7 tech jobs IT pros can use to help the environment

Almost every job can be used to help save the planet, and that's true for IT roles as well. Learn how these seven business tech jobs can promote sustainability.

Sustainability work is a growing field.

These figures from the 2023 report "The Greening World of Work" from staffing company ManpowerGroup highlight that reality:

  • Green business transformation will be a top driver of new jobs in the upcoming five years.
  • About 70% of employers across the globe are currently recruiting -- or actively planning to recruit -- for green jobs and skills.
  • And 94% of employers report that they don't have the skilled workers they need to achieve their environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals.

Although many ESG-related roles, such as chief sustainability officer, are highly specialized, employers are looking for green skills across many functional areas -- including IT. In fact, ManpowerGroup found that 30% of the employers it surveyed were looking to hire candidates with green skills for roles within IT and data.

IT professionals will need to learn more about sustainability to help close that skills gap and contribute to sustainability goals.

Given technology's potential positive and negative effects -- such as generative AI's negative environmental impact -- technologists need to gain new skills and reframe their current positions.

Few IT positions will be focused exclusively on sustainability. However, analysts, researchers and others in the sustainability space and IT job market confirmed that a growing volume of IT work has components related to their organization's environmental objectives.

Here are seven IT roles that can support environmental sustainability.

1. Cloud architects

As more organizations turn to cloud computing as a means of boosting IT sustainability, cloud architects with knowledge of exactly how to make the cloud more sustainable are becoming more important.

"The cloud isn't magically sustainable, but there are things cloud providers and cloud architects can do to make it more sustainable," said Kristin Moyer, a distinguished VP, analyst in research firm Gartner's CEO and digital business leader practice. For instance, cloud architects can turn off compute instances within the enterprise cloud environment so that those instances are not drawing power when they're not in use.

2. IT infrastructure design positions

As with cloud architects, IT infrastructure design positions, including network engineers and system engineers, can use their talents to understand opportunities within the IT environment where design decisions and adjustments could yield a more environmentally friendly result.

"Architects, for example, will have to make choices with sustainability in mind," said James Stanger, chief technology evangelist with IT training and certification organization CompTIA. These choices, for example, might relate to storage requirements or shifting from always-on to always-available, a less energy-hungry option.

3. Digital employee experience engineers

To reach the more ambitious sustainability targets that some companies have set, all employees will have to make changes in how they operate, Moyer said. Some of those changes will include how they interact and work with technology. For example, users will have to learn how to calculate the energy requirements of running certain workloads and scheduling energy-intensive workloads for times when it makes the most environmental sense -- such as during daylight hours when solar power is in use versus at night.

Moyer said she envisions an IT role that will identify the most sustainable ways of using technology and that will work with users to make choices that align with the organization's ESG objectives. Indeed, some organizations are already developing apps and gamified lessons to help educate employees on sustainable tech use.

4. Software developers and engineers

Those who create software also have a part to play in helping the planet. Software engineers and developers can do their part by adopting sustainable software principles to create greener code that limits energy consumption and, thus, minimizes its environmental impact.

"Some coding has less of an environmental footprint than others," said Bridgette McAdoo, chief sustainability officer at software company Genesys.

For example, developers can create more sustainable software by choosing machine learning models that consume less power and reduce duplicated efforts.

5. Data workers

Those who focus on data can also help lower energy consumption, in turn, helping organizations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the choices they make.

For example, data engineers can optimize data movement, avoid unnecessary duplication, right-size data delivery so it's neither under or over the needed amount, and passive storage media when possible. Additionally, they -- like software engineers -- can design algorithms that are energy efficient.

Data workers can help create an efficient data ecosystem, but McAdoo said they can support enterprise sustainability efforts further by using their data and analytics skills to identify ways for the organization to change its operations and its products or services to be better for the environment.

As ESG reporting becomes more important, those focused on data have an important role to play.

Data teams should be providing snapshots into the organization's actual sustainability stance, said Drew Sheehan, senior managing director at FTI Consulting and leader of the firm's ESG offering. That information helps organizations understand where they truly stand in terms of their environmental efforts, and not just their aspirational objectives, so they can target areas for improvement in ways that can be truly impactful.

"Data analysis is critical to that," he said.

6. IT procurement positions

With their roles in buying and negotiating purchases, IT procurement managers and related staffers can help select products and services with low environmental impact -- whether that's because they use lower amounts of energy or they're made with a high percentage of recycled materials, Moyer said.

Additionally, in some organizations, the procurement team can help negotiate energy contracts, in which case they can pursue contracts that boost renewable energy production.

7. CIOs

IT leaders have strategic effects in many areas, including helping an organization lower its negative environmental impact.

The CIO can play a consequential role in helping an organization identify and achieve its sustainability goals, Moyer said. First, the CIO can help establish environmental strategies with the rest of the executive team while also setting IT's own sustainability roadmap, featuring goals such as reduced energy requirements and greener data center and cloud operations. Second, the CIO can create positions within IT, such as data analysts and software developers skilled in green development, that help design more sustainable IT operations and also work to support the organization's overall sustainability agenda.

Mary K. Pratt is an award-winning freelance journalist with a focus on covering enterprise IT and cybersecurity management and strategy.

Next Steps

Green computing best practices

Sustainability and ESG glossary: 52 terms to know

Why IT asset management should include sustainability

Dig Deeper on Sustainability and ESG strategy and leadership

Data Center
Mobile Computing