What’s the Problem With IT?
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE technology. I was the boy who built his first computer from scraps aged 14 and never looked back. IT keeps us connected and is pivotal in helping us build businesses we are proud of.
But this all comes at a massive cost to the planet that is getting harder to overlook. The planet is warming, and parts of the world are visibly suffering the outcomes of climate change. IT manufacturing is increasing at a rate that its component metals and minerals cannot match, while eWaste – the world’s fastest growing waste stream – is devastating communities.
Technology is also often seen as the hero in our need to reach net zero, and its capabilities are inspiring. But as well as providing solutions, there is absolutely no getting away from the fact that it is also massively contributing to the problem. Looking the other way is no longer an option for those of us who rely on IT to run our businesses. Nor should we want to.
What can I do to make my business sustainable in its use of IT?
Plenty. It’s never too early to #ActOnIT. In fact, if we all wait for the inevitable regulations to roll in before we act, it’ll be too late to mitigate the chaos we leave behind. We are already innovative and ambitious in our businesses. We need to channel this same energy into getting serious about sustainability.
Here are five straightforward IT solutions that will make your business more sustainable today:
In a world reliant on constant online communications, it’s tempting to underestimate our digital footprint. But when we consider that each piece of our data – every email, image, or file – has a physical counterpart to sustain it, whether that’s stored in our own network or in a data centre halfway around the world, the picture starts to change. What’s even more concerning is that over half of the data we store is *never* retrieved. That’s a lot of servers consuming a lot of energy for something that no one will ever look at.
Not having visibility of our data gives us a false sense of security about its impact. Imagine if each webpage stored on a server was a book taking up space on a shelf. Pretty soon, space is going to run out and we’re going to need a new bookcase. Now imagine the bookcase is a server in a data centre, and the data centre keeps expanding to manage all the businesses relying on it.
Whether it’s asking your team to schedule a regular digital spring clean or using a data cleansing service to do it for you, be thoughtful about what you need to keep stored, and what’s simply taking up space on a server, never to see the light of day. Think of it as the digital equivalent of going through boxes of old files and shredding anything no longer useful.
We have to change the way we relate to and use data. Out of sight, out of mind is a risky attitude when we consider the physicality of the world’s data centres and the enormous burden they put on the planet. We tend to romanticise Cloud computing; who doesn't want something that promises to ease the burden of space and security concerns from our organisations? Nevertheless, it’s our responsibility to measure the part we play in its impact.
We can no longer afford to run after quick wins without thinking them through. The Cloud is undeniably a valued, appropriate, and genius resource in many scenarios. But our need for off-site IT capabilities might relate to how linear and predictable our business needs are. Consider how necessary it is for your organisation to be dependent on The Cloud, or whether a hybrid approach to networking could put you in better control of your digital footprint.
By definition, anything we can’t keep doing forever is unsustainable. Yet so many of us are willing to wash our hands of our data, safe in the knowledge it’s ‘in The Cloud’ – which in reality looks like millions of data centres, consuming millions of gallons of water every day, often in areas that are susceptible to drought, and generating up to 3.5% of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. How comforting does the word ‘cloud’ sound now?
Technology is a rapidly evolving phenomenon that means IT life cycles in our businesses are drastically shorter than they have to be. Each new piece of networking equipment that gets made puts undue pressure on the earth to supply the critical raw materials needed for its component parts. These are finite resources whose extraction causes significant damage to ecosystems, and which are susceptible to geopolitical uncertainty as the scramble for resources continues.
At Circularity First we know IT equipment has more to offer the world than the typical 3-5 year take, make, replace cycle. We help businesses unpack the deeply held assumption we all have that brand new is best, and instead extend the life of IT based on the principles of the circular economy, often with commercial benefits and always with absolutely no compromise on performance.
Our circular IT solutions are deployed in some of the most critical and demanding environments on the planet. If Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) certified remanufactured equipment is trusted to perform on aircraft carriers, stock exchanges, and in critical care units, rest assured it will serve the needs of your business. And your customers, investors, and team will rest assured they are part of something sustainable.
Don’t scrap the assets you no longer need. Recycling should be the very last option for IT. Finding another use for technology beyond your needs means preventing the unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions that come from the manufacture, processing, and discarding of yet more equipment.
We saw some great examples of this in action during Covid, with companies donating old laptops to schools struggling to supply children with what they needed to learn from home. Perfectly serviceable technology that would otherwise have ended up as eWaste, went out to communities, maximising its utility for the good of people and the planet.
This practice can and should extend beyond the pandemic, with businesses acting as custodians of their assets, respecting the full lifespan of IT and ensuring it is always made into an opportunity for the next user. If you simply don’t know who needs your obsolete technology, an asset recovery service with green credentials will, and may also tell you how much carbon you’ve saved by passing your IT on – great for your Scope 3 reporting.
Running a business in a tough economic climate is challenge enough without wading through hundreds of stats on sustainability. There’s a lot of information out there, which ironically is part of the problem. On an internet saturated with carbon-hungry data, consider your sources wisely.
It’s easy to feel defeated by the scale of the problem, and the natural result of that is inaction. Circularity First’s sustainability eBook offers positive, practical solutions to rethinking our relationship with IT.
Congratulations on making the first move to ensuring your organisation is a sustainable IT champion – business owners will be pivotal in reducing IT’s burden on the planet. Do share the actions you’re taking online with the hashtags #ActOnIT #sustainableIT #CircularityFirst
Anthony Levy, also known as The Sustainable IT Guy, is the founder of Circularity First – a group of sustainable IT companies that operate globally and work with businesses to cover the full lifecycle of IT assets from acquisition, to use and recovery.