Growing Green IT Initiatives: How to Make Operations and Infrastructure More Sustainable

Dig deeper into IT’s environmental impact and explore these 6 ways organizations can cut waste and create greener digital workplaces

Corporate sustainability has gone from a niche initiative to a mainstream business practice in recent years. And it’s not just a PR tactic — an estimated 73% of modern, global consumers prefer to shop from sustainable brands, and 90% of investors claimed in a recent survey that they plan to place greater importance on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors when choosing investments.

There’s also the European Union’s new Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which was provisionally agreed upon by the Council and European Parliament on June 2022, that will impact global organizations of all types. The directive requires publicly traded companies to disclose their sustainability reporting data and is designed to increase transparency, reliability, and comparability of corporate sustainability initiatives.

In this kind of climate, many organizations have committed to reducing waste and energy consumption throughout their operations. But one area that’s commonly overlooked also happens to provide the greatest opportunities to go green.

IT operations and infrastructure require extensive energy and produce high levels of e-waste — but they don’t have to. Enterprises can lessen the environmental impact of their IT estates by adopting greener practices.

But what exactly is green IT, why is it important, and how can organizations get started? Here’s a quick beginner’s guide.

What Is Green IT?

Green IT operations, also known as green computing, is an IT approach that prioritizes energy efficiency, e-waste management, digitization, streamlined support, and other practices to create more environmentally sustainable IT infrastructures and operations.

In other words, green IT focuses on cutting out waste across the IT estate using supportable strategies and initiatives. Some examples might include setting goals to minimize printer paper use; decrease e-waste by extending the life of devices beyond typical refresh cycles; or reduce data center energy consumption by migrating resources and infrastructure to the cloud.

Why IT Needs to be Part of Corporate Sustainability

A 2021 report from the Association for Computing Machinery and communication technology industry is responsible for 1.8 to 3.9% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and 3% of the total global energy supply is consumed by data centers alone each year. These small but significant numbers are also bound to grow if left unchecked — the amount of the global energy supply used by data centers, for example, doubled in 10 years, according to the report.

The IT industry’s substantial greenhouse gas emissions are reason enough to seek opportunities to be more sustainable. They’re not the only reasons, though. Another concern is electronic waste, which is projected to grow to nearly 75 million metric tons globally by 2030, according to a 2020 United Nations Global E-Waste Monitor report.

Not only does this e-waste sit in landfills, leaching harmful chemicals into the ground, but it also buries a potential profit source. An estimated $62.5 billion-worth of recyclable materials are lost annually to discarded electronics, according to a 2019 World Economic Forum report.

Compounding e-waste is driven by fast product lifecycles and manufacturers who push consumers to replace instead of repair aging electronics. IT often contributes to the problem by replacing end-user devices before their lifespans are up and failing to properly recycle them, but more proactive endpoint management can reduce the amount of e-waste organizations produce.

6 Ways to Make IT Greener

So how, exactly, can an IT organizations become greener? The answer lies in data.

Insights from digital experience management platforms and other data-driven solutions provide IT with a clearer picture of the overall health of digital environments. By gathering data directly from endpoints and analyzing user and device usage, organizations can spot opportunities to improve end-user experience as well as eliminate energy and electronic waste.

Here are a few ways data can help IT reduce its environmental impact:

1. Need-based procurement and right-sizing resources

Although many IT departments typically refresh hardware on a three- to five-year schedule, it might not be necessary — especially if devices and other equipment are still performing well. Not only does it produce unnecessary e-waste, but it drives up IT costs, too.

Instead, need-based procurement and right-sizing provide end users with exactly what they need, when they need it. Analyzing users’ digital behaviors, device requirements, and work styles takes a lot of the guesswork out of provisioning, allowing IT to make smarter, more cost-effective decisions about IT resources.

Continually monitoring endpoint performance, too, can help IT pinpoint when hardware is starting to fail and needs to be replaced (and recycled!). This level of insight can also lessen the impact on user productivity and the business.

2. Monitoring energy consumption and supply waste

How much energy is consumed when work devices are left on? And how much printer paper is being used across the organization?

The first step in minimizing these kinds of waste is gaining better IT visibility across digital environments. By monitoring relevant green IT metrics in a single-pane-of-glass view, IT teams can understand the impact of devices and work behaviors on organizations’ carbon footprint as well as identify and measure improvements.

3. Adopt a cloud-first approach

Cloud technologies — including virtual desktop infrastructures, apps, and public cloud storage — can help organizations reduce their energy use and IT infrastructure while also becoming more agile and modernized.

Although cloud providers create their own emissions, the efficiency of consolidating processes in the cloud still reduces waste. Several prominent cloud providers have also made bold commitments to reducing emissions. As a result, IDC estimates that continued cloud adoption could remove 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere between 2021 and 2024.

4. Optimize existing IT assets

A central pillar of sustainability is reuse. And in IT, that can mean searching for ways to extend the life of hardware for as long as possible.

A commitment to optimize and repurpose hardware instead of needlessly replacing equipment on timed refresh cycles is a good place to start. Monitoring endpoints can help businesses understand how hardware performs over time; which devices work best for different personas and user groups; and when equipment needs to be serviced or repurposed. This allows organization to utilized hardware to its full lifespan or even beyond.

5. Improve IT service delivery

Travelling for service calls and shipping devices for troubleshooting can have a significant impact on the environment, not to mention a costly impact for businesses. Failure to fully understand user needs and the root causes of device issues, too, can prompt unnecessary hardware replacement.

This can all be avoided by providing service desks with expanded IT visibility and advanced root cause analysis tools to remotely identify and resolve incidents quickly, and even preventatively. Investing in these capabilities saves money in the long run while also giving organizations the added bonus of reducing waste.

6. Productive digital workplaces

Remote and hybrid work are excellent ways to drive sustainability by helping employees commute less, which in turn reduces gas emissions. This kind of arrangement, however, is only viable with optimized digital workplaces that make working at home and in the office equally productive and sustainable.

Prioritizing digital employee experience (DEX) gives IT a clearer path to this kind of sustainability. With expanded IT visibility and strategies that put end users first, IT can build digital environments that run more efficiently and seamlessly, as well as proactively address issues that could negatively impact employee productivity.

How Does Green IT Benefit Businesses?

Green IT isn’t just a nice-to-have initiative. Companies that invest in more sustainable operations and infrastructure often see business benefits from it, too, making it one of the many ways IT can drive value for the organization.

Probably the most valuable outcome is a major reduction in operational costs. IT departments that prioritize energy efficiency can achieve significant savings for enterprises over time. Taking action to reduce e-waste can also mean an organization doesn’t need to refresh equipment as often.

Green IT also involves using cloud apps, virtual desktops, and other digital tools to reduce a data center’s environmental footprint. In addition to lowering the costs of data center equipment and energy usage, cloud computing has a number of business benefits, from greater agility to a lower strain on IT staff.

And, ultimately, what’s good for the can be good for digital employee experiences, too. Right-sized devices, cloud-based resources, efficient IT support, and optimized digital environments all go a long way toward making work easier and more productive for employees. And knowing their organizations are making efforts to be more environmentally responsible — through green IT practices and other means — can be important for improving employee satisfaction and retention as well.

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