Choosing Sustainability is Easier Than You May Think


The topic of sustainability is becoming more important for all business executives since environmental issues like climate change, pollution and resource shortages have a direct influence on populations and enterprises around the world.

According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “Today, more than 90% of CEOs state that sustainability is important to their company’s success.” At the same time, the increasing pressure on organizations from various stakeholders—including customers, investors and employees—for reducing environmental impact also plays a key role in buying, investment and employment decisions.

Now, as some supply chains become less reliable, inflation increases and many economies face uncertainty, some organizations are focusing on urgent matters like reducing costs and right-sizing production to match unpredictable demand. At first glance, one might assume that this means that sustainability will have to take a back seat for the time being. Fortunately, this does not need to be the case. In fact, it is increasingly recognized that sustainability performance is aligned with financial performance. Organizations no longer have to make a choice between sustainability and profitability, and customers can benefit from lower costs by deploying sustainable technology solutions.

Shifting to Technology That Reduces Your Carbon Footprint

Technology can comprise a big share of overall energy consumption at most companies. This includes the power consumption of servers, network infrastructure or endpoint devices—and also the equipment that keeps servers from overheating. Cooling equipment currently accounts for around 40% of a data center’s energy consumption.

Unfortunately, power consumption in most technology is moving in the wrong direction. Information and communications technology (ICT) is expected to account for as much as 20% of the world’s overall electricity consumption by 2030, up from less than 10% today. Much of this increase will result from the enormous processing demands of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and advanced data analytics—areas that most companies will need to embrace to remain competitive.

This could mean an increase in overall power consumption for many organizations, which will result in increased energy costs over the next decade if the technology they’re implementing is not designed to minimize their environmental footprint.

Confronting Other Sustainability Challenges

Everything we do has an impact on the environment. This includes the products and services that we consume, as their impact is not only associated with the emissions resulting from their use, but also from their entire life cycle—from design and manufacturing all the way to their disposal.

Sustainability in a company’s technology stack goes beyond energy efficiency. Computing hardware is notorious for containing hazardous substances—some of which are used in the manufacturing process or supply chain, others that are directly applied to the equipment. For example, flame retardants help manufacturers meet flammability requirements, but solving this problem creates another: threats to human hormonal systems and brain functioning.

Another issue is that technology products of all types tend to be over-packaged, using material that often cannot easily be reused or recycled. Packaging waste is a problem across the economy, of course, but enterprises that order over-packaged electronics at scale contribute to the problem.

And then there is the issue of electronic waste, most of which is not recycled today. One estimate found that landfills and incinerators handled 57.4 million metric tons of electronic waste in 2021 alone. This waste includes a lot of metal and plastic, precious minerals and the aforementioned hazardous substances. And while communities and some organizations have promoted electronics recycling, many items are not easily recyclable.

The fact remains that each stage involves the consumption of raw materials and the release of chemical emissions, including raw material sourcing, processing, product manufacturing, packaging, transportation, distribution and storage, consumer use, waste disposal and end-of-life processes. These have an impact on a variety of environmental issues, including pollution, resource shortages and human health.

What to Consider When Selecting Sustainable Solutions

Selecting sustainable solutions does not have to be as challenging as it may seem. In fact, there are a few ways organizations that use technology can be deliberate about their choices, doing their best to consider all aspects of sustainability.

Part of this is taking into account not only the energy consumption of technology as it impacts both cost savings and carbon emission reductions but also the broader lifecycle of technology. A few areas to consider include the following:

Find out if hazardous chemicals are used in production, if the packaging is eco-friendly or if products can be reconditioned or recycled. When possible, organizations should also consider implementing a “circularity” approach to their sustainability strategy, which means that when a product needs to be replaced, it can get returned to the supply chain by either being refurbished or dismantled. As a result, this minimizes waste and makes each generation of products more sustainable.

Other considerations to ensure that sustainable practices are part of new purchases is to ask the following questions: Does the specific product under review comply with all globally recognized environmental directives and regulations? Has the vendor demonstrated a concrete commitment to improving the sustainability of their products across the lifecycle over time? This latter question is very important, as selecting the right vendor now can help enterprises spare the expense and disruption of changing vendors later.

A Win-Win

The good news is that the most innovative technology products in today’s marketplace tend to be built with sustainability in mind, more often than not. As a result, organizations don’t need to compromise their sustainability goals or business goals and can achieve both. And this is good news for making progress toward addressing environmental concerns like climate change and resource scarcity.

Source: Forbes