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Sustainability remains the real challenge of our times

The coronavirus might have dominated a lot of the headlines, but climate change remains a real threat to mankind

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: MicroScope: MicroScope: Chart course to Covid-19 recovery

As we all found out in 2020, it’s hard to predict how a year will turn out with any confidence. Things can change drastically. Unforeseen events can turn our world upside down and cause major upheaval to our way of life – as they did last year when Covid-19 struck.

Set against the uncertainties and disruption created by a global pandemic, there is one thing that we should be certain about, something more existential that is looming even larger in the background – climate change. Whatever the doubters may say, it is real and the effects, if nothing or too little is done to address them, will be devastating.

“Lockdown brought to mind how fragile the world is and how we can’t take it for granted,” says Michael O’Hara, managing director at UK & Ireland distributor DataSolutions. “It brought the sustainability question up in my mind. If we didn’t have the pandemic, it would be the burning issue we’d all be talking about.”

O’Hara is in no doubt that “in the fullness of time, we will appreciate that it’s a much more existential issue than the pandemic”.

One of the problems we have, in O’Hara’s view, is that climate change “is a killer for governments” because they are guided by short-term thinking set by electoral cycles, and “sustainability is a longer-term issue”.

To his credit, O’Hara has decided to take matters into his own hands, setting up the Techies Go Green initiative to build awareness of the issue within the IT industry and community – including resellers, vendors, distributors, IT channels and associated businesses in PR, recruitment, legal and accountancy.

As the website states: “Techies Go Green is a movement of IT and tech-oriented companies who are committed to decarbonising their businesses and making them green and verifiably sustainable.” O’Hara hopes to get up to 100 signatories to the movement by the end of June.

But this is not just another worthy talking shop where people can sign up and feel virtuous about themselves without taking solid steps towards making their businesses greener. The intention is for members to commit to making their business carbon-neutral or taking action to become more environmentally friendly.

For his part, O’Hara is using the example of the company he heads to demonstrate that becoming carbon-neutral can be done. And he’s not hanging about until 2030 to achieve that goal. Instead, DataSolutions has set a target of 2022 to become the world’s first carbon-neutral distributor.

To this end, the distributor has measured its carbon footprint and taken steps to reduce emissions. One of the easiest ways to reduce emissions, says O’Hara, is to change to a sustainable electricity provider, which can knock off 10-30 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year for most organisations.

DataSolutions has also changed its fossil fuel heating to an electrical heat pump system, switched all its office lighting to LED, moved as much of its corporate applications as feasible to Microsoft Azure (which is carbon neutral) and installed electric car charging points. The plan is for all company vehicles to be electric by 2022.

“We sat down with all our staff and we’ve advised them on sustainability,” says O’Hara. “Anything we cannot eliminate emissions for, we will buy verifiable carbon offsets for.”

He makes the point that the distributor “can only control what we can control. We can make our business carbon-neutral. For us to go carbon-zero, we would need everyone in our supply chain to be carbon-neutral”.

O’Hara believes carbon neutrality will become an issue for vendors and partners. “Vendors will go to the channel and say ‘you need to be carbon-neutral because you’re affecting our carbon footprint’. I can see that coming in.”

Sustainability is also likely to become a feature in tenders and become a sales differentiator, if not even a prerequisite.

O’Hara thinks distributors like DataSolutions are ideally positioned. “We’re bellwethers for the channel,” he says. “We can talk to the vendors and to the channel – even to users.”

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