IT Sustainability Think Tank: How IT leaders can address 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 is no doubt that every business is a digital business today. Technology is the new normal and the next normal for companies of all sizes, offering them the chance to improve their resilience, efficiency, and customer experience.

Yet today, it is clear that digital transformation cannot come at a cost to the environment. 

According to a report by the European Commission’s science and knowledge service (JRC), “successfully managing the green and digital ‘twin’ transitions is the cornerstone for delivering a sustainable, fair, and competitive future.”

As a result, and with rising regulatory scrutiny and demand from consumers to address the environmental and social impact of tech, organisations are feeling the pressure to clean up their supply chains and address pressing matters like the length of the hardware lifecycle and electronic waste.

As part of their annual predictions, Gartner named environmental sustainability an “IT sourcing imperative” for 2023, anticipating that (despite the challenging economic outlook) by 2026, 70% of tech and procurement leaders will have sustainability-aligned performance objectives in place.

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.

Against this backdrop, it is little wonder that organisations have been quick to jump on the sustainable IT bandwagon.

However, setting targets is one thing and putting them into action is very much another. The result has been a growing gap between the commitments organisations have made towards achieving IT sustainability and their ability to deliver.

A recent study reveals that while “61% of organisations believe they have made substantial progress on their advanced sustainability journeys, less than one in ten have completed major sustainability imperatives”. This research also shows that although organisations recognise tech investment as a fundamental step towards achieving sustainability transformation initiatives, managing existing and legacy technology remains a major stumbling block to progress.

It is, therefore, apparent that businesses need new ways of addressing old problems to tackle the sustainability gap.  

Here are three ways they can get started:

1. Realise owning tech is a thing of the past

The demand for hardware, like smartphones, laptops, servers, and tablets, will continue despite the economic challenges, with IT spending by enterprises predicted to continue its rise this year.

What must change is the idea that businesses must own these devices to benefit from the value they offer in terms of connectivity, productivity, and resilience.

Instead, organisations should move towards a usage model, like device-as-a-service, that allows IT teams to flex their IT stack according to need and audit and regularly renew legacy tech while ensuring that sustainable and end-of-life management are built into the procurement process.

This is a fundamental step towards achieving sustainability targets, but it will also soon become a non-negotiable compliance requirement for organisations. As-a-service models have been identified in the EU Green Deal, as part of the Circular Economy Action Plan, as a key policy component of achieving the transition to a low carbon economy, with organisations facing increasing pressure to ensure repair, refurbishments and reuse are part of their operations.

2. Skill-up through partnerships

The sustainability gap is also exacerbated by a well-documented skills gap, yet another strategic challenge facing businesses today. More than half of organisations have seen progress in the implementation of new technology slowed down by a lack of skills and knowledge within the workforce.

Sustainability requirements are also fast-moving and require a sophisticated understanding of the landscape as regulators act swiftly to legislate for improved reporting standards and anti-greenwashing measures. Yet despite new EU directives due to come online next year, only 22% of organisations are ready to report quantitively on their implementation of the circular economy.

As requirements for transparency across the supply chain become more demanding, many organisations are seeking to simplify and reduce the exposure that comes with dealing with multiple suppliers across the device lifecycle.

Finding like-minded partners that can implement holistic solutions can complement the skills and capacity available in internal teams. And it can help ensure there is a strategic and well-planned approach encompassing procurement, management, and sustainable disposal and reuse of tech assets.

3. Think global, act local

Tech procurement is never going to be a one size fits all approach, even when the ambition for responsible consumption is universal.

While legislation across international jurisdictions is mainly moving in the same direction, there are still many local requirements that organisations must consider and comply with.

Finding suppliers that can roll out sustainable solutions across multiple regions is an essential driver of efficiency and can ensure a joined-up approach to delivering sustainable outcomes. However, these solutions must have the flexibility to be successfully adopted locally, ensuring each team can tailor IT procurement to their needs and choose the right devices to meet local preferences. 

The sustainability gap is a gap between aspiration and reality. A reality which IT leaders are trying to deal with by showing intention and commitment to doing the right thing and making the transition to cleaner, more progressive tech consumption.

However, all the goodwill in the world will not close the sustainability gap if there are no practical solutions that work for teams on the ground to drive better performance and growth.

The good news is that there is a fantastic opportunity for businesses willing to shift traditional ways of thinking and implement technology systems and processes that are truly future-fit. Those that get it right will not only deliver on their commitments but demonstrate how their organisation can simultaneously offer real value to its people, customers, and society.

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