Earth Day 2020: IT sustainability practices in UK businesses

The world’s first Earth Day began in 1970, 50 years ago. Since then, the initiative — which aims to build the world’s largest environmental movement to drive transformative change for people and planet — has mobilised one billion individuals by working with over 75,000 partners.

Earth Day 2020

Today, the Earth Day Network is the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement, working  in over 190 countries to drive positive action for our planet.

Earth Day recognises that it can’t achieve it’s mission alone; ‘Our world needs transformational change. It’s time for the world to hold sectors accountable for their role in our environmental crisis while also calling for bold, creative, and innovative solutions. This will require action at all levels, from business and investment to city and national government.’

The current the coronavirus crisis sweeping across the world has lead to a shift in priorities, and when we emerge from the current situation, there will be a renewed emphasis on reducing our carbon footprint and promoting sustainability for the environment.

The current lockdown impacting countries all across the globe has already had a transformational impact on the environment, in terms of improved air quality and a reduction of green house gas (GHG) emissions. It’s important this positive impact is not forgotten when normality resumes. The rise of virtual meetings in place of travel, for example, is a way organisations can reduce their footprint, without impacting productivity and efficiency, moving forward.

On this Earth Day, Information Age wanted to look at the current level of IT sustainability practices in UK businesses and how this can complement the environmental benefits delivered by the lockdown-enforced remote working period.

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IT sustainability practices in UK businesses

Citrix has provided some key statistics, based on research, around the current level of IT sustainability practices in UK businesses.

• There is division amongst large UK businesses in regards to the measurement of IT end user device electricity consumption, with 55% currently measuring the consumption of devices such as desktops, laptops, notebooks and tablets.

• A further 59% currently measure IT data centre electricity consumption.

• One third (37%) of companies currently measure greenhouse gas emissions created by employee computing. The majority of respondents working in the telecoms sector (70%) confirmed that this is currently measured by their organisation.

• Only 15% of those in utilities, 19% of those in healthcare, 40% of those in local government, and 43% of those in technology could say the same.

• 60% of large businesses have a specific corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sustainability strategy in place for IT, which include strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Environmental benefits of lockdown-enforced remote working

The widespread lack of commuting and general reduction of transport use across the country has resulted in major improvements in air quality and reduced pollution from cars on the road.

In a recent Citrix survey of 1000 UK employees currently working from home, over a fifth (24%) named the environmental benefits of reducing carbon dioxide emissions as one of the biggest advantage of the remote working period, while reduced stress by removing the commute (35%) or using commute time to get on with productive work (39%) were other factors named.

The data centre challenge

“The GHG pollution created by data centres is estimated as 23% of the current total 1.27bn mtCO2e global emissions created by ICT,” stated Justin Sutton-Parker, partner director for Northern Europe at Citrix.

“As energy is responsible for 35% of global GHG emissions, ensuring electricity is used efficiently and sustainably is essential to reduce the environmental impact of data centres. The current industry average for data centre Power Usage Effectiveness is 1.58, whilst cloud hyperscale service providers are delivering ratios as low as 1.1.”

To reduce the impact of data centres, Sutton-Parker suggests UK business implement strict efficiency measures such as; “removing unnecessary components from IT hardware, harnessing virtualisation capabilities to maximise utilisation, optimising power distribution, managing airflow, adjusting thermostatic operating parameters and leveraging natural cooling.”

The hyperscale providers that are implementing these IT sustainability practices are, in some cases, achieving up to seven times more computing per unit of energy than was historically feasible.

Review existing IT infrastructure for sustainability goals

Michelle Senecal de Fonseca, area vice president, Northern Europe at Citrix, explained that as corporate responsibility becomes a top priority for businesses across the world, organisations should review their existing IT infrastructure to lessen their carbon footprint and achieve their sustainability goals.

“Anthropogenic interference has already caused a 1°C rise in global temperature. With no time to lose, every business in every industry must think about how they can reduce carbon emissions, improve sustainability and embrace greener practices by default,” she said.

“With digital technologies having an unprecedented impact on the workplace, organisations should review their existing IT infrastructure and evaluate its efficiency. They will soon realise they can cut their impact on the environment by transitioning workloads from less efficient on-premises data centres and migrating to hyperscale hosted cloud services.”

She added: “Embracing a more flexible working culture — underpinned by the cloud — will likely have the most far-reaching consequences. The ability to work anywhere and from any device means lower commuting emissions and the freedom to work from devices that consume up to 90% less energy than a standard PC, such as a Google Chromebook or Apple laptop. By embracing this kind of approach UK businesses can reduce their carbon footprint, while benefiting from happier staff and improved productivity.”

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...