IT Sustainability Think Tank: Why 2024 should be less about predicting and more about acting

With 2023 now behind us, it is time to look ahead at what enterprise leaders should be focusing their IT sustainability efforts on during the year ahead

The year 2023 was another one characterised by uncertainty. Once again, global instability has muddied the waters, making coming up with reliable predictions almost impossible.

Last year, forecasters said businesses would charge ahead with the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI). But 12 months later, many organisations are taking a more measured approach and focusing on AI compliance ahead of new EU regulations.

Likewise, the climate challenge has consistently headlined speculation for the years ahead. Still, global warming is accelerating faster than anyone predicted, and many governments and businesses are now worried about the short-term economic impact of the ESG commitments made post-pandemic.

With 2024 now in full swing, does not every business need something a bit more concrete than predictions? And what will the reality be for organisations as the year unfolds?

Turning burdens into opportunities

With the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) coming into force imminently, many organisations have spent the past 12 months preparing for it by redesigning how they track and measure their impact and social and environmental footprint across the value chain.

With efforts and changes already underway, a realistic and impactful resolution for 2024 would be for organisations to shift their perspective and look at possible growth opportunities triggered by these regulatory demands.

Instead of the end goal being compliance alone, companies should focus on implementing solutions that improve their Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting capabilities while delivering business value, reducing their environmental impact, and giving back to the planet and society.

For instance, making responsible use of customer data and the material assets – like digital devices – that a company owns is a regulatory requirement that needs to be tightly managed by the procurement, IT and cybersecurity teams alongside the compliance team.

Tech must be sourced, ensuring no regulatory and reputational issues with the company supplying it. The devices - and the data they host – then need to be managed and tracked while in use and, crucially, after, ensuring no data is left on them and that they do not become e-waste.

Many forward-thinking organisations are reevaluating how they manage their devices. Increasingly, they are choosing to work with technology lifecycle management companies that offer 'as-a-service' options instead of owning the devices. These options provide flexibility, sustainability, and resilience, allowing businesses to stick to their digital transformation strategies without extra investment. Additionally, these models remove the financial, security and regulatory responsibilities associated with disposing of technology at the end of its life.

This strategy combines ESG considerations with business results, an effective method in today's business landscape. Savvy organisations are already pairing financial and environmental outcomes, with 25% of CIOs soon to see their personal compensation linked to their sustainable technology impact.

The legacy tech conundrum

It’s a well-established truth that legacy devices are slow, outdated, vulnerable, and pose a substantial risk to organisations. Failing to manage legacy tech can seriously impact efficiency and competitiveness, as many companies and key public institutions are now having to urgently address.

Legacy tech also poses severe data and privacy risks during an organisation’s ownership and use of a device and beyond, as data risks are present at every stage of the lifecycle, even once devices have officially left an organisation's custody.

Regularly updating an organisation's tech stack might appear to be the ideal approach. However, various constraints often lead organisations to extend the use of their devices beyond the recommended timeframe. Financial challenges are a significant factor; the cost of regularly upgrading technology can be prohibitive for many organisations. Additionally, there is growing concern about the environmental impact of frequently replacing devices, as the production and disposal of tech contribute to electronic waste and carbon emissions.

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Therefore, balancing the need for up-to-date technology with financial feasibility and environmental responsibility becomes an often complex decision for organisations. Keeping devices in use for extended periods can seem like a good compromise. Still, it also poses risks such as decreased performance, security vulnerabilities, and potential incompatibility with new software or systems.

With the stakes so high, a concrete and achievable action for tech leaders in the year ahead would be to look at models that offer a financial advantage while not compromising on operational outcomes and sustainability.

Circular business plans offer a practical solution in which businesses lease or rent devices for a certain period and then return them to the service provider. This enables the company to reduce the financial burden of buying new tech by capitalising on the residual value of the tech assets at the point of return.

As the service provider refurbishes and sanitises the devices before redistributing them to new users, this approach not only extends the overall lifecycle of the devices but also enables businesses to integrate sustainable practices into business operations.

Looking ahead

Despite the increasing urgency of the climate crisis, we can be sure that there will be no mass adoption of green solutions that cannot demonstrate the economic and business value they deliver in 2024. And rightly so.

A thriving society depends on both a strong economy and a healthy planet. The two are not mutually exclusive. Both are achievable through the adoption of the circular economy – a system that ensures we extract maximum and ongoing value from our resources and eliminate waste.

In the year ahead, my one wish would be that we do not let perfection get in the way of progress. Not every organisation is ready to completely overhaul its operations and adopt circular practices. However, there are small steps that everyone can take to look beyond the usual, traditional ways of improving tech sustainability and inch towards more circular practices that can deliver value for business, society, and the planet.

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