cloud will consume around 77% fewer servers, and lower their reliance on expensive and ecologically harmful on-premise or hosted data centres.
There is a real need for services to help organisations successfully understand the sustainability benefits possible in the Cloud. Ancoris’ new Google Cloud service, Ancoris GreenLab, is a solution that meaningfully contributes to organisations’ sustainability goals by adding carbon footprint reduction into their Cloud migration and IT modernisation planning - something that’s often missed in business cases.
However, all the facts and figures will do is tell you that you should do something. HOW is a different question. The purpose of Ancoris GreenLab is to utilise Industry Experts with 20 years of solution design, coupled with the Global leader in Green Cloud, Google, to guide businesses on not only what they can do, but how, when and what to plan, their step towards a more sustainable IT Landscape.