Climate change awareness is on the rise and rightfully so. The past nine years were the warmest on record, causing increased climate-related risk beyond extreme heat like flooding, wildfires and drought. Despite expert and United Nations warnings that the window to limit temperature rises to 1.5oC has almost closed, the energy industry is currently producing more greenhouse gases than ever before. Combine that with the shortage of traditional energy supplies and the spike in prices that we’ve seen over the last two years, and it becomes clear why organisations are seeking options like renewable energy sources and ways to mitigate their contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.
Through new, innovative technology and sustainability initiatives, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) teams are increasingly leading the way for many organisations and taking positive steps to reduce the production of greenhouse gases. Their efforts are showing the significant difference environmentally-conscious decisions, such as using more energy-efficient datacentres, can make.
Here we look at the different ways the ICT sector is improving sustainability and reducing the carbon footprint of organisations globally.
What Are The CO2 Emissions of The ICT Sector?
The ICT sector in the EU directly generates up to 4% of CO2 emissions annually, roughly the same as the aviation industry. These emissions primarily come from the consumption of electricity, with data centres and data networks often powered by non-renewable sources of energy, such as natural gas and coal. Such is the demand for data centres that the ICT sector currently consumes up to 10% of global electricity. If it were a country, only the USA and China would consume more.
Clearly, the way we power data centres needs to change, particularly given the rate at which innovative technologies, such as digital transformation and artificial intelligence (AI), are developing. As the demand for computing power increases, efficiencies and advances in technology could play a key role in helping to alleviate ICT’s and other industries’ carbon footprints.
What Challenges Does ICT Face in Reducing CO2?
ICT has provided an increasingly broad range of efficiencies and improved productivity on a global and economic scale. Innovation continues to drive additional efficiencies as technologies advance. However, there are plenty of obstacles standing in the way of tech teams, including the desire for accelerated innovation across big data analytics, cloud computing, AI, 5G technology, and the Internet of Things (IoT).
This tsunami of applications and data will increase our reliance on datacentres. Between 2015 and 2022,, the amount of data centre workloads has increased 340%. Despite the large increase in workloads, the push by IGT teams toward more efficient datacentres and better technologies have limited the increase in datacentre energy use to 20%-70%, . These efficiencies show the potential role that ICT can have in continuing to mitigate environmental impact.
What Sustainability Initiatives Are ICT Teams Implementing?
Sustainability initiatives need to come from the top down, with change often beginning in the C-suite or at the board level. Some companies may have a chief sustainability officer to lead their corporate initiatives, but the chief information officer (CIO) should also play a prominent role due to the high energy consumption and proliferation of e-waste in ICT.
Here are some of the sustainability initiatives that forward-thinking ICT teams are implementing now.
Renewable Energy Sources
Despite the record rise in sustainable energy production, many on-premises data centres are still powered by electricity generated from fossil fuels. Switching to renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and hydrogen power, can play a significant part in mitigating these emissions.
Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) can be another reliable way of decarbonising your energy consumption. PPAs are long-term renewable energy contracts that can provide access to greener energy at a predefined, stable rate over a typical term of between five and 20 years. They’re becoming increasingly popular with big companies and SMEs.
Mixing In Cloud-Based Data Centres
Combining on-premises data centres with cloud computing also can be an effective way to reduce energy consumption and save money. Older or less efficient data centres could offload some workloads to service provider or public clouds to take advantage of their scale and efficiency. It may not make sense to migrate all workloads to the cloud due to the cost constraints, compliance needs, and migration effort, but strategically streamlining your operation through the use of the public clouds has the potential to improve your power usage effectiveness. Most large-scale data centres [used/owned] by public cloud providers, are also powered, to at least some degree, by renewable energy sources so you can gain efficiencies in multiple areas.
Cloud automation can take efficiency gains one step further by helping to eliminate the tedious and time-consuming processes of manually operating parts of the cloud. That can give your IT teams more time to focus on high-value projects and other green initiatives.
Pushing For Digital Sustainability
Digital sustainability can have a big impact on an organisation’s overall environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals. Digital sustainability harnesses the tools of digital transformation, such as AI and the Internet of Things, to create more sustainable business operations that reduce the impact on the environment.
As a starting point, CIOs and other senior ICT executives should define and work to meet ESG goals related to the sustainability of ICT infrastructure and services. However, ICT professionals can also work with other business units to promote joint initiatives on important issues. For example, it might be possible to use digital technologies to resolve wider sustainability challenges, such as packaging waste.
Increasing Education Around Lower Carbon Technology
To fully capture this opportunity, organisations are spending more time and money on understanding and educating their teams and clients on the implications and benefits of sustainable practices across ICT. That includes everything from sustainable data centres and cloud computing to eco-friendly personal device management, efficient data consumption, and the recycling of computer equipment.
The Climate Risks Already Affecting Data Centres
While some people tend to think of climate change as a future threat, it’s already impacting many organisations and their ICT. Data centres typically must be kept at a temperature range of between 18 and 27oC, which is why so much energy is required to heat and cool them, depending on the season. Since they have been designed on traditional weather models, the impact of climate change will only increase the energy demands to maintain them.
In July 2022, as London boiled in 40oC heat, a major hyperscaler’s data centre overheated, leading to a significant ‘cooling-related’ outage. There have also been issues with extreme cold, as shown by the impact that storms had on data-centres in Texas in 2021. .
The cost of climate-related outages can be huge, both in monetary and human terms. The Uptime Institute determined that over 60% of all outages cost $100,000 or more. The incident in Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital in London in January 2023 shows the enormous impact outages can have on staff, patients and families.
With these threats in mind, organisations must think about the risks their legacy data centres face due to climate-related events, and the disaster recovery (DR) and backup plans they have in place if the worst should happen.
JM Finn: How A Data Centre Migration Successfully Reduced Their Carbon Footprint
JM Finn, a leading UK investment management company, wanted to embrace cloud computing as part of its digital transformation plans to make the organisation more agile, sustainable, cost-effective and easier to manage.
Following an extensive needs analysis, JM Finn and Nutanix working together, came up with a design that enabled JM Finn to slim down its data centre infrastructure dramatically. This has long-term implications for both power and cooling requirements as well as the company’s long-term carbon footprint.
“Over just two weekends we relocated both our primary and secondary data centres, but that’s not all. By migrating all of our legacy servers and applications to the Nutanix Cloud Platform, we were able to reduce the overall rack footprint by 75% and realise tangible benefits in terms of operational costs and environmental impact.”
– Jon Cosson, Head of IT and CISO at JM Finn
The ICT Sector Has a Crucial Role to Play
All business functions have a responsibility to help organisations meet their greenhouse gas emission goals. However, given the large and accelerating amounts of energy the tech industry consumes, ICT teams and leaders have the potential to make a significant impact by adopting sustainable technology.
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