IT Sustainability Think Tank: The role of ICT in delivering net-zero and energy efficiency

Against a backdrop of rising energy costs and supply uncertainty, cutting the amount of power their ICT estate consumes can also help enterprises curb their carbon emissions

Net-zero is an imperative as customers, investors and (increasingly) regulators insist on it. Enterprises have rightly prioritised making the big changes around their energy mix and their own operations, however, scope 3 emissions (essentially supply chain emissions) are now getting the attention.

For many organisations, these emissions can be attributed to their use of ICT, specifically their use of cloud and devices.

The estimated total lifecycle carbon footprint of the ICT sector is about 700 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) per year. This is equivalent to 1.4% of global carbon emissions and around 4% global electricity use. If you break down the “ICT sector” into constituent parts, the emissions are as follows:

  • A 170 Mt CO2e from the telecoms sector (110 Mt CO2e from mobile and 60 Mt CO2e from fixed networks). This includes network equipment manufacture, construction of network exchanges and mobile masts.
  • Around 190 Mt CO2e from the manufacture of user devices such as computers, tablets, routers, mobile phones, wearables and payment terminals.
  • An estimated 190 Mt CO2e from the use of end-user devices.
  • About 130 Mt CO2e from datacentres – this includes emissions from their construction and equipment manufacture as well as datacentre electricity use.
  • Just under 20 Mt CO2e from enterprise networks, used by organisations to connect sites in different locations to the same network and systems.

The above shows where the rough split is across the different areas, and this will change as telecoms networks and datacentres become more energy efficient and move to renewable power. A lot of this falls into the “happening anyway” category, so organisational IT leads should look at what can be achieved themselves. Some ways to make a difference are:

  • Get baseline data. There are dozens of companies that can help calculate an enterprise’s emissions, using averages or more bespoke information. Companies should pay the money for one of the very many software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings that do this to get an accurate read on their emissions. Microsoft can even advise on emissions associated with the use of their products.
  • Cloud, cloud, and more cloud. Enterprises should move as much of their computing and applications to the cloud as possible to minimise their use of inefficient “on-premise environments”. Even if certain things must remain on site, hybrid cloud can help realise those efficiencies.
  • Circularity and ICT. For personal staff devices (primarily laptops and mobiles), there is no need to buy new. An estimated 80% of the carbon associated with devices comes from the manufacturing stage. Therefore, buying refurbished tech or keeping devices in use for longer dramatically brings down emissions and save money.
  • Embed tech into your operations. It will be an investment, but integrating smart building controls and building information management tech across premises can automatically change the temperature and other energy-using outputs, optimising the energy used and eventually saving money. If combined with energy storage that draws energy into batteries when cheapest, this can dramatically decrease energy use associated with buildings.

These are just some of the ways tech can be made more energy efficient and sustainable, and IT leaders need to have the influence and budget to make these changes. With energy prices becoming the biggest overhead, there has never been a more obvious time to invest-to-save.

Read more on Datacentre energy efficiency and green IT

Data Center
Data Management