Information technology has a profound impact on a company’s ability to go green, starting with device management and extending into every area of the enterprise.
Boards of directors and other primary stakeholders are asking IT leaders to go green in their pursuit of environmental sustainability goals.
“Technology leaders need to play the role of sustainability leader in the organization,” said Jeffrey Lewis, senior partner in the life sciences practice at McKinsey & Company. “If sustainability isn’t among the top three items on the CIO’s agenda today, it should be.”
Focusing on more sustainable device and asset management is one way to help. This effort can pay off in terms of reducing costs and helping to reduce electronic waste for organizations.
Many consumers have a strong appetite for the latest gadgets — an appetite they also bring to work. But new devices and products require an entire ecosystem of materials and energy, as well as a huge environmental cost.
Enterprise technology is responsible for emitting approximately 350 to 400 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent gases, much of which comes from laptops, monitors, tablets, smartphones, printers and other user devices, according to McKinsey & Company’s September 2022 “Green Revolution” report. Information Technology: A Blueprint for CIOs to Fight Climate Change”, which Lewis co-authored. Even worse, emissions from users’ devices are on track to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 12.8% annually, according to the report.
“Devices are actually the largest driver of greenhouse gas emissions in an organization, and that comes first and foremost…from device prevalence, and secondly, third scale emissions from devices,” Lewis said.
Lewis said the devices don’t just generate carbon emissions when someone plugs them into a socket. Making devices — and putting them in the hands of employees — results in huge emissions.
About 75% of emissions from user devices come from manufacturing, transportation and disposal, with a significant source of these emissions being semiconductors, according to a McKinsey & Company report.
For CIOs looking to green their IT activities, more sustainable hardware management and reduced enterprise electronic waste are important places to start. Here are three tips to help this happen.
1. Focus on sustainable sourcing
To create more sustainable device management, IT managers need to start at the source.
Lewis said CIOs must ensure they source products with the lowest possible emissions. This means greening procurement processes and adding sustainability as a factor in IT purchasing decisions.
Organizations should examine different hardware options through the lens of sustainability, said Andrea Del Miglio, senior partner in technology practice at McKinsey & Company and co-author of the Green IT Revolution report.
Del Miglio said more tech makers are disclosing the carbon footprint of various devices. IT managers can use this information to make better decisions.
As with other areas of technology, IT leaders must also do their own due diligence.
Numerous studies have found that many tech companies are laundering their efforts and underreporting their carbon emissions, including a study published in Nature Communications.
2. Extend the life of the device and buy fewer devices
Although many vendors use forced obsolescence as an upgrade strategy, CIOs can take aggressive steps by using fewer devices and extending the life of the ones they have, wherever possible.
For example, CIOs can support a bring-your-own-device policy and use that to reduce the number of devices per person, Del Miglio said. This strategy can, in turn, save money.
As for extending device life, CIOs and IT leaders can examine the desirability of new technology through the lens of sustainability.
Lewis said asking tough questions, like the ones below, can help create more device-friendly replacement methods.
- Do we update devices because new models are available?
- Do we refresh them because we always update them on this cycle?
- Are we updating them because existing devices have a negative impact on the employee experience or otherwise hinder organizational value?
- Are there actions IT can take to improve device performance?
IT leaders can use questions like these to find ways to improve device performance, especially remotely, and only perform device upgrades when truly necessary.
3. Find a new life for your devices
The saying goes “one man’s waste is another man’s treasure,” and as sustainability efforts intensify, more people are finding wisdom in it. Donating unwanted items, shopping at resale stores, and barter and buy-back initiatives are gaining momentum as more consumers focus on sustainability. But such initiatives are also growing in the field of technology; For example, Apple’s trade-in program encourages consumers to send their devices back to the company to get credit on new ones. IT managers can check technology vendors for similar software.
Jeffrey LewisSenior Partner, McKinsey & Company
If IT leaders decide they need to update devices, they can work to make sure those devices find a new user.
“Work with manufacturers, vendors, and third parties to help these devices find a life beyond your organization,” Lewis said. “It’s an opportunity to avoid manufacturing another new device.”
Companies can also partner with a nonprofit organization that helps distribute devices such as laptops to low-income organizations or other organizations.
There may be companies that prefer to use cheaper devices or older devices [and] Their experience isn’t affected by that because of the tasks they’re doing,” Lewis said.