Sustainability in IT

Sustainability in IT is integrally connected with environmental aspects of business practices. It’s a subject that is talked about a lot in a production context, while IT in general has always seemed to be relatively green in comparison with other industries. There’s no digging, no building massive factories, and no drastic changes to the landscape caused by IT processes. The point was, especially in the 2019 pandemic, that going remote was an eco-friendly decision in itself because it limited time spent in commute and therefore translated into less fuel being used. And that was it – the big benefit that made IT operations look sustainable. 

What is more, sustainability is a nice buzzword that comes with every business initiative ever made. The meaning of sustainability changes from industry to industry, so if we make people interested in the negative impacts of factory farming, fossil fuels overuse, or recycling programs going wrong, Green Computing doesn’t sound that intriguing. If something is already portrayed as ecological going deeper into the subject looks radical or complicates the whole concept to the point of making people feel guilty about not being sustainable enough when they already make a big difference.   

There are some almost philosophical questions, like, can we ever become truly sustainable or it’s more of a continuous improvement kind of thing? Or: what level of sustainability is actually possible to an average person and which aspects are correlated with having some specific privileges, like access to knowledge or particular (and usually costly) solutions? Or: who and how should keep companies accountable for their engagement?

Let’s talk green IT in real life. 

The first thing that has to be understood is that IT relies on a constant energy supply. It varies from company to company, depending mostly on the infrastructure, yet IT companies have to charge their computers almost constantly and in many cases, they have to keep their devices at their maximum capacity, or someone somewhere will complain that their stuff is not working fast enough. It’s safe to assume that the majority of equipment used in IT processes generates heat which, once again, requires more energy, this time to cool it down. 

It’s a neverending story when you think about it. The new equipment will generally work faster and not overheat as quickly, but then there is the energy needed to produce that piece of machinery and then transport it, pack, store it, and so on. While recycling is obviously a thing, having obsolete hardware is annoying at best and a deal breaker for our customers at worst. Which still doesn’t change the fact, that 81% of all of the energy used by a computer is used at the production stage.

What can be done however is using the already-owned devices as long as it’s practical, taking good care of them, and automating some of the components to turn off automatically if they’re not being used at that moment. Another solution is considering moving to the cloud and therefore reducing the cost of having a server that requires power and maintenance processes to be done. 

Some of the good practices actually sound like common sense. Have you ever heard that when organizing your kitchen you should avoid placing your fridge next to the oven? The reason behind it is that the fridge will be forced to use more energy to cool the products down if she has to compensate for the heat generated by the oven. The same goes for data centres – if you have one and you have enough space to create aisles, just separate the machinery based on what temperature is the best for them. 

Another no-brainer is to recycle materials, so re-purpose or donate your old laptops and make sure that some of the components like lead or mercury don’t go straight to the landfill. Circular Computing estimated that 160 000 laptops are thrown away in the EU on a daily basis while approx. 70% of them could be reused. Some of the e-trash is shipped to developing countries where people are exposed to toxins and other substances that might lead to death and environmental damage.

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Going solar is another idea, that has been implemented by Apple for instance, yet it’s an expensive investment, not necessarily practical for most companies, particularly, if their workers tend to work remotely, so they use their own energy at home. But the real issue here is that while going green doesn’t have to be crazy expensive, it’s almost never the cheapest option. As a business owner, you should be aware, that you might be seen as sustainable, responsible, and generally attractive among potential talents and clients oriented on ESG or CSR, but as long as you don’t find other ways to cut your costs, those values will come with a price.

The last question remains – is green growth even possible? 

In the beginning, I stated that sustainability is a buzzword, which is true, but it’s also a trend. The thing that has to be understood about trends is that companies can try to create them, but the last word belongs to customers and customers like to feel responsible and ethical. Some of the influencers might even find the time to check how different companies define their sustainability, so if you think that you can get away with greenwashing – think again. Whatever changes, ideas, and goals you are implementing, they’re probably worth showing off. Therefore you can present yourself as a company that grows and cares about sustainability simultaneously. Many good things can come from that and you will get some feedback. And who knows – maybe it will become your thing

Author: Andrzej Wodnicki, Managing Director at ITSG Global 

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