IT Sustainability Think Tank: Embedding GreenOps into enterprises

It takes a village to build a credible and robust IT sustainability strategy, so who should enterprises be collaborating with to make their green IT goals a reality?

Over the past 36 months, organisations the world over have made bold promises and commitments to become net zero with increasingly ambitious deadlines. While this is great to see, it does pose one key question: how are you going to do this and how will progress be measured?

This is particularly true in the world of IT and digital, an area in most businesses which had until recently escaped the attention of the people in charge of monitoring and reporting environmental, social and governance (ESG) and sustainability metrics. For the first time, enterprise IT organisations are being called on to report, track and reduce the carbon emissions associated with their digital services, whether they are hosted in a datacentre, in the cloud or on another software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform.

The problem all large organisations are experiencing is the level of greenwashing endemic in the world of IT, combined with a lack of accurate data and limited providers that understand the relatively complex world of digital sustainability.

Being sustainable in IT requires more than a cursory investigation and commitment to use renewable energy. It needs a cultural shift within IT, one that must be aligned with your wider business goals and ESG ambitions. Most large enterprises have misunderstood how complex and challenging it is to transform their IT operations and embed green operations, or GreenOps, into their company culture.

GreenOps is a buzzword that has emerged over the past two years and, like all new things in IT, its meaning varies depending on the area of IT under discussion, but at its heart it is an operating model that encapsulates all the efforts done to reduce the carbon footprint of the resources running on IT infrastructure.

GreenOps is closely linked to the more established worlds of FinOps or ITAM (IT asset management) and provides greater cost transparency while promoting a culture of environmental responsibility.

Making an IT ecosystem sustainable requires a step back and all areas of IT to consider their impact on the environment. It will require a degree of collaboration with other lines of business – including procurement and financial management departments – to set business requirements, hone software development and DevOps processes, and adhere to operational principles. 

“Given the average enterprise IT waste is 45% or more, it is not hard to see how prioritising IT sustainability could make an organisation more profitable as well as saving the planet”
Mark Butcher, Posetiv Cloud

For an enterprise’s IT estate to go green requires making sustainability a core principle and key performance indicator, putting it alongside decision points such as performance, security, accessibility, availability and more.

It is also important to understand the level of misleading information coming from the supplier community, with nearly every provider of enterprise infrastructure and cloud services claiming to be sustainable but very few able to back it up with accurate and up-to-date carbon emissions data. Most suppliers also lack any detailed information and will simply point their customers at annual reports, shiny websites or, at best, dysfunctional tools that rely on aged, stale data to present only a subset of their actual carbon emissions data.

What’s also concerning is the lack of understanding among IT suppliers of how emissions are measured and calculated. Most have chosen to only focus on their scope 1 and 2 emissions, ignoring IT’s elephant in the room, which is scope 3 emissions.

In the world of IT, scope 3 emissions typically equate to 80% or more of total emissions, so excluding them is a big mistake. The cloud providers are a great example of this – only one of out the top five global providers is including all their emissions. The rest barely scratch the surface of their scope 1 and 2, and are basing their figures on estimates, proxies and averages, with little granular accurate data.

To address the problem, enterprises should look to build their own internal-focused team or work with an external provider to put in place a programme of work that not only looks at benchmarking the company’s current emissions across all areas of IT, but one that can also deliver a programme of remediation to reduce the company digital carbon footprint and find areas where sustainability can be used as a mechanism to eliminate waste and to make services more efficient.

Internal collaboration and communication is critical as every decision made throughout the lifecycle of building IT applications and services can potentially cause digital emissions to grow. However, what’s equally important is that being sustainable in IT will 99 times out of 100 have a positive impact on the company finances.

This is because being sustainable in IT is about making more efficient design decisions, spending more effectively and eliminating waste. Given the average enterprise IT waste is 45% or more, it is not hard to see how prioritising IT sustainability could actually make an organisation more profitable as well as saving the planet.

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