IT Sustainability Think Tank: Embracing green computing to close the sustainability gap
There is mounting anecdotal evidence that enterprises are struggling to ensure their statements of intent on sustainability are matching their actions, so what steps can they take to bridge the gap?
There’s no doubt that digital technologies play a key role in enabling a greener future. In fact, the European Commission has recently proclaimed that success over the next 20 years will be based on a company's ability to align their sustainability and digital strategies to make a twin transition. It is, however, important to consider the impact of digital technology and the best way to deploy it.
Digital technologies account for somewhere between 2.1% and 3.9% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and if technology was a country, it would be the seventh most polluting nation in the world. If you combine this information with the fact that internet traffic is expected to double every other year for the foreseeable future, then we find ourselves in a situation where the use of technology creates a significant environmental impact. This presents a challenge for businesses leveraging technology to achieve objectives, while simultaneously working to close their sustainability gap.
A solution to this dilemma that has yielded great success at Digital Catapult is incorporating green computing into our business operations. Green computing is the practice of designing, developing, using, and disposing of computers, servers, and associated subsystems in an environmentally sustainable way. Embracing this framework will undoubtedly help more businesses to close their ‘sustainability gap’ and pave the way for a more sustainable internet - not least because of its focus on tech consumption and recycling.
Considering the consumption of tech
Green computing takes into account the consumption of technology. It considers how much technology should be used by a business, whether the amount of technology used corresponds with the demands of a project, and whether the equipment can be recycled.
This encouragement to recycle is important, given that research found that the UK is on track to become Europe’s largest e-waste contributor per capita by 2024. Green computing could therefore mitigate against this by incentivising more businesses to recycle their old technology instead of disposing of it.
Further to this, the precious metals contained within the electronic equipment that end up in landfill is valued at over £370 million in the UK alone, demonstrating the importance of monitoring tech consumption and waste within a business.
At Digital Catapult we recycle our old technology by passing it on to local schools and charities that can use the technology beyond its first life. Embracing a strong approach on sustainable technology usage and recycling is helping more businesses to close their sustainability gap and is paving the way for a more sustainable internet. Green computing is also helping businesses to close their sustainability gap by reducing carbon intensity.
Reducing carbon intensity in the workplace
Green computing further encourages business leaders and project managers to consider reducing carbon intensity where possible. This is important given that territorial carbon dioxide emissions from the business sector were estimated to be 65.1 Mt in 2021 and accounted for around 19.1% of all carbon dioxide emissions. This demonstrates the need for more businesses to monitor their carbon intensity and reduce it where possible, and this is where green computing can help.
Carbon intensity is the amount of carbon emissions per unit of activity or output. From a business perspective, accounting for carbon intensity could look like scheduling specific tasks or jobs for staff that help to reduce carbon intensity, and which therefore reduce the environmental impact of a business.
Carbon intensity is a valuable metric in understanding business progress towards net zero, and green computing helps businesses to not only understand carbon intensity, but how to reduce it too. This is how green computing further contributes towards businesses closing their sustainability gap and creating a more sustainable internet.
Keeping an eye on the environmental end-goal
Green computing further ensures that businesses keep their environmental objectives in mind by implementing sustainable practices in the digital space. Environmentally responsible computing encourages the use of renewable energy for website hosting and promotes efficiency and optimisation to reduce the carbon footprint of digital activities.
By adopting this type of sustainable practice, businesses can ensure they are taking steps to minimise their environmental impact, which may involve using renewable energy sources to power their servers and datacentres, or promoting energy efficiency in their digital operations.
Moreover, green computing emphasises transparency and accountability in all business practices. By providing clear guidelines and best practices for sustainable digital operations, businesses can ensure that their digital activities align with their sustainability goals, which we successfully achieve at Digital Catapult.
Green computing helps Digital Catapult to successfully align commercial and environmental objectives across several ongoing projects. With such a focus on the environmental end goal, this is an additional reason why more businesses should consider embracing green computing to close their sustainability gap and create a path to a more environmentally-friendly internet.
There are huge environmental challenges for the entire industry to solve right now, but fortunately, there are solutions.
Read more from the IT Sustainability Think Tank
- It is now the expected norm for companies to have a sustainability strategy, but there is sometimes suspicion that the stated goals do not match behaviour leading to accusations of greenwashing being levelled at organisations.
- Over the past 12 months, the sustainability landscape has strengthened and accelerated due to changing macroeconomic factors such as energy markets, upcoming legislation, and sustainability commitments. Companies are under greater scrutiny than ever before to be societal forces for good.
- Anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a "sustainability gap" within some enterprises. This gap occurs when enterprises' statements of intent on IT sustainability do not match their actions.
- IT efficiency is often overlooked in the digital infrastructure sustainability discussion.
- The conundrum for tech leaders today is that while the production and consumption of tech can have a negative effect on the health of the planet, it’s also a crucial part of the solution to climate change, with green technology widely acknowledged as the key to shaping a sustainable and economically viable future.
- Sustainability is now seen as a core pillar of any successful business. As it can encompass many different topics, it is important to ensure the definition of sustainability includes carbon reduction and the net zero transition, circular economy goals, and the broader social value targets that are defined on a company-by-company basis.