The digital imperative
The use of digital technology permeates most aspects of business and domestic life today. The number of active web users globally is over three billion, close to half the world’s population. Two million smartphones are sold around the world every day. Digital technologies have changed how we communicate and find entertainment through streaming services and digital books. Our life expectancies have increased due to sophisticated technologies such as medical alert systems. We now pay e-bills, transfer money through e-wallets, shop using e-commerce apps, commute using mobile apps, and order using apps.
The customer drives digital transformation. Therefore, for B2C businesses, increasing digital maturity to meet the needs of consumers is paramount because they can instantly vote with their cyber choices. The B2B landscape is also undergoing a massive transformation. Global spending on digital transformation will rise by around $6.8 trillion by 2023. More than 250 million new applications or services are set to enter the digital economy by 2024.
Sustainability is now a strategic priority for most businesses, as is the idea that business resilience is fundamentally interlinked with the planet’s future and its people. Enterprises are responding to pressure from multiple stakeholders because customers want to buy from sustainable businesses.
Investors are demanding greater transparency. Governments and regulators have developed corporate disclosure requirements for sustainability, including climate goals, to limit global warming to less than 1.5 degrees C.
No wonder enterprises are preparing for the opportunities and risks that low-carbon business entails and are focusing on achieving net-zero commitments by 2050 or earlier.
Digital technology can enable enterprises, cities, and nations to meet their sustainability goals faster. A recent survey found that 98% of respondents believe that the scale of use of digital resources, systems, and platforms to address sustainability will remain the same or increase in the next three years.
Applications enterprises can use to achieve their sustainability goals:
· Digitizing operations
· Innovative technologies like blockchain, cloud, AI, and advanced analytics
· Data sharing with partner ecosystems
Enterprises can use digital technology to speed up their progress toward carbon emission reductions and achieve net-zero targets.
In a recent study of APAC enterprises, about 87% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that digital sustainability is a central value of their organization and that it can deliver a competitive advantage.
However, estimates show that IT operations contribute 5%-9% of global electricity consumption, with demand estimated to increase to 20% by 2030. The IT sector’s global greenhouse gas emissions share is between 1.8% and 2.8%. It could go as high as 3.9% if the whole supply chain and lifecycles of IT and IT-related products are accounted for. IT has become a material issue for an enterprise’s carbon emissions. It needs active consideration in sustainability plans to reduce the company’s footprint.
Green IT Framework
Green IT is an umbrella term for ensuring environmentally and socially sound information technology systems, applications, and practices. It aims to minimize the negative impact of IT operations on the environment and society by designing, manufacturing, operating, and disposing of computers and computer-related products in an environmentally friendly manner.
The concept of green IT emerged in 1992, when the US Environmental Protection Agency launched Energy Star. This voluntary labelling program helps organizations save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by identifying products that offer superior energy efficiency.
The Green IT framework considers emissions from the direct impacts of digital technology, the enabling effects of applications, and digital workplace capabilities. Among many other emerging associated levers, the systemic impact of behavioral change associated with digital technology is also taken into account.
Areas of impact
Digital enablement: Digitalization for real-time monitoring using existing data sources or additional IoT sensors helps provide better insights. Operational excellence through digital technologies can catalyze emissions reductions across the three scopes (Scopes 1, 2, and 3) and reduce environmental impacts. Measuring, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) of emissions reductions across the value chain can be made more efficient through digital processes.
Green data centers: A life cycle approach — from procurement through operations to end-of-life — is required. Optimizing the two critical metrics of operations, namely power usage efficiency (PUE) and data center infrastructure efficiency (DCiE), defines the level of efficiency. Other impactful areas are:
Technology adoption and the practises followed significantly affect data centres’ operational efficiency. Virtualization and consolidation of server rooms, servers, network links, and other infrastructure provide opportunities to improve efficiency.
Green software: Tangible (coding efforts to go green and more) and intangible (user experience, security, performance, and more) opportunities exist to adopt a green approach to software development and management. Embedding energy efficiency measures in the software development lifecycle, such as efficient design, adaptive energy-wise applications, no-code-low-code options, containerization for infrastructure-agnostic deployment, and adopting location-independent agile methodologies with shorter meeting durations, reduces the carbon footprint of the SDLC process. Assessment using tools like code analyzers helps identify energy leaks and profile them.
Optimizing procurement: Procurement practises should actively consider end-user devices, networking components, and the carbon emissions associated with manufacturing these devices and components. E-waste recycling and the use of refurbished hardware made from recycled materials reduce carbon emissions and the environmental impact.
Green workplace: A workplace that is environmentally sensitive, resource-efficient, and socially responsible benefits an organization by reducing energy consumption and unused hardware, enhancing brand reputation, and increasing employee satisfaction.
Green workplaces encourage behaviors such as reducing and avoiding unnecessary video streaming and making more conscious choices about turning off plugged-in devices that are not in use. Going paperless by expanding the use of collaborative tools, using, and regularly purging unnecessary data on a green cloud service, deleting junk or unwanted mail, and dimming monitors, are some of the other measures.
Accessibility and inclusivity: Enterprises should take responsibility for creating accessible and inclusive digital technology through the ways they design, use, maintain digital assets, and measure effectiveness. A green IT strategy should consider developing technologies that are accessible to everyone, including those with different physical and cognitive abilities. Other steps include diversifying the workforce and ensuring the representation of digital minorities to create inclusive products intentionally.
From massive data centers committing to reduce energy consumption to individuals instilling behavioral changes to turning the power off the devices that are not in use, green IT is multi-faceted and involves multiple decisions at every level. Thus, sustainability must be ingrained in a company’s work culture.
Digital transformation can be a competitive advantage. However, the impact of digital on emissions and broader environmental and social areas needs active consideration in a company’s sustainability journey to minimize the negative impact. There are continuous evolving processes, and an enterprise needs to know the technological opportunities that have business benefits and enhance value. Digital technologies can enable a company’s decarbonization strategy and accelerate its net-zero ambitions.
Not surprisingly, a recent study shows that about 87% of respondents are looking for new strategic partners for digital sustainability and to collaborate for win-win outcomes.