Is Enterprise IT ready to become Sustainable IT?
Blog: Capgemini CTO Blog
The United Nations has set an ambitious target of 2030 for the world to achieve critical Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Among the 17 SDGs and 169 associated targets is the determination to “protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations”.
The SDGs and a growing understanding of the impact humans are making on the planet are shaping sustainable corporate strategies worldwide. Organizations are accepting their responsibility and committing to change. But what about enterprise IT?
IT’s impact on the environment
The truth of the matter is that enterprise IT contributes significantly to the world’s carbon footprint. While most of us think about our use of fossil fuels, air miles, sustainable supply chains, etc., the impact of IT on our planet is often ignored. Yet, in 2020, 55.5 million tons of e-waste was generated worldwide — an increase of 20% in five years. According to a new report from the Capgemini Research Institute, this figure is, in no short measure, due to 89% of organizations recycling less than 10% of their IT hardware.
That’s not all. The report states that energy intensive data centers accounted for 1% of the world’s energy demand in 2019. With the number of connected devices expected to reach 55.7 billion by 2025, the volume of data generated by them will continue to grow, as will the need for ever bigger storage capabilities.
The picture is clear. Enterprise IT is far from being sustainable IT. But the tide is turning. But the report discusses way forward for enterprise IT both to reduce its carbon footprint and to become an enabler of sustainability if used in the right way.
Why isn’t sustainability a priority?
The report is based on a survey of 1,000 organizations. It found that sustainable IT is not a priority for most organizations. Further, enterprise IT appears to be disconnected from the wider sustainability agenda. So, what’s going wrong? Why do half of firms say they have defined an enterprise-wide sustainability strategy, yet just 18% say they have a comprehensive sustainable IT strategy with well-defined goals and target timelines?
Two key challenges in implementing sustainable IT initiatives are cited as the lack of tools or standards/ratings to evaluate the carbon footprint of IT (by 49% of survey respondents), and a lack of required expertise for sustainable IT implementation. (53%). This aligns with our own thinking on sustainability at Capgemini Invent.
We recognize that equipping people with the right tools and skills is part of a broader transformation of enterprise IT into sustainable IT. Currently, only 31% of those organizations surveyed provide incentives for employees to use IT services in a more sustainable way. Yet incentives can change employee behavior and create the right culture, ensuring IT is used in a way that aligns with the organization’s wider sustainability goals. Indeed, sustainable IT transformation cannot succeed without ‘Sustainability Champions’ and employees.
Understanding the carbon footprint of IT
So, where do you start your sustainable IT journey? How do you transform IT from being the laggard on climate action to an enabler of sustainability? At Capgemini Invent we believe it should begin with a clear understanding of your IT’s existing carbon footprint. With this understanding you can start to build a vision for sustainable IT.
We’ve defined four pillars on which we shape our clients’ journey to Sustainable IT:
- Sustainable IT Strategy — sharing a vision and setting ambitious, closely monitored goals;
- Sustainable IT Transformation— reducing the environmental impact of IT departments;
- Sustainable IT Employees — bringing employees on board to deeply transform the organization from within;
- Sustainable IT for Business — using IT as a solution to drive enterprise sustainability goals.
Once IT leaders begin to look at their technology choices through a sustainability lens, they can identify the sustainable IT levers that will make the biggest impact on enterprise IT’s carbon footprint. This might include making environmental impact a criterion to select IT vendors, switching to a carbon-focused cloud architecture and framework, or adopting cloud computing.
Gains for the climate and for business
Getting this right will reap enormous dividends, not just for our planet, but for business too. Those organizations failing to make sustainable IT a priority are missing out on a huge opportunity. Our research finds that organizations successfully scaling sustainable IT use cases have achieved, on average, a 12% cost reduction. Savings on energy bills through eco-designed products, less energy-intensive servers, and a responsible IT policy could be as high as 40%. We would expect other benefits to accrue as well, including a better brand image (for attracting talent and motivating customers) and improved operational efficiency with a lean approach to IT.
Sustainable IT is the next big opportunity for the CIO to shape the boardroom agenda and bring IT in line with broader corporate sustainability ambitions.