Carbon footprint as CO2 emission pollution amount in air tiny person concept. Dioxide greenhouse gases as climate change reason vector illustration. Foot symbol as industrial toxic effect warning.
Image: VectorMine/Adobe Stock

Today, enterprise companies around the world are focused on creating a more sustainable work environment, regardless of the industry. Yet while many sustainability initiatives focus on reducing single-use plastic and eliminating paper waste, they overlook the massive emissions output their digital activities are producing every day.

In order to become truly sustainable, organizations must look at the full picture, and how all aspects of operation are impacting the environment including supply chains, common IT practices, hardware and devices, and employee computing habits.

SEE: The COVID-19 gender gap: Why women are leaving their jobs and how to get them back to work (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The digital landscape is one of the largest contributors to organizations’ emissions today, and factors such as the global chip shortage are adding increased pressure to implement more efficient practices. There has never been a more important time to invest in digital transformation efforts and better ways to recycle and reuse devices.

The global chip shortage and making the most out of what we already have

The global chip shortage has placed unprecedented strain on companies, particularly IT departments as they navigate delays and device lifecycle issues. Gartner estimated that the lead time for enterprise laptops is about six months – a wait time that many businesses can’t afford. Combined with the challenges of remote work, enterprise companies are faced with the perfect storm as timelines are stretched and service desks flooded with support tickets from frustrated users. It’s time for a shift in strategy: We can actually overcome challenges related to the chip shortage by leveraging more sustainable practices.

Refurbishing hardware is key and helps ensure that devices are reusable and able to have a second, third and even fourth life. However, it’s a common trend among enterprises to replace hardware every few years, regardless of usability. In a new study from Nexthink analyzing 3.5 million anonymized devices, research found that 20% of the devices were still performing and didn’t require replacement. Of the 80% that did have a low performance score, only 2% were unsalvageable while the remaining 98% were fixable with a simple memory upgrade or by optimizing startup performance.

Examining the complete lifecycle of devices

In addition to rethinking hardware refresh cycles, we also need to take the complete lifecycle of devices into account. That means understanding the emissions associated with production, transportation and packaging, as well as product use and end of life treatment. Companies must work with manufacturers that can provide those specific insights and help support their overall sustainability goals – for example, manufacturers that are using more environmentally friendly parts, means of transportation or packaging.

A key contributing factor to emissions within a device’s lifecycle is also user behavior. Generally, employees want to do their part to achieve greener practices and help the environment. As a crucial component to implementing sustainable IT practices, organizations need to educate employees on green computing habits and create effective, two-way communication channels between IT and employees. Simple acts such as ensuring software is kept up to date, turning off laptops when not in use and removing non-essential applications can go a long way in cutting back emissions and saving organizations money.

Companies that are opting to focus on these small fixes are reducing the need for new devices, saving millions and helping to address the global e-waste problem.

Tracking impact and reducing e-waste

According to the World Health Organization, e-waste volumes are continuing to surge globally. A recent study by the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership (GESP) found that e-waste volumes grew by 21% in the five years leading up to 2019, when 53.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste were generated. As the use of smartphones, computers and other devices continues to grow exponentially, the global volume of e-waste is only expected to escalate.

To reduce e-waste, organizations must actually understand their impact. Gathering relevant data and insights on energy consumption and CO2 output, and what the source of those outputs are from – whether it’s hardware or human behavior – allows organizations to take action and begin investing in a greener future.

Ola Fagerström is a device sustainability specialist at Microsoft.

Ola Fagerström has been with Microsoft for the past 10 years and is a device sustainability specialist. He currently is the time zone lead for the Microsoft Sustainability community. With over 20 years of experience in IT, Ola is the creator of Carbon Emissions Estimator for devices.


Yassine Zaied is chief strategy officer at Nexthink.

Yassine Zaied is Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer at Nexthink. In his role, Yassine is responsible for developing new partnerships and alliances with strategic technology and hardware vendors. Yassine also plays a pivotal role in driving the company’s product innovation and go-to-market strategies.

Subscribe to the Executive Briefing Newsletter

Discover the secrets to IT leadership success with these tips on project management, budgets, and dealing with day-to-day challenges. Delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays

Subscribe to the Executive Briefing Newsletter

Discover the secrets to IT leadership success with these tips on project management, budgets, and dealing with day-to-day challenges. Delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays