It may seem that sustainability and business profits aren’t always aligned. It’s a fair argument but it should not be the end of the discussion. The truth is sustainable IT isn’t something a single company can achieve on its own. It’s not a microcosmic problem. It’s macrocosmic and it requires a fundamental shift on how we see and value business goals on a global scale.
Used Hardware is Good For Business and The Environment
Although the term is still being codified one of the common tenets in creating a “sustainable IT” environment is reusing, recycling, or repurposing IT equipment at the end of life. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how interconnected something that deals in bytes and racks is to the natural world, but the principles are really the same. Proper maintenance is key to the health of both. Be it a century old glacier or a legacy server, when one things fails to be properly maintained it can set off a catastrophe. Without maintenance and a solid back-up plan in place what seems like an isolated problem can lead to a system-wide disaster.
That back-up plan is key, as one of the greenest things you can do is aim to use a piece of equipment as long as possible, before you recycle it. Finding reliable and affordable maintenance partners for your legacy hardware is a great first step towards more sustainable IT.
In fact, rethinking labels like “old” allows a company to rethink their procurement strategy all together. Rather than a road block, older equipment can be developed into a hardware procurement strategy that fosters more opportunities for savings and growth. Good for business and good for the environment.
IT Waste Does Not Need to Equal IT Growth
“The fundamental problem is that we haven’t been able to decouple growth from waste generation, which is a proxy for consumption,” says Stan Krpan, the chief executive officer at Sustainability Victoria, an Australian state-organized environmental organization. “Many would say consumption is a good thing, but we really have to recognize that there’s a cost to that—and that cost falls onto the environment.” (Source.)
Decoupling the idea of waste generation as the necessary byproduct of growth is the biggest challenge facing businesses today. But it is also the most pressing.
Our earth is indeed getting warmer. Last year marked the third hottest year the US has ever recorded, with 219 severe events wreaking more than $1.5 trillion in damages since 1980. In fact, 2018 was also the most expensive year for weather disasters in US history. We are pushing our environment to its limits and have failed to put a solid maintenance plan into effect to ensure it keeps running. Like unsupported equipment in a data center, things are beginning to break down.
Why is this need to reexamine how we do business so pressing? A lot of it has to do with timelines. According to studies looking at 25-year-long satellite records, sea levels are rising. The melting polar ice caps are shown by photographs from NASA’s satellites to be shrinking about 9 percent every 10 years.
Even in Japan, where tourists come to view the natural ice formations across mountainous landscapes once resembling giant monsters, like Godzilla, there is a change. Known as “juhyo” (ice monsters), they now look less like Kaiju, and more like the Abominable Snowman.
In fact, the Godzilla character is rife with analogies for our current outlook. Here is an ancient monster of nature awakened and distorted by humans’ own folly and mismanagement over powerful technology. Although a fictional story, the stewardship humanity has over both nature and technology resonates into our real world as a legitimate parable.
New Technology Requirements Need to Change
New technology does not always mean better, especially if its requirements are skewed against long-term climate goals. We need to look beyond speed, capacity, or other “innovative” benefits touted around a new technology’s adoption.
Those can be important, of course. But a guarantee for how a new technology helps protect against and reduce waste generation, on the larger world scale, is an equally important requirement. It’s a mandate we can start requiring with the original design plan. After all, be it plastic in our oceans or improper IT asset management disposition, like Godzilla, we play a hand in creating our own monsters.
This is something future customers are already demanding. Thousands of children across 123 countries recently held a strike. They were protesting government inaction implementing effective global policies to mitigate climate change. The demand is already there. The company success stories are already there. For proof just look at Patagonia, or one of the many Certified B Corporations. Worldwide sustainable IT is the next innovation.
The Carbon Tax
We often think that our digital lives are the sole cause of climate change. And while that’s a huge contributor, it’s not the only one. Bill Gates said it best when he pointed out that electricity generation is not the primary cause of climate change. This, he says, contributes only about 25 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Manufacturing (21 percent), transportation (14 percent), agriculture (24 percent), buildings (6 percent), and other sources (10 percent), are all major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate innovation is sorely needed across all industries.
But, just as it takes every cent to make a dollar, every effort towards fighting climate change counts. Climate innovation means discovering a path forward that ensures every step we take inches towards a zero carbon footprint.
While the task of climate innovation to drive carbon emissions down to zero is going to be monumental, where we can play a role is the choices we make as consumers and users of products and services.
Is Your Infrastructure Sustainable?
As a CIO or ITM, the choices you make can be game-changing. While companies tout the latest energy-efficient processors, think about the repercussions of constantly upgrading each time a new suite of products are launched. You aren’t merely replacing one component.
Getting a new processor in a new server often entails upgrading the entire kitchen sink. Multiply that across your organization globally, and think of the ramifications. Organizations that have a vested interest in sustainability will have at the heart of their IT strategy a mission to reduce waste. This starts with using equipment for as long as possible, reusing where possible, and recycling every piece of equipment once it can no longer be used.
These factors should be core to how you design your current and future data centers. Just like the negative effects poor maintenance can have, good can have the opposite. How you view innovation in sustainability will determine what kind of partner vendors you work with, what kind of employees you hire and what effect your business has on the world.
How to Set Sustainable IT Goals
The goal is simple. Adjust our mindsets on what a successful business means. A successful business plan shouldn’t just incorporate profit projections for the next year or even the next ten years. To take a page from Patagonia, planning for a business that will be around for 100 years means looking outside of immediate and solely monetary growth opportunities. Aim for a more holistic strategy.
This strategy should include both company profits and environmental viability KPI’s. New indicators of success should include strategies around long-term sustainability for the business AND the environment. After all, these are not mutually exclusive but part of the same habitat.
Through our business we already know that legacy equipment can help create legacy businesses. Incorporating used hardware and extending maintenance on that hardware can reduce Capex and Opex spending on an average of over 50%. Companies are left with more money to fund innovation and company growth. It also leaves less equipment entering the recycling or trash system each year.
But effective sustainability must go beyond individual companies to actually scale successfully. Luckily, there are already entire countries celebrating efforts around sustainable, global innovation. They’re doing it in some truly creative ways.
Japan views e-waste as an environmental issue so revolutionary, it will be issuing the winners of 2020 Summer Olympics a piece of recycled trash. That’s right, the gold, silver and bronze medals being awarded will have been made from eight tons of metals recovered from smartphones and other gadgets.
Now, that’s thinking that’s worth more than its weight in gold.