Technology and Sustainability: The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship?

27 Sep

Technology and Sustainability: The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship?

MARTA MUNOZ (Research Director)

Last week technology vendors were very forthcoming about their sustainability efforts: Google announced its plans to increase the amount of electricity it uses from renewable energies, Amazon ordered 100,000 electric trucks for its delivery fleet, and Salesforce unveiled a new pollution tracking tool. This, of course, came during the same week that climate change demonstrations were taking place around the world under the #ClimateStrike banner, ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit in New York.

IDC believes the ICT industry has a moral obligation to help do “less bad” at the same time as doing “more good” (to paraphrase William McDonough’s Cradle to Cradle concept) when environmental matters are concerned. In fairness, many organizations — ICT or not — have been taking steps toward reducing CO2 emissions and ensuring their plants and offices become greener, whether by reducing waste and recycling, increasing their use of renewable energies, or implementing policies that reduce energy use and pollution altogether.

Few organizations outside the technology industry, however, have started to incorporate “circular economy” concepts in their production cycles and daily activities. Spanish retailer Zara’s parent company, Inditex, for example, sources local products for its HQ canteen and has set a goal of zero waste for 2019. Swedish conglomerate Ikea is increasing the proportion of recycled materials it uses in its production cycle, and so on.

Despite the announcements from the ICT industry in recent months, we believe technology vendors can still do more in terms of sustainability, given that up to 50 million tonnes of electronic and electric waste (ewaste) is produced every year, with as little as 20% recycled, according to UN figures.

Hardware manufacturer HPE is leading by example, with CEO Antonio Neri reinforcing the message from the top by encouraging circular-economy principles in the business. Its Financial Services division (HPE FS), for example, has launched a consumption model that enables customers to pay per use, linked with a complete upcycling process to liberate legacy equipment and resources to foster innovation and prolong the life of existing infrastructure by repairing it and preparing it for a second life.

The ICT industry offers a plethora of products and solutions to help fight climate change through the technologies its players provide, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and 3D printing. These technologies can help facilitate organizations’ efforts to combat climate change, including monitoring the condition of not only their IT equipment but also the goods and products they place in the market, facilitating predictive maintenance to identify and avoid failures before they happen, incorporating AI-infused processes to improve energy consumption, and creating digital twins of plant equipment to reduce the need to create physical prototypes.

Despite their good intentions, the recent announcements from technology vendors could still have a limited effect. The pollution from Amazon’s ever-increasing vehicle fleet used to support its vast delivery network is unlikely to be fully offset by 100,000 electric vehicles. Google’s use of renewable energies will have to offset the heavy consumption of energy needed to maintain all the datacenters and computing power required to provide its huge portfolio of services. Salesforce’s pollution tracking tool, meanwhile, will require companies to act from the results it shows rather than simply keeping that information without it leading to behavioral changes.

But the announcements are still a step in the right direction. We hope it is a sign of what’s to come from all players — organizations, individuals, and governments — and not just a short-term publicity move.

Please contact mmunoz@idc.com if you’d like to know more about how ICT players can help you to achieve your sustainability goals.

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