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CIO's green IT guide: Fusing technology and sustainability

Fusing sustainability objectives with IT development is complex. It requires strategy, cooperation and vision. Learn to successfully integrate green IT into operations here.

Sustainability presents immense opportunities for businesses today, but it also brings significant challenges. These challenges are on par with or even exceeding those around digital transformation. Regulators and consumers are increasingly scrutinizing the impact of corporate financial decisions. To stay competitive and avoid losses, businesses need to integrate sustainability into operations.

Balancing sustainability goals with corporate IT's environmental footprint is fundamental. IT leaders understand future technical challenges and have authority over how IT is used. This puts them in a unique position to lead the way in corporate sustainability.

This article provides a roadmap for integrating sustainability into IT operations.

The business case for sustainability

Sustainable business practices are imperative to remain competitive and attractive to stakeholders. Adopting sustainable practices can also boost the bottom line.

Other key benefits of prioritizing environmental initiatives include the following:

  • Strengthened brand image and customer loyalty. Consumers are looking for sustainable goods and services. PwC's 2024 Voice of the Consumer Survey suggests consumers are willing to spend 9.7% more for sustainably produced or sourced goods. As such, a sustainability policy can boost brand reputation.
  • Compliance and risk mitigation. Staying aligned with government regulations and reporting requirements mitigates the risk of noncompliance.
  • Cost reduction. Sustainable practices like e-waste management can reduce equipment costs by 9%-16%, according to the World Economic Forum's Industry Report, Beyond Supply Chains: Empowering Responsible Value Chains. Additionally, investors are more sustainability-focused than ever. As such, organizations lacking carbon reduction plans risk major financial losses.

The first step to a comprehensive IT sustainability strategy is to measure the department's current environmental impact. This makes it easier to understand where there are areas for improvement.

Set a baseline: Measuring environmental impact

The initial step is conducting a green IT audit to measure the current environmental impact of IT operations. Many approaches exist, but the main goal is always the same -- to use data and research to establish a benchmark for IT's sustainability position.

Environmental, social and governance (ESG)reports can be helpful tools to understand the organization's current situation. Leaders can identify areas to assess using official frameworks and standards as guides -- like the GHG Protocol, the GRI standards, ISO 14001 or the EPA's Energy Star program. Key criteria include energy consumption, carbon emissions, e-waste and resource allocation through IT operations.

Compliance and integrity officer and consultant Szilvia Andriasik suggests businesses should "download that specific set of reporting standards and ... prepare your own checklist" of environmental risks that are relevant to the organization.

The next step is to bring together key stakeholders to design a long-term strategy.

Stakeholder alignment

Bringing together key internal and external stakeholders is critical. For the initiative to work, all stakeholder interests need to be incorporated. The team of stakeholders should work together to come up with a 5-year to 10-year action plan, with clear policies and actionable tech objectives. The plan should be open for continuous improvement and realignment to ensure it stays relevant.

Educating all key stakeholders is key. Selma Ben Rajeb, senior manager of technology strategy and advisory at Accenture, argues that without educating employees properly, IT sustainability initiatives won't succeed. She suggests that businesses should "get the best  … sustainable technology … [teach teams] some best practices, [and] … implement initiatives that can make their life easier while doing their job in a sustainable way." This approach enhances environmental impact while driving wider business success.

Once sustainability goals are aligned with stakeholders, IT leaders can focus on implementing specific initiatives that reduce environmental footprint. Three critical areas for prioritizing sustainable IT practices are procurement, e-waste management and cloud architecture strategies.

Sustainable procurement, cloud migration and e-waste

  • Procurement. IT leaders should prioritize vendors adhering to environmental standards supporting their sustainability objectives. Potential vendors' environmental policies, carbon footprint and sustainability certifications/commitments must be thoroughly evaluated before procurement decisions.
  • E-waste. Less than 20% of all e-waste is formally recycled, according to the UN Environment Programme Report "The growing footprint of digitization." A comprehensive e-waste strategy with certified recyclers and take-back programs is needed for secure, environmentally responsible disposal or refurbishment of obsolete IT assets.
  • Cloud migration. The potential for sustainability in the cloud is immense. Yet unlocking its green benefits requires a conscious strategy. Identify carbon-conscious providers by looking at power usage effectiveness, renewable energy use and transparent environmental reporting practices. Resource usage can be optimized further to reduce the cloud footprint. Consider right-sizing instances, eliminating idle resources and enhancing network operations efficiency.

When it comes to sustainable IT procurement, Vincent Amanyi, founder of Boleaum Inc., argues that it's "not just getting to the end of the solution that is the solution." Instead, he argues that businesses should "make sure every embedded piece across the interface of a solution [has a] defined and a proportionate consideration of ... the environment."

Sustainable procurement, cloud and e-waste practices are not quick fixes. Their implementation is an ongoing journey, not a one-time effort. Long-term environmental responsibility and business resilience require a culture of continuous improvement.

Continuous improvement and realignment

Establishing sustainability is an ongoing process, not a once-and-done initiative. It involves continuous monitoring of performance, iteration and consistent stakeholder communication. Appoint representatives to evaluate emerging best practices and understand new technologies to allow for further reduction of your IT's environmental footprint over time.

Are you looking for more insights on how to go about designing an IT sustainability initiative that works in the long term? Check out TechTarget's 2024 Achieving Sustainability Goals for numerous presentations and talks providing in-depth guidance to help you through your sustainability journey, from laying a solid foundation for IT sustainability to leveraging business intelligence to achieve ESG initiatives and greening your cloud infrastructure.

Key presentations from the event include the following:

Viewers can continue tuning into the BrightTALK platform for more compelling summits covering data security, enterprise applications, AI strategy and many other subject matter areas to improve your IT environment.

Ana Salom-Boira is an editorial manager within TechTarget's Editorial Summits team. She also produces and hosts the podcast series Tech Beyond the Hype, which explores how emerging technologies and the latest business trends are shaping the future of work.

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