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Schneider Electric: IT industry must address 'sustainability action gap' to fight global warming

Research commissioned and compiled by Schneider Electric reveals industry-wide disconnect between words and actions on sustainability

Large swathes of the IT industry are struggling to make their words match their actions on addressing sustainability, research commissioned by datacentre energy management company Schneider Electric has revealed.

The company, with the help of IT market watchers Canalys, Forrester and 451 Research, has collected data from 3,000 global participants representing the colocation and cloud community, together with members of the IT solutions provider and IT professional sectors.

During a reveal of the data, during Schneider Electric’s The Future is Now: Preparing IT Infrastructure for Net-Zero Operations virtual event on Wednesday 8 June 2022, Elena Fedotova, vice-president for the secure power division at Schneider Electric France, shared details of some of the key findings from the collected data.

Among them was the discovery that, despite the wide range of challenges participants from all of the groups face, they are all struggling to ensure their statements of intent on IT sustainability live up to their actions.

“The common thread you see here… is the sustainability action gap, [which] in simple words is the difference between what I say and what I actually do,” she said.

As an example, she cited the responses shared by the colocation providers who participated in the poll, who said customers were the “number one” driving force behind their “sustainability journey”, but only 43% said they had a “comprehensive sustainability programme” in place.

This needs to be addressed, she said, to ensure the  energy efficiency improvements the datacentre sector has made over the course of the past decade – evidenced by the drop in industry average Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) scores from 1.7 to 1.2 – can be capitalised on.

This will require tracking a wide range of metrics that can be used to assess and track the environmental impact of datacentres, rather than operators remaining as focused as they are today on solely tracking PUE.

For instance, operators should drill down into their PUE data to keep tabs on how much of the energy their facilities use come from renewable sources, and from here take steps to measure the greenhouse gas emissions created by their operations. They should also monitor how much water their sites consume, as well as how much electronic waste they create.

Based on the data fed back to Schneider from the IT professionals who took part in its polls, a major contributor to the sustainability action gap in their organisations is the complexities that come from trying to track and manage the energy usage of IT assets within their hybrid environments, she added.

Addressing the sustainability action gap is something that operators, IT leaders and service providers need to do if there is any hope of limiting global warming to below 1.5 degree Celsius, as per the Paris Agreement, she warned.

“Despite the multitude of carbon pledges being signed by various players in the industry, we are still on the trajectory of 3.5 degrees Celsius of global warming,” said Fedotova.

At the same time, firms that continue to be all talk and no action on sustainability may find themselves at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to securing customers and investors in the future, and may also find it difficult to recruit staff, she added.

“The progress needs to happen and it needs to happen fast, but the good news is we have all the necessary tools to bridge the sustainability action gap,” she said.

Action needs to be taken and there are steps that datacentre operators, colocation providers and IT leaders can start taking now to start closing the sustainability gap.

Multi-tenant, colocation datacentre providers can get to work on expanding the range of efficiency metrics they track – beyond PUE, she said, while CIOs should focus on finding ways to optimise the energy efficiency of their hybrid environments.

“IT tech and solution providers [should] focus on co-creating training programmes to help CIOs to breach this sustainability gap...and the change needs to happen in the coming 10 years. We have the tools to make it happen. So, in my opinion, there is nothing that stands in our way.”

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