With the recent celebration of Earth Day, I couldn’t help but reflect on what this year’s theme of “Invest In Our Planet” means to the IT industry, and how we can play a more meaningful role.
One thing that most excites me about technology is its potential to accelerate change, and truly transform how we live. It’s an incredible responsibility, and some might argue the glass is half empty when it comes to the direction the world is heading. Between global conflicts, labour constraints, supply chain issues, inflation, soaring oil prices, the persistent pandemic – it’s a load on all of us and our planet.
But the glass is more than half full when you think about the opportunities that are emerging because of these challenges, with technology at the heart of positive change. It plays a key role in sustainability, maintaining vital personal connections and continuity when the world around us becomes disrupted.
With COVID-19, for example, technology has enabled people to work from home, eliminating commutes, which in turn lowered exhaust emissions, albeit temporarily. And it’s not just IT that is helping. Intelligent technology in appliances, cars, furnaces, and more is reducing the amount of carbon footprint left from previous generations of the same devices.
Digital transformation can open doors to new innovation and to helping achieve net-zero goals, and the good news is, organizations of all kinds are investing in it.
We recently worked with IDG to study where enterprises are at on the path to transformation, and almost all (87 per cent) said they’re actively pursuing transformation initiatives. Nearly half of those are taking on organization-wide modernization efforts. Of the 400 IT leaders surveyed, 90 per cent expect to see improvements in quality of service, user experience, business continuity and agility, and resource and cost optimization.
What can this look like? Transformation takes on many different shapes:
Make it automatic
Last summer, when Microsoft announced its Cloud for Sustainability program, we were eager to be part of their effort to create software-as-a-service solutions helping organizations record, report, and reduce their environmental impact through real-time information gathering. Insight was Microsoft’s first partner to act, tackling an automated carbon capture and sequestration project with a large Canadian pipeline company.
Through a combination of Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and machine learning solutions, we’re capturing data at 900 pipeline, gas plant, and fracking sites to quickly track emissions levels. In a single day, data ingested from IoT sensors can be translated by an Azure Synapse data platform into automated carbon capture reports that used to take up to six months to gather in Excel.
While this kind of automation and business intelligence will help the pipeline company stay on top of government emissions reporting standards, what’s even more gratifying is that carbon-accounting solutions likes these are easily scalable across the entire oil and gas industry.
Automation also can directly affect environmental impact. We have been working with the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, Western Australia’s preservation steward, to consolidate three disparate project-review systems. By developing a one-stop Environment Online shop, assessment times for projects potentially affecting the natural environment and water resources are expected to be significantly reduced from current processing times that can take up to 2,000 days. Delays like this annually cost $172 million (AUD), stalling job creation and progress.
Practical solutions for sustainability
These are bold moves rethinking how we can do business in more resourceful ways. But complete transformation doesn’t have to be the only answer — sometimes, practical changes can be just as beneficial to growing sustainability.
Finding new uses for old hardware, for instance, can be a huge planet saver. Device lifecycle management has never been more important than today, when IT supply chain delays are causing organizations to be more thoughtful about prolonging what you have.
Last year, a record 57.4 million tons of e-waste was generated globally, equating to more than the weight of the Great Wall of China. Sadly only 17.4 per cent of this was recycled.
This is a concern for us, and we partnered last year with Dell Technologies to help clients repurpose or resell 275,000 dated devices (equivalent to 2 million pounds), as part of Dell’s Progress Made Real 2030 plan.
A circular design approach helps us return materials to their production cycles for use in new products. A good asset-disposition program not only combats e-waste, it allows organizations to securely erase sensitive data on old machines — maximizing the return on their IT investments.
Be ambitious about change
Today, I don’t know an organization that isn’t talking about sustainability. It’s a big priority for our clients, and IT solutions can span everything from asset recovery and recycling to optimizing data centre power use, leveraging the public cloud, and creating more intelligence at the edge.
Even the most traditional global enterprises are going digital to leave a lighter carbon footprint. It was telling when Ford announced in March its plans to accelerate their transformation to electric vehicles (EV) by creating two distinct businesses.
By splitting Ford Blue (internal combustion vehicle manufacturing) and Model e into separate divisions, the company can streamline operations all-around while getting aggressive about delivering 2 million EVs — a third of their production volume — in just four years. Ford Blue will fuel innovation on the Model e side through its profitability, while the EV side will generate new innovation that benefits Ford’s entire fleet.
That’s a modern business model that benefits all of us in the long run, and Ford isn’t alone. We’ve seen other traditional companies, like IBM, taking similar paths by focusing its core side now on cloud software and AI, while its spin off company Kyndryl focuses on the legacy hardware business.
If longstanding, proven global businesses like these are transforming to become leaner, stronger, more agile, and ultimately more resourceful. We should all be ambitious about innovating for our future.
Every day we don’t make progress on sustainability, we lose ground; and much of what we lose won’t come back. I equate it to the old saying, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago — the second best time is now.” The same can be said for sustainability, and in so many circumstances, technology is the path to a better, greener future.