Sustainable IT and greening the economic recovery

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Sustainable IT and greening the economic recovery

From offshore wind farms and green energy solutions, to electric vehicles and an increase in jobs involved in clean energy, 2020 was set to be a big year in the drive towards zero carbon and sustainable business.

But with the world facing a global pandemic and economic uncertainty, are business sustainability goals going to be side-lined? Or can more sustainable practices actually help businesses overcome these challenges?

Carmen Ene

Phrases such as greening the economic recovery and the green industrial revolution are becoming increasingly popular. These include targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, supporting green job creation and investment in clean energy have been forming part of economic stimulus packages across the world.

A growing body of evidence suggests that green recovery could deliver significant benefits. Researchers believe that for every 1 of public investment in such projects, close to 2 would be generated from a higher tax take.

The outcome, they suggest, is that action towards a greener economy could provide a significant economic boost by around 900bn and create 850,000 jobs in the next decade.

Sustainability investment

Government-led green initiatives are clearly important, not least in providing financial incentives, but there are other issues to consider – not least a company’s reputation. While global stock markets plummeted, sustainable investment – which requires asset managers to consider the way companies address environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues - gained increasing prominence.

In global equities, ESG leaders outperformed companies with poor ESG ratings by almost 7 percentage points during the first two months of the pandemic crisis.

Attitudes towards business are changing. We’re seeing this in the way companies have reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic, with many businesses calling on governments around the world to deliver a Covid recovery plan that prioritises sustainability and the environment.

As Jessica Alsford, global head of sustainability research at Morgan Stanley, stated: “With both COVID-19 and carbon there are two elements to consider. The first is the impact on the operational performance of the company. The approach taken in the transition to a low-carbon economy will have a bearing on costs and revenues. Management of the COVID-19 crisis could influence customer behaviours and the recruitment and retention of talent.

Is IT sustainable?

One of the biggest, yet unspoken issues around sustainability is in IT.

With an insatiable appetite for new devices, the mountain of electronic waste (e-waste) is growing exponentially - 53.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste was generated worldwide in 2020 according to the UN Global E-Waste Monitor.

Addressing a company’s approach to electronic waste (e-waste) should be a significant element of any sustainable IT or green strategy, yet research commissioned by 3stepIT revealed that sustainable IT management will be a priority for just a third (31%) of EU businesses over the next 12 months.

And, while half of businesses surveyed said they used specialist providers to remove or recycle old and broken IT, there are still many who lock old or broken IT assets away until they figure out what to do with them (26%), and even those who simply dump unused assets in landfill (10%).

But, while many businesses may still not realise the actions and effects of sustainable IT practices, 98% of the end-of-lease devices returned to 3stepIT are refurbished, resold, and given a second life.

There are significant opportunities for businesses to drive their own change and move towards zero carbon, while also gaining a financial benefit. Such change requires a significant expansion of current thinking, which today ranges from tracking the energy consumption of IT equipment to simply throwing end-of-life devices in landfill.

Rather than destroying IT assets, embracing renewal and refurbishment can deliver a range of financial and productivity benefits to businesses. Better management of the entire lifecycle, through effective monitoring to flag potential issues before they occur, for example, can also extend a device’s life and efficiency. 

With tough economic times ahead, combining sustainable strategies that appeal to stakeholders with more efficient, long-lasting digital assets offers a commercial win-win.

Sustainable IT services

Rebuilding businesses and reinvigorating economies will require a concerted effort from both public and private sectors. Government commitments to greening the recovery will be a good start, but companies need to explore their own opportunities as well, such as:

  • Understanding and managing the entire IT lifecycle
  • Questioning the way devices are acquired, managed and disposed
  • Extracting value from end-of-life devices through refurbishment
  • Challenging assumptions that devices are obsolete
  • Considering whether some tasks could be managed with reliable second-life equipment.

This should become the default approach of all IT equipment management.

Making the change will be easier in some businesses than others. But whether you opt to push the financial benefits, the investment and reputational value, or simply leverage any government incentives that arise, every business should be committed to implementing sustainable IT practices.

Find out about the state of sustainable IT for businesses in 2020 and beyond here

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