An inconvenient truth: Changing the state of sustainability in IT

In this guest post, Kumaravel Ramakrishnan, technology director at application management software maker ManageEngine, shares an extract from a recent company report from and ten independent IT service management (ITSM) authorities articulating the need for greater IT sustainability.

It can be challenging for IT teams to be the sustainability champions of their organisations, especially when technology’s carbon footprint can be significant. For example, “training just one AI model can emit more than 626,000 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent—which is nearly  five times the lifetime emissions of an average American car.”

A 2022 Axelos survey found that “80% of IT organisations included sustainability across at least one of strategies, priorities, and metrics.”

However, when asked, “Could your IT organisation be doing more in terms of sustainability?” the same sample found that 68% of respondents thought IT could do more.

So, while sustainability is on most corporate agendas, employees of IT organisations believe more still needs to be done.

Embedding sustainability into IT strategies

In ManageEngine’s Service management strategies for the next 3 years from 10 ITSM experts and leaders e-book, Peter Brooks, an independent service governance consultant, said, “[IT] services must be designed to be sustainable in the human ecosystem and sustain the natural environment. It’s important to recognise the organisation’s contribution to the commonweal and to embed that understanding in all services by understanding all stakeholders, not just the obvious ones.”

This reflects the many trends and challenges that IT teams face and is a great reminder that sustainability must permeate everything in IT, not just the datacentre or cloud infrastructure.

Turning sustainability strategies into actions

IT teams can contribute to corporate sustainability strategies and targets in many ways. These include:

  • Improving energy efficiency: Reducing energy usage in datacentre and office environments through more efficient hardware and virtualisation technologies, and implementing power management policies for endpoint devices.
  • Migrating to cloud-based services: Reducing the need for physical infrastructure and benefitting from cloud services designed with sustainability in mind. For example, running on renewable energy and using AI to manage power usage efficiently.
  • Prioritising suppliers with sustainable practices: Ensuring that suppliers meet environmental and social criteria in their supply chain.
  • Supporting remote work and collaboration: Helping reduce the carbon footprint caused by commuting and business travel.
  • Reducing technology waste: Including responsible disposal, recycling programs, and improving hardware longevity through modular design and regular maintenance.
  • Developing energy-efficient software: Optimising code to reduce CPU usage or minimise data transfer requirements.

The high-level benefits of corporate sustainability strategies

Sustainability is not simply doing good, but should be considered good business with far-reaching benefits, for example, the improved public perception of your organisation and its brands. This improvement can be a competitive differentiator, with customers increasingly concerned about product and service sourcing and delivery. The reverse is also true, with the media and public quick to call out those that greenwash their marketing but take no meaningful move towards sustainability.

Besides the commercial benefits, sustainability can create a competitive advantage for organisations by positively impacting employee recruitment and retention, and investments. For the former, today’s workers seem to be placing more weight on company values. For the latter, some individuals and investment firms seek out greener stocks and avoid organisations that are failing to change. Sustainability initiatives can also bring efficiency and cost benefits through new and better product and service delivery methods. For example, removing waste or eliminating travel to save time, money, and emissions.

Organisations must work alongside their IT teams to improve their sustainable practices, recognising the businesses benefits and the expectations of all stakeholders. Only then can they take the necessary steps towards a more promising future for IT and the planet.

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