As we rapidly march into 2024, we’re at a critical juncture in human—and planetary—history. Water scarcity is becoming a rising issue, putting 3.6 billion people at risk for at least one month out of the year when they can’t access adequate water supplies. The number of climate- and weather-related disasters has increased almost 35% since the 1990’s. More than 1 million species are now considered threatened, disappearing at a rate the world hasn’t witnessed in 10 million years. And as much as 40% of global land surfaces are considered degraded.
There is no such thing as business as usual; we are all at risk. Humanity is inextricably linked and dependent upon a healthy planet. We are part of the vast web of life in more ways than even modern science is aware of—and nature’s “ecosystem services” make our lives possible. These “services” have an estimated value of $33 trillion USD per year, on average, more than the value of our entire global economy.
For business, physical climate risks will potentially have a $40-$50 billion USD impact by 2026, according to the CDP analysis of S&P 500 companies.
As IBM puts it, “Sustainability strategies are no longer just a corporate social responsibility. They are a business imperative.”
Depending on your business, you’ll have different areas of sustainability impact you can act on. OEMs, for example, are continuing to focus on improving both energy efficiency and renewable energy use, decreasing their use of single-use plastic and otherwise sourcing recycled materials, and driving towards either net-zero carbon or carbon negative goals.
But your IT infrastructure is one of the most universal areas of impact to focus on, and thanks to some key trends that are continuing to develop, it’s easier to act than you think.
Moving More Data to the Cloud and “Greening” Our Data Centers
We are creating and using an immense amount of data every single day. There's value in the intelligence we can extract from that data, but it also means the world’s data centers also consume a lot of power—nearly 3% of the world’s total electricity—thanks largely in part to user behavior and our increasing reliance on applications and tools that use that data.
And yet, a study by IDC estimates that by 2025, each connected person will have a data interaction every 18 seconds, 80% of that data will be unstructured and 90% of it will never be analyzed. Why? There isn’t yet enough computing power in the world to analyze it all.
According to Maher Matta, Senior Vice President, Power & Sensor Systems Division, Americas, Infineon Technologies, the question then becomes: how can we create enough computing power to gain more actionable intelligence from all this data, while simultaneously decreasing the harm we’re creating for our planet (and ourselves)?
We can start with moving more data to the cloud and greening data centers. By shifting more of our data to the cloud, we can consolidate and reduce energy use and emissions significantly—one Wall Street Journal report found that businesses averaged 80% energy savings simply by running applications in the cloud versus on-site infrastructure.
And for existing data centers, the good news is that traditional data centers have already decreased energy usage by nearly 50% between 2015 and 2021. So what are the new trends and innovations that will bring about even more improvements?
As much as 45% of data centers’ current power usage is attributed to cooling. Solutions like packed chiller rooms using modern liquid cooling, built off-site, can allow for a modular approach where centers can scale up their cooling ability as needed. New technologies like AI could help predict when data will hit servers—for example, on major launch or deal days—and help servers better scale up and down their operating capacity, effectively reducing their energy consumption.
IoT solutions like “smart” controls can help monitor the health of data centers’ systems and components, helping prompt proactive maintenance and action by identifying issues before they become failures as well as identifying when energy efficiency begins to degrade.
And with device manufacturers improving power-usage year-over-year, businesses can also implement shorter tech refresh cycles to ensure they’re always using the most energy efficient equipment.
However, by increasing the rate you’re decommissioning equipment you’re also increasing your volume of e-waste—a major environmental issue, especially as the makeup of these devices means not only are manufacturers creating a tremendous amount of pollution and emissions through the materials sourcing and manufacturing process, but the waste itself leaches toxic substances into our soil and water supply.
Fortunately, one survey found that 54% of respondents have already implemented decommissioning and reuse for their facilities—a strategy that will become a key part of reducing IT’s environmental impact, even as our technology use continues to grow.
Sustainability Starts with Procurement
Devices are now both a ubiquitous and rapidly increasing part of our digital transformation. IoT connected devices alone are estimated to double from 15.1 billion in 2020 to more than 29 billion in 2030. How we manage the entire lifecycle of these devices has a tremendous impact. When you analyze the sustainability of a device, it’s critical to think about it in three stages: before use, during use, and after use.
In other words, a device’s sustainability always starts at the beginning: with procurement.
One trend that’s continuing to grow is technology leasing. Technology is critical for business’s success, but the costs and also the rapid evolution of technology are significant challenges. It’s tricky to navigate making capital investments in hardware and software when your business may need to pivot and adapt quickly, only to find that you now need something different to meet your needs. Yet hanging on to aging technology due to costs can quickly impact both employee productivity and satisfaction: employees who are working with “legacy” technology reported they were 136% more likely to feel less productive and 450% more likely to quit.
As a strategy, though, leasing can increase the effectiveness of your IT procurement and reduce your technology waste at the same time. By using a Device-as-a-Service (DaaS) subscription model, you can lower your total cost of device ownership, plan and budget more predictably, free up cash flow, scale up or down and pivot your technology along with your business needs, and improve your employees’ experience and productivity by refreshing their technology more often. Refreshing your technology more frequently will also ensure you’re using the most energy-efficient devices you can.
Accelerating Our Shift to the Circular Economy
Our existing economy is mainly linear: we take resources from the ground to make something, use it for a little while—the average lifespan for most corporate IT assets is three to five years—and then throw it back in the ground.
This creates a few issues. We’re continuing to mine and use finite resources as though they’re infinite, and every time we throw out a device, it means OEMs have to start from scratch with raw materials to manufacture a new one. This process itself creates a large volume of waste and harmful emissions. It also represents $47 billion in lost revenue from the still usable materials that are thrown out. And, as mentioned above, when we toss our old devices into a landfill, they leach substances like lead, mercury, and “forever chemicals” like polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) into our soil and water.
Moving to circular economy means shifting to a model that recovers those materials and parts and keeps them inside of the economy. So, once we finish using a good, like a laptop, it can be disassembled, and its individual parts can be reused—often repeatedly.
Fortunately, this shift is already underway. When it comes to procurement, you can prioritize sourcing from OEMs who are using recovered and recycled materials. For example, Dell’s Optiplex computers are made with up to 60% recycled content and the 87% of the company’s packaging materials are made from recycled or renewable content. And HP has created notebooks and printers using EPEAT-certified ocean-bound plastic.
Programs like CSI’s Green4Good™ and FutureValue™ also leverage circular economy principles to create a “triple win” solution. With FutureValue, you commit your technology to a second life at the time of purchase and in exchange, net your business up to 20% off initial IT hardware costs, allowing you to refresh your technology sooner. You’ll also earn carbon credits to offset the resources used and emissions created during technology manufacturing.
Through Green4Good, you can earn money back for your refurbished equipment, rather than spending money to manage your end-of-life technology. Security is layered into each step of the process, so your data is protected, and your company can quickly make progress in your sustainability goals, while building your reputation as an industry leader. To date, through Green4Good and our participating allies, we have processed nearly 2M IT assets, reused 92 percent of them, and raised $3.5M for 225+ charities.
Putting the Trends-and Goals—into Meaningful Action
Outside of our health and survival, there are short term business benefits to making these shifts. It’s been successfully argued that resource waste and pollution translate to inefficiency. Businesses who successfully invest in sustainability are more resilient and profitable, and more attractive to customers and talent alike.
But we also understand that the logistics of making these types of shifts can feel a little bit tricky to pin down. Our latest guide dives deeper into exactly how the new circular economy works, how it benefits us all, from every angle, and then gives you some practical steps to putting it into action in your business.