It is not overstating things to say that sustainability and carbon impact is the greatest challenge facing the world in the medium to long term. Just recently the IPCC published a report with some dire predictions for what lies ahead if we, as a global society, don’t press forward urgently on reducing our emissions and carbon impact.
The tech sector is not the world’s biggest polluter. Currently, it accounts for around four per cent of global energy consumption, and, when you factor in the non-electricity-based carbon-producing sectors (agriculture and transport, for example) 1.4 per cent of total global carbon comes from IT.
However, this number will grow, and rapidly. Organisations are shifting to he cloud at unprecedented rates, and this is resulting in much greater levels of power consumption at the datacentre. “Analysis shows that by 2030, datacentres are going to be consuming 30 per cent of the energy resources out there, at a minimum,” Accenture Cloud Advisory Managing Director, Sajana Shah, said in an exclusive interview with IDG.
What’s more, perceptions count for a lot, and even now, as one report from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation notes, the perception of IT being a polluter is one that will put regulatory and social pressure on IT to demonstrate the sustainability steps that it is taking.
“The energy and carbon footprint of the tech sector deserves a clear-eyed discussion. That requires accurate data, both about ICT’s own energy consumption and its impacts on energy use in other sectors. Stories that overstate the impacts of ICT, often by a factor of 10 or more, don’t help. (No, YouTube views of the hit song “Despacito” do not consume more electricity than five African nations,)” the report notes.
Some even make the argument that we, as a society, “need to de-computerise” to address these carbon challenges. That’s impractical since more business than ever is being done in the digital world and it is a critical point of differentiation to many businesses, across all sectors. However, across governments, boards and consumers, CIOs will need to demonstrate that IT is doing its part to help the business be a good global citizen.
“By 2025, 90 per cent of the G2000 companies will mandate reusable materials in IT supply chains, carbon neutrality targets, and drive their ecosystems and vendor partners to share the same goals and ensure that they can lower the impact on the environments in in parallel to their digital journey progress,” Shah said.
Steps towards green digitalization
There are three steps towards “green digitalization” that CEOs and CIOs should be looking at, Shah said, and now is a good time to start that journey.
“What we really need CIOs to do now is build with ambition and intent,” Shah said. “The journey to a sustainable cloud involves three ambition levels, with the first being to transform the business as Infrastructure-as-a-Service, referred to as a bronze level.
“The second one – the silver level – is to transform the applications to sustainable software engineering. And the third is application optimisation for the fabric of clouds – that is, building the application directly onto the cloud. That’s the gold level.
“These three different tiers of transformation and innovation will really help them to get closer to the greener cloud ambition they have.”
Naturally this three-step process involves finding the right partners that are also on a parallel sustainable journey. Shifting computing resources to the cloud won’t help reduce the overall global impact if the cloud provider isn’t doing their part, but for CIOs that build the right strategy and find the right partners, the benefits are there, and have been proven.
For example, Accenture research shows that between 2013-2019, companies with consistently high environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance enjoyed 4.7 times higher operating margins and lower volatility than low ESG performers over the same period. Additionally, migrations to public cloud result in up to 30-40 per cent total cost of ownership (TCO) savings, while also reducing CO2 emissions by 59 million tons per year.
Finally, the journey to the cloud unlocks new opportunities in digitalisation to innovate and find ways to reduce the carbon input within the business. Through AI, automation, IoT and edge deployments, all leveraging the capabilities of the cloud, enterprises can drive efficiencies through the organisation and subsequently reduce the carbon footprint of the whole of business.
Businesses can expect greater pressures and costs on carbon into the future. Now is the right time to make sustainability a business imperative, and take the opportunity presented by transformation and digitalization to refocus the organisation towards the right partnerships and cloud-based platforms that will lower the carbon footprint.
For more information on partnering with Accenture to deliver sustainable IT, click here.
Read previous articles in this series:
Article 1: How SD-WAN is delivering future-proof IT platforms to Australian enterprises
Article 2: How successful integration solutions maximise the value of data
Article 3: The drive towards mainframe modernisation has never been louder
Article 4: Digital transformation is about People & Talent