The success (or otherwise) of reducing emissions lies at scale 

Gerard Lavin

As we stand on the brink of a climate emergency, we have all become hyper-aware of how our actions are impacting the planet. However, for real change to occur, it is not enough to think at an individual level. The success (or otherwise) of reducing emissions lies at scale, including with businesses.

With a spotlight on sustainability, organisations are under increased scrutiny when it comes to their ESG strategies. Alongside reducing waste and making energy-efficient upgrades, one area that is often overlooked is the significance of IT and digital infrastructure.

This so-called ‘digital pollution’ makes up an extensive part of organisations’ emissions and is a huge barrier to them meeting their environmental goals. How then, can businesses start to reduce their digital pollution and make more sustainable technology choices? 

Remote work side effects

According to estimates from the Shift Project, the carbon footprint of devices, the internet, and the systems supporting them is currently responsible for approximately 3.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is similar to the amount produced by the airline industry globally and is predicted to double by 2025.

The pandemic – and subsequent mass shift to remote work – naturally reduced most businesses carbon footprints, primarily through reduced commuting and lower energy usage in offices. In fact, a recent Regus study found that by reducing commuting hours and consolidating real estate through sustainable IT practices, remote work could help reduce annual CO2 emissions by 214 million tonnes.

However, remote work on such a large scale has bought with it unwanted side effects for the planet. A single internet request represents 7g of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) and sending or receiving an email emits 4g of CO2e. With more organisations rolling out hybrid working models, we must ensure sustainability remains front of mind. 

Making better choices

The good news is that 42% of UK IT leaders are already tracking the environmental impact of their employees working remotely, with a further 39% planning to do so. With IT leaders responsible for which applications, solutions, and devices the company deploys, they are in a prime position to make the most environmentally friendly choices. 

Unsurprisingly, however, this isn’t always top of the priority list when it comes to investing in technologies. Price (56%) – along with functionality and performance (52%) – were the biggest factors IT leaders think about, with just 19% considering whether it will support their existing environmental goals. 

Achieving a sustainable IT practice means choosing technologies that help minimise an organisation’s carbon footprint, while still selecting those that contribute towards productivity and growth. Not all technologies are created equal, so it’s up to businesses – and their IT teams – to find the right balance. 

Doing our part

The To limit global warming, we need to reduce emissions by 7.6% every year. However, with most organisations now practising hybrid working models, we could easily see business’ emissions spikes. Only by applying sustainability principles across the entire business long-term that we can expect to make a difference.

Luckily, we’re moving in the right direction. Our recent survey of 500 IT leaders across UK businesses with 250 or more employees revealed that almost two-thirds (62%) believe their organisations are advanced on their ESG journeys. Of these, more than a quarter (27%) are also helping their clients become more sustainable.

As well as doing their bit to reduce emissions and slow the rate of global warming, there is growing evidence that businesses performing on their ESG practices have greater employee productivity, lower volatility, cost reductions, reduced regulatory and legal interventions, and higher financial growth.

It is critical that organisations take stock of their current environmental impact; there is still so much to be done to reduce digital pollution and ensure green practices become the norm. IT teams have a vital role to play in aiding this, by making better choices not just for their department, but for the wider business. 

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