Following last year’s COP27, all eyes are once again on the world’s leaders to forge a path towards net zero and deliver on temperature targets. However, as global energy-related CO2 emissions hit a new high last year, it’s clear that many organisations are hitting roadblocks to delivering on their commitments. The imperative is to find real solutions to the intensifying climate crisis – and technology promises to play a leading role in getting businesses on track to help meet their targets.
However, the reality is that technology is currently contributing to the issue at hand, both for brick-and-mortar businesses and digital organisations. The greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from producing, running and disposing of hardware are significant – and with new devices constantly being developed and upgraded, mitigating the environmental impact is a key challenge. Adding to this is rising energy consumption from running software as more devices and data centres are brought online. As we can see from this article, in 2021, it was estimated that data centres consume up to 3% of the world’s total electricity.
This situation calls for more efficient ways of assessing day-to-day emissions and understanding how energy is used across the enterprise. But to get there, measures need to be put in place to account for, report on and track GHG emissions, as well as drive innovative sustainability projects.
Companies can make great strides towards their goals by taking several pragmatic actions, including embracing the cloud. Moving away from on-premises setups can have a large impact, especially when choosing the right providers. For example, Amazon has committed to reaching 100% renewable energy usage by 2025, and Azure offers similar benefits as Microsoft has committed to achieving the same goal, as well as becoming carbon negative by 2030.
The environmental cost of hardware that’s decommissioned every three to four years to support corporate upgrade cycles can also be addressed. When 80% of a computer’s carbon footprint is in its production, it’s worth considering refurbishing or upgrading devices, with every upgraded laptop saving 150 kg of CO2 emissions and every desktop computer saving a staggering 250 kg. In the long term, product development teams can also help make leaps towards reducing waste by addressing the cause of the issue and creating software and applications that are compatible with all hardware and browsers.
Another powerful step is setting up initiatives to educate teams on software that minimises the amount of energy required. At Endava, we have a Green Software initiative and are working to incorporate Green Software principles into how we deliver services to our clients to help them with their own green agenda commitments.
Many emerging technologies are gaining traction to not only support sustainability initiatives but also fuel stronger workforce experiences and business performance. As we see the adoption of the metaverse, augmented reality and virtual reality increase, the need to travel for work is likely to reduce as these tools become more suitable for conducting client meetings, team brainstorms and even onboard new employees. Virtual remote solutions have the potential to become key tactics in wider strategies for meeting net zero targets, while also meeting rising demand for flexible working and countering implicit biases in the workplace.
Similarly, technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), digital twins and the Internet of Things (IoT) have proven benefits for supporting sustainability targets and decision-making in certain sectors. The automotive industry is already using AI and digital twins to test hypotheses about their production lines in the virtual world and assess the impact on energy consumption without incurring the cost of doing so in the real world.
IoT also has many applications for driving sustainability, while providing more satisfying workplace experiences with the tools to work smarter. It can detect inefficiencies through live reports and predictions, using these insights to better manage the energy consumption of buildings or provide insights on issues that can impact the fuel efficiency of delivery trucks in logistics. When IoT is coupled with AI, businesses gain the capability to make automatic adjustments, identify patterns and support better decision-making as they work towards creating a greener business. While many industries are yet to utilise these technologies in their sustainability strategies, the opportunities are ripe as they advance in digital maturity.
With hardware requirements already in place for 2024 as the EU introduces a new standard for USB-C charging to help reduce e-waste, the pressure to act on the climate crisis will only grow. It’s only a matter of time until sustainability requirements for software products will become a norm. Also, website carbon calculators and eco-friendly web design practices are already starting this shift. But while siloed efforts may edge companies towards net zero targets, getting there demands a comprehensive view of technology and careful consideration of how digitalisation can drive ongoing benefits for the environment and people.
Moving forward, achieving sustainable business practices will inevitably require greater upfront investment in technology. However, the benefits beyond meeting GHG emission targets can translate into significant ROI through direct cost savings as well as intangible impacts, such as an increased brand value driven by client and workforce satisfaction.
Once companies embed sustainability into all digitalisation projects, they can pave the way for greener, cleaner operations and thriving workforces.
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