Conal Gallagher is the CIO at both Flexera and its division Revenera, where he manages IT and information security programs.
Sustainability is increasingly important—not just for our planet but for businesses and the customers they serve. Operating a business in an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible manner offers many benefits, including cost reduction through sustainable IT practices that help businesses reduce their energy consumption, waste and other costs; minimize environmental impact, which allows businesses to protect the planet and mitigate the effects of climate change; attract environmentally conscious customers; and achieve the environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals of all stakeholders—staff, board, customers and community.
In order for an organization’s sustainability initiatives to succeed, sustainability can’t be just a label or the initiative of a single department within the business. Sustainability must be woven throughout operations and a strategic priority for the organization. This means businesses must set specific sustainability goals and integrate sustainability into their culture and training.
IT plays a significant role in this mission.
Best Practices For Sustainable IT
“Sustainability” generally refers to a societal goal of supporting ecological balance and meeting current needs without negatively impacting or depleting natural resources. Here, the term “sustainability” is generally used in the context of an organization and its ecosystem. “Sustainable development” refers to the processes, initiatives and pathways used to achieve sustainability at the global level.
For IT specifically, several best practices have emerged to promote environmental, social and governance sustainability. Environmental sustainability in IT, the present article’s focus, is on reducing the environmental impact of IT operations. This includes things like having an environmentally-focused approach to the manufacture and disposal of technology assets; operating energy-efficient hardware and software; using virtualization to consolidate servers and reduce energy consumption; and turning to cloud computing to reduce reliance on physical servers.
Social sustainability in IT is about ensuring that technology is used to benefit society. This includes things like the inclusion of under-served communities. For example, this may take the form of providing access to technology and supporting the development of local communities. Finally, governance sustainability in IT is about adherence to laws and regulations. This includes things transparency in areas such as protecting the privacy and security of user data, along with the responsible and ethical development and use of artificial intelligence, also referred to as “ethical AI.”
Areas For Improving Environmental Sustainability Through Green IT
After auditing their current IT practices and establishing specific sustainability goals, businesses can implement sustainable practices, known as Green IT. These include multiple areas:
Hardware and software procurement: Consider hardware and software’s energy efficiency and environmental impact when purchasing.
Data management: Use data management practices to reduce the amount of stored and processed data.
Software development: Use software development practices that promote energy efficiency and reduce waste.
Hardware and software efficiency: Optimize hardware and software to improve energy efficiency and reduce waste.
Operation & disposal of IT assets/asset lifecycle: Implement practices to extend IT assets’ lifecycle and dispose of them sustainably.
Data center consolidation practices: Consolidate data centers to reduce energy consumption and waste.
Implementation/support of identity management that facilitates virtual meetings and remote work: Implement identity management systems and support remote work to reduce carbon emissions from transportation.
The Role Of Cloud Computing
Cloud computing can play a significant role in improving the environmental sustainability of IT. Cloud providers typically have large, efficient data centers that can help businesses reduce their energy consumption and waste. Moving away from many on-premises servers and into a few large cloud data centers helps reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
This happens in a few significant ways. Smart infrastructure helps reduce energy consumption, thanks to more efficient devices, servers and air conditioning. The higher operational efficiency of cloud data centers is also a result of consolidated usage and high utilization, making the public cloud about 2–4 times more efficient than oversized private data centers. Businesses relying on the public cloud are also able to scale their IT resources up or down as needed, reducing waste and energy consumption.
Additionally, cloud providers are continuously optimizing hardware for better performance that optimizes power consumption. Major cloud providers are moving ahead with significant sustainability initiatives, such as Microsoft’s plan for powering its cloud data centers with entirely renewable energy sources by 2025. Google is also working toward the goal of eliminating carbon dioxide (CO2) from its data centers.
How IT Asset Management Supports ESG Efforts
IT asset management (ITAM) can play a vital role in supporting ESG efforts by providing data and insights that can be used to optimize the energy and environmental impact of IT. For example, ITAM data can be used to track energy consumption, identify areas for improvement and monitor progress toward sustainability goals.
Multiple teams—central cloud teams, FinOps teams, security teams, ESG staff and enterprise architecture teams, among others—can leverage data from ITAM teams and tools. ITAM staff can help guide business-wide initiatives in multiple ways. These include implementing FinOps to reduce cloud energy consumption; implementing power management to power down cloud instances when not needed, saving energy and money; and re-evaluating existing ITAM activities through the lens of sustainability, such as by reducing consumption of new devices.
Above all, ensure that sustainability initiatives continue to be woven throughout the organization. This can involve tracking energy use and carbon emissions, conducting regular audits and using ITAM data to identify areas for improvement. Regularly monitor and review the effectiveness of IT sustainability practices to ensure that your organization is progressing toward its sustainability goals.
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