Sustainable Digital: It is time for ICT to embrace environmental practices!

by Florent Brodziak - Aeroline Sustainable IT Leader - Sopra Steria France
by Håkon Eriksen Drange - Principal Cloud Architect
| minute read

Climate change is popping into any conversation and companies’ development plans as the impacts of its change become more evident. Since 2016, all sectors of the global economy must then keep their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

If sustainability falls under Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives, Digital and IT organisations can actively contribute to the GHG emissions reduction tracked through the Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. Digital and IT is indeed a massive consumer of abiotic resources and represented 4% of Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHG) and 2,5% of global energy. By 2030, this last is even expected to reach 8 to 10%*. Despite these trends, the Digital and IT industry has the opportunity to act both as a digital enabler and an energy and carbon emission saver, in other words as a Sustainable Digital Enabler

What are the challenges?

Digital platform and infrastructure are subject to an expanding set of regulations, directives, and standards. Among other, companies operating in Europe must now care of the European Union's Green Deal strategic plan inviting that all data centres built starting in 2025 have a PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) no higher than 1.3, when running at full capacity. This Green Deal also calls for data centres built before 2025 are required to meet the same PUE targets by 2030.

According to the Uptime institute 11th Global Data Center Survey, the average Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratio for a data centre in 2021 is 1.57, with an overall trend of PUE stagnation over the past five years. Modern data centres’ PUE built by hyperscalers or colocation providers tends to 1.0.

Most of companies who relies on old data centres will have to rethink their data centres and IT strategy in the context of their Digital Transformation Plan. Countdown is activated!

How to become a Sustainable Digital Enabler?

In this current energy crisis and upon this massive green transformation, it is time to act now. IT-as-a-service models are then an excellent asset for companies wanting to avoid massive CAPEX investments. These models including or mixing private, hybrid and public Cloud transfer the management of energy sources and asset lifecycle to third-party suppliers, even if enterprises keep responsible for their footprint (GHG Protocol - Scope 3).

In regards with the strong requirements and regulations, it is now essential to rely on the industry practices of cloud service providers and colocation and hosting players who have adopted real commitments to sustainability: automation, operational efficiency, and renewable energy supply.

Most of the major public cloud providers and colocation providers offering hosting services have made substantial commitments to environmental sustainability. They have combined methods in the pursuit of green cloud computing initiatives, including modern architecture, sustainable energy sourcing, and carbon offsets.

Companies and organisations from all vertical sectors can then orchestrate and assembly opportunely these market offerings, while continuously reassess their mission-critical digital platforms.

What principles adopt?

Now, if sustainability activities are rewarded by customers, employees, and investors, how to start? How can ICT contribute?

  1. Establish your objectives and get C-Level sponsor
    Digital and IT organisations, as a Sustainable Digital Enabler, can first determine a reduction plan of the overall energy consumption of data centres, network, workloads, and devices, by selecting lower impact materials and improving efficiency. The second objective can be devoted to energy supply, with the selection of renewably generated energy. During the transition phase, offsets could complete this approach for compensating impacts. Due to the magnitude of these systemic changes, and the cultural shift they involve, the sponsorship of the plan by a member of the Executive Board is essential.
  2. You can’t improve what you don’t measure
    Secondly, gain visibility with the most consistent view of your enterprise’s energy usage, carbon consumption and abiotic resources. This first perspective should span over your asset’s entire lifecycle, from creation, assembly to implementation, and deployment. While software can help you to gather this massive amount of information generated, don’t underestimate the collaboration with your suppliers and the time-consuming activities involved in gathering information and data.
  3. Reuse, resale, and recycling efforts is your new business as usual
    Embracing sustainable practices isn’t a separate practice. IT sustainability must be native. The selection of data centre, digital and Cloud suppliers must include this paradigm alongside the conventional key performance indicators (KPIs). Business and engineering teams must natively embed sustainability goals beside the usual performance, availability, or cost reduction pillars.

Keep improving and raise the bar

In a context of rapid growth, regulatory proliferation and uncertainty, the deployment of measurement tools and continuous optimisation are a must-have. Finally, don't forget to regularly challenge your requirements, and to ask your Cloud partners again and again about measurement transparency!


*: The Shift Project



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