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The cloud is now a fact of life, with consumers and businesses all adopting this technology in some shape or form. Consequently, this also means that cloud technology has been gaining a lot of scrutiny on its carbon footprint; but is that attention warranted? Are the carbon emissions from IT something that we should be worrying about? Should we be looking at ways of reducing our carbon footprint in terms of the digital services that we as users and organisations consume?

The short answer is yes. The rapid growth of the IT industry over the past few decades has brought with it a significant increase in energy consumption, and this trend is set to continue as more people and businesses adopt digital technologies. According to the UN’s 2021 report on Innovation, Technology and Data, the information and communication technology (ICT) sector currently accounts for 2% of global emissions, potentially increasing to 23% by 2030 as a result of growth in energy demand.

As the world focuses on achieving net zero emissions by 2050, it is essential that all industries play their part in reducing their carbon footprint. In this blog, we will explore how IT departments can help their organisations achieve net-zero carbon emissions and play their part in creating a more sustainable future.

Challenge of reducing IT energy consumption and emissions

IT departments are significant contributors to the power consumption and carbon emissions of organisations as items such as data centres, computing equipment, network equipment, and storage devices consume vast amounts of electricity to power, operate and cool. Depending on the organisations’ respective reporting practices and methodologies, IT-related emissions can fall under all three scopes (1, 2 & 3), as defined by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the ICT sector’s carbon footprint was 1.4 GtCO2eq (gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) in 2020, equivalent to 2.5% of global carbon emissions. Although this may not seem like a significant proportion, the carbon footprint of the IT industry is comparable to that of the aviation industry, which also receives a lot of scrutiny.

It is essential to address this issue now as the energy consumption of the IT industry is expected to grow significantly in the coming years due to the increasing adoption of 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI). Thus, IT departments are faced with the challenge of reducing this energy consumption while maintaining the performance and reliability of their systems.

Action plan: Here’s what IT departments can do

IT departments can implement various strategies to effectively reduce and offset carbon emissions. To keep it simple, we’ve focused on three primary approaches: right-sizing data infrastructure, leveraging cloud providers and looking at new procurement exercises.

Firstly, right-sizing your data infrastructure is an efficient way to control costs and ensure optimal resource utilisation. By accurately configuring your data infrastructure to meet your organisation’s needs, right-sizing will help you identify potential misconfigurations or suboptimal architectures and choose the most suitable solution. Ranging from an on-premises or cloud-only solution to a hybrid approach, right-sizing can enable IT Departments to achieve a sensibly sized on-premises deployment and/or utilise the advantages cloud solutions can provide.

Through the appropriate approach, organisations can:

  • Minimise the required hardware for an on-premise deployment, leading to cost savings associated with equipment purchases, power consumption, physical space, and licensing requirements.
  • Achieve significant reductions in energy consumption and capex costs by shifting appropriate applications and data to the cloud and utilising server virtualization and workload consolidation to optimise storage and server needs.
  • Take advantage of scalable solutions that allow organisations to maintain the appropriate level of provision, saving on capex costs and catering to demand usage peaks.

Leading on to the second point, organisations can leverage the sustainability efforts of cloud providers, with many cloud providers now using renewable energy to power and cool their data centres. Ranging from hydro, wind, solar, and biomass to natural gas instead of diesel-powered backup generators, these sources are significantly reducing the carbon footprint of running data centres.

Looking forward, the advantages may continue to build as cloud providers continue to explore innovative projects to enhance data centre cooling and energy efficiency. For instance, Microsoft is testing underwater data centres that utilise the natural cooling properties of the ocean, while Google is also leveraging artificial intelligence to optimise data centre energy efficiency. While they may sound abstract, these ground-breaking measures are projected to decrease future data centre energy consumption by up to 15%. When combined with the use of green energy sources, they have the potential to significantly minimise and possibly eliminate the carbon footprint associated with data centres.

The final approach would be to look at new procurement exercises and identify organisations that are carbon neutral certified or working towards achieving it. The central idea behind this approach it to recognise the need for the suppliers and products to align with the sustainability goals of the organisation.  So when the IT department starts its procurement exercises, potential suppliers would need to provide evidence of their efforts to reduce carbon emissions, adopt renewable energy sources, optimise energy efficiency and mitigate environmental impacts throughout their operations.

Through this approach and demanding that suppliers demonstrate their commitment to carbon neutrality, IT departments are enabling organisations to not only encourage environmental consciousness within their own operations but also exert influence on the broader ecosystem of their suppliers. The new procurement exercises should evolve to prioritise sustainability considerations alongside traditional criteria like cost, quality and reliability.

IT departments: Key players in achieving net zero

IT departments can play a significant role in helping their organisations achieve net zero by taking necessary actions to reduce their carbon footprint.

A clear understanding of the organisation’s needs and right sizing the infrastructure architecture can help IT departments to significantly reduce their energy consumption and carbon emissions. Additionally, by shifting appropriate applications, systems and data to the cloud, organisations can also benefit from the sustainability efforts of cloud providers to go beyond carbon reduction to become carbon neutral and potentially carbon negative. Finally, through procurement exercises that focus on evaluating suppliers’ sustainability process and commitments, IT departments can help their organisations in ensuring that their supply chains are environmentally responsible.


Wondering which cloud strategy is right for your business? Our team of experts can help you answer that:

Stephen Morgan

With a career spanning more than ten years, Stephen has a wealth of experience in pre-sales and analytics roles. His thought leadership content reflects his expertise in leveraging the latest trends in data infrastructure. Through his content, Stephen explores innovative technologies and methodologies that revolutionise how organisations store, process, and analyse data.

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