Is your IT department sustainable? Why saving the Earth should be a priority

Expert says departments should know their carbon footprints, as well as implement policy for recycling and reuse of equipment.

IT departments should make sustainability a priority

TechRepublic's Karen Roby spoke with Sheila Patel of Capgemini about enterprise IT's carbon footprint. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Karen Roby: Sheila, there are a lot of growing concerns around this, and more and more people starting to talk about it, and saying, "Hey, we need to do something about sustainable IT." And you guys just recently conducted a study looking a little bit closer at this. What did you find?

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Sheila Patel: It all starts with vision first and being able to measure. We found out that only 43% of global executives are even aware of their organization's IT footprint, and only 6% really just have sustainable IT practices. Now what's interesting is that half of them do have an overall strategy, but when you double-click, only really 18% really have something that they would say is useful and is able to really put into practice. As we all know, the context here is around the fact that greenhouse gases, without any sort of interruption, are going to rise 12% by 2025. And that really creates an ability for the CIO to really think about what is his or her role in this? And we really think that the modern mark of a CIO will be the ability to enable and deliver on the promise of neutrality, as well as reaching the overall corporation's sustainability goals.

Karen Roby: When you talk about those in the C-suite, are they in the dark because they choose to be, just because they haven't been well-informed? I mean, where is the disconnect?

Sheila Patel: Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of it is just pure starting with measuring it, and then of course aggregating it in a way that makes sense either in dashboarding so that execs can make decisions, whether it's a sourcing decision around which vendor to pick or whether it's another decision around whether if there's a longer-term way to actually have these projects and programs even approved to go forward with funding internally. So, I think it starts really with just capturing this, right? I mean, I'll ask you the question. I mean, at the individual level, do you know your carbon footprint? And most people would probably say, "No," right? Because it's a new way. It's a new muscle. It's something that's been in the background. We kind of ignored it, but now here it is at the forefront, and now it's time to start measuring it and actually starting to bring the awareness to the topic.

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Karen Roby: You're right. And I can't say personally that I've given it much thought, as so many others are in the same boat. And you touched on this a little bit, but without intervention, what happens?

Sheila Patel: Yeah, I mean, just obviously having no sort of intervention, we'll continue to pollute, and we'll continue to see this decline into more of that greenhouse gases just being unsustainable for our world. I think that the good news is the train has left the station. Many companies have put an ambition out there. It's really thinking about how to marry that ambition with a set of programs that make sense so that they're able to achieve those ambitions. And that's where really we're able to help out. And the support really supports and creates the ability to think through how to get there. So, starting with creating that foundation, creating that awareness. Secondly, by then, thinking about the governance that you need to have in place internally. And then lastly, of course, operationalizing it with your business partners, educating your suppliers, your customers, and your internal partners around how to really have this be a way of being for the way that that folks are engaging with each other.

Karen Roby: Sheila, expand a little bit on the recycling levels. They're very low, as pointed out by this study.

Sheila Patel: Yeah, and in fact, 89% of the organizations recycle less than 10% of their IT hardware, and less than 20% of e-waste is recycled. So, certainly as companies are thinking about getting back into the office, they're looking at a bunch of hardware and software, rationalizing it, "Do we pitch it? Do we recycle it?" Definitely. There's a lot of real programs from the hyper-scalers that can allow them to recycle it in a responsible way, and reuse it potentially as well.

Karen Roby: And I do remember Sheila, one time people saying, "At this level, there aren't enough options for recycling." Have we seen a change in that?

Sheila Patel: Yes, we definitely are seeing much more of the recycle, and also the reuse. So, one person's trash is another person's treasure, as they say. And we're starting to see a lot of folks think about that and say, "Hey, why do I need to buy a brand new X? Why don't I just buy it reused, or refurbished, et cetera?" And we're seeing a lot of attention on that as well.

Karen Roby: Since the pandemic, Sheila, we've talked a lot about the changing role of the CIO. And in a positive way, hoping maybe it means that since the CIO is out in front more now than ever, that things like sustainable IT, that that can get out there more, that the C-Suite will take more notice.

Sheila Patel: Yeah, absolutely. And I totally agree, through the pandemic, they were all lifesavers in terms of really helping keep the lights on, literally, remotely. And now it's, "What's the next ambition?" and it really feels like sustainability, sustainable IT is one of those missions that they can certainly latch onto, really become a conduit, given the fact that they have so many relations between the sustainability office, with parts of the business, with the internal IT footprint in and of itself to wrap all of these folks together towards a common goal of really building, and growing and being able to achieve the overall sustainability ambition is what we're seeing is a part of that, to really create that culture of sustainability.

Sheila Patel: We do know that companies are starting to invest in sustainability IT awareness sessions. And they're also starting to think about policies, and how they should mandate the reporting of IT carbon footprints for different departments, for different programs, for different projects. And those should be prioritized accordingly, depending on the ambition and how much carbon is offset based on what the objectives are for the program or project.

Karen Roby: And for Sheila, personally, sustainable IT, has this been a focus of yours for a while, or what sparked it for you?

Sheila Patel: Yeah, no. So, Capgemini has had this going for a while. We obviously have been interested in this topic. It's a part of what our overall mission is to unleash the human potential energy towards the goodness of creating a more sustainable and inclusive future. That's our stated mission. And it's something that we internally have been taking the call up as of many years now, certainly. But we're starting to measure all of our programs and projects to see how well they are supporting the overall ambition of our reduction goals as well. And we're committed to saving 10 million metric tons of carbon emissions for our clients. And so, we're measuring against that to see that we achieve that goal and hopefully exceed it.

Karen Roby: And a great goal, for sure, Sheila. Wrapping up here, three to five years from now, let's say, how will things look, or how do you hope they will? And certainly, we'll be having a very different conversation around sustainable IT, I hope.

Sheila Patel: Yeah, certainly, obviously first and foremost is the Earth, Mother Earth, taking care of her, and trying to get as much as we can down. Obviously, there's a lot of different political and global factors that are coming together, and hopefully we'll see some progress there. And then lastly is really creating this culture of really being sustainable, and it's just a way life essentially. And it'd be great to see that come to life, obviously, in our companies, as many have already started that journey. So, looking forward to seeing them progress on that journey, and help them to get into that journey even further.

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TechRepublic's Karen Roby spoke with Sheila Patel of Capgemini about enterprise IT's carbon footprint. 

Image: Mackenzie Burke