The CTO’s newest hat is green

BrandPost By Tara Anders, Server Product Marketing Manager/Sustainability Lead, Dell Technologies
Sep 12, 20236 mins
IT Leadership

Large organizations are counting on their technology leaders to drive sustainability initiatives.

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Can a company embrace digital innovation and become more sustainable at the same time?

In the past, business leaders sometimes accepted the idea that being on the leading edge of technology came at a price to the environment. And those who made “going green” a top goal resigned themselves to thinking that they would need to forgo using some advanced technology.

A growing chorus of companies, however, are saying that they have no choice but to embrace both innovation and sustainability at the same time. More than that, they are coming to believe that IT might hold the key to reaching their environmental goals.

Recently, Intel surveyed 2,020 business and IT leaders from large enterprises with at least $500 million in revenue. They collected their findings in a report titled The Sustainable CTO. The CEOs surveyed said that sustainability would be their top growth driver between now and 2030. And they said their second biggest growth driver would be digitization.

These dual goals are being broached in IT departments. Among the senior IT leaders who participated, 81% said that “green IT,” which they defined as “reducing their tech-related environmental impact,” was one of their top priorities.

However, 70% of IT leaders said that their company’s ever-increasing need for computing power directly conflicted with their objective of reducing the environmental impact of IT.

Conflicting priorities

Technology contributes to sustainability challenges. Data centers run on electricity, which often comes from the burning of fossil fuels. And as computing power goes up, servers require more electricity, which can mean more emissions. In addition, computing hardware can use non-renewable resources mined from the earth, creating other environmental concerns.

In the Intel survey,74% of business and IT leaders agreed that “the carbon footprint generated by the storing, movement, and analysis of their data is a significant concern for their organization.” Participants also predicted that their organizations’ computing power would increase by an average of 9% by 2030. And nearly a third (31%) said it would grow between 11% and 15% in that time. Without intervention, that would mean emissions would grow by a similar amount.

Many companies, however, are doing things differently — finding ways to reduce the impact their technology has on the environment. For example, Dell Technologies recently announced that its facilities were using 59% renewable energy and that it was on track to be 100% renewable by 2040.

Dell Technologies is also working to make its hardware more sustainable. Its Latitude 9440 contains a high percentage of recycled aluminum, plastic, and copper.

But becoming greener isn’t enough. If corporations are going to meet their sustainability goals, IT needs to do more.

From tech zero to tech positive

For some time, IT leaders have talked about achieving “net zero.” That means reducing IT’s carbon footprint. 

However, many companies now have loftier goals. They believe that IT can lead the way for the entire organization to achieve net zero emissions. They are aiming for “tech positive,” the point where the environmental benefit of technology outweighs its negative impact.

In fact, more than three-quarters of senior IT leaders say that the positive effect of technology will more than counterbalance the impact of its carbon emission. In addition, 84% said technology had a “pivotal” or “important” role to play in achieving their organization’s goals. And four out of five of those surveyed pointed to innovations like artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) as specific technologies that could help.

Achieving those tech-positive objectives will require a new kind of leader — the Sustainable CTO.

The Sustainable CTO

Eighty-four percent of the CEOs and CSOs who took part in the Intel survey said they think “the CTO has the potential to become the greatest driver of sustainability in the organizations.” And 81% of them said it’s now imperative for tech leaders to also be leaders in sustainability strategy.

For their part, tech leaders seem eager to take on this challenge. Nearly eight out of 10 said they aspire to be sustainability leaders. When asked about their priorities for the coming year, tech leaders chose “leading the sustainable transformation of the IT function” more often than any other option. One out of five said sustainable transformation was their number one goal, even more important than cybersecurity and improving staff skills. 

That doesn’t mean this will be an easy challenge, however.

The report highlighted three areas where CTOs need support:

  1. Knowledge: Nearly three-quarters of respondents said IT has a huge knowledge gap around how to become more environmentally friendly using effective sustainability strategies. Organizations should look for opportunities to provide training in this area, and they should partner with companies like Intel and Dell that are researching ways to become more sustainable
  2. Investment: To achieve their sustainability targets, 81% of the leaders surveyed said their organizations will need to make significant financial investments. Corporate boards will need to approve the spending, and governments can also help by implementing tax incentives.
  3. Innovation: These sustainability goals will require significant innovation. But right now, only 5% of CTOs say that innovation is their top priority. Allocating the necessary time and resources when IT teams are already stretched thin could be one of the most difficult challenges of all.

CTOs and other tech leaders wear a lot of hats, which can make it difficult to take on sustainability projects. However, their expertise in technology and their enthusiasm for innovation make IT leaders ideally suited for driving sustainability efforts.

Dell Technologies and Intel are working with many CTOs on ways to advance tech-positive practices. Along with AI and IoT, technologies like grid modernization (see below), sustainable PC design, greater power efficiency, and advanced data center cooling can help companies become greener. Choosing partners like these can help CTOs speed up their sustainability efforts and give their organizations the boost they need to do their part for the environment. 

Intel and Dell Technologies are founding members of the vPAC Alliance, a formal coalition of utilities and industry partners coming together to transform our electrical grids. The Alliance is driving a standards-based, open, interoperable, and secure software-defined infrastructure to host protection, automation, and control solutions for power system substations.

Dell Technologies and Intel realize the importance of co-innovation and the role it plays in driving the speed and scale industries need and are committed to continue to explore, re-think and collaborate.

Read the research report.