Time to Plan the Quickest Route to “Zero”…

As the pressure for climate action grows, organisations are starting to look at the changes needed to become carbon neutral.  Whether your chosen standard is PAS2060 or ISO14065 this means carrying out a detailed review not just of the energy your organisation uses in its premises, but also of its supply chain and ways of working.  In this regard IT services and work-based travel are significant contributors to both Scope 2 (energy used for work purposes) and Scope 3 (value chain and travel to/for work) emissions.  IT is also essential to establishing new and more sustainable ways of working.  In our latest article we look at how to plan for and deliver a more sustainable operation, and accelerate towards the goal of becoming carbon neutral.

So why a “route to zero” and why is our speed important?

In this case the route we’re talking about is the one for an organisation to become carbon neutral.  Why does this, and specifically the speed of it, matter?  At a global level our consumption of finite resources continues to increase far beyond the earth’s ability to replenish them.  The emissions and waste that this consumption creates are also accelerating significant and very negative changes to our environment. Every year we delay in meeting our carbon emissions reduction targets is another year of damage.

Earth Overshoot Day (https://www.overshootday.org/) is a good way to illustrate the issue.  It marks the date when our demand for the Earth’s resources and services exceeds what the planet can regenerate in that year.  In 2020, despite the reduced travel and economic activity caused by the pandemic, Earth Overshoot Day was still August the 22nd.  That’s just 234 days to consume a years’ worth of resources.  And the effect of that demand and consumption on the Earth is potentially catastrophic in terms of temperatures, extreme weather, loss of biodiversity and rising sea levels. Put simply we need to consume less and conserve more if we are to leave this planet in a fit state for the future.

Melting ice in the Arctic: In the last twenty years alone, Iceland’s glaciers have shrunk by over 800 km2

Having identified a pressing need to take action, why focus on IT? There are three very good reasons why IT needs to get some serious attention:

  1. Footprint: Surprisingly our research indicates IT and work-based travel are jointly responsible for more than 5% of all the GHG emissions worldwide (If we were to use mature forests to offset these emissions they would have to be the size of Greenland and Canada combined [1])
  2. Enablement: If we want to reduce GHG emissions from travel and premises, that requires flexible and mobile working – which in turn require IT that allows communication and collaboration but doesn’t compromise security or user experience
  3. Addressability: Using the action points we cover later in this post emissions can be reduced by between 40% to 70% (and costs can potentially be cut too) so Good IT really can be Green IT

So we believe there is a compelling reason for change and IT offers an opportunity for significant improvement – this is our journey, but how do we go about planning and completing it? 

Below are the five steps Px3 recommend to ensure success.

Step 1: Alignment, Initiation & Target Setting – It’s very important that any initiative to become “greener” is put in the broader environmental and organisational context, so ensure it is aligned with the appropriate standard(s), target dates, UN (https://sdgs.un.org/goals) and UK (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-becomes-first-major-economy-to-pass-net-zero-emissions-law) strategic goals and references the organisational mission statements, including any Corporate and Social Responsibility, compliance or other relevant commitments the organisation has made. 

At this stage it’s also important to get stakeholder buy in to the need for change and the targets.  Get resources assigned and an overall, high-level strategic plan communicated.  Ideally have a board-level “champion” assigned to lend weight to the initiative.  External advocacy can help at this stage in terms of raising awareness and profile through workshops and webinars.

Step 2: Analyse: In order to plan the journey in any detail we need to know where we are today and therefore which areas to target as a priority for change. There are a number of ways of achieving this, but our preferred route is through analytics software which combines detailed inventory, power consumption and location-based information. 

This is typically supported by some level of survey or interview data to provide additional detail (for example on changes in travel due to the pandemic response) and context.  The main requirement is that any information gathering and analysis uses a fully disclosed and defensible “scientific method”. 

Step 3: Map & Benchmark:  Based on the information gathered Px3 typically creates a “carbon map” of the organisation.  This shows where emissions are being generated, for example which devices are being used and for how long.  We can view this from various perspectives including by department, by role or by location.

Where analytics are used we can also gather information about device configurations (such as power-saving settings) and usage (such as user experience) to identify any issues or productivity impacts which may affect users.  This is particularly relevant for today’s more dispersed workforces.

Using this information we can create a set of benchmark data for the organisation, including specific indices and visualisations such the PX3 “EVE” rating of Employee Vehicle Equivalent which help to communicate the findings.

Step 4: Modelling:  Having identified the current state we can then use externally verified benchmark data to model various options to see what the potential environmental benefits would be.

There are four areas that we typically look at in such an assessment:

  1. Using reduced energy personal computing devices where possible
  2. Using collaboration / remote working software to reduce work travel
  3. Moving from on-premises / private cloud to hyper-cloud services
  4. Using software and cloud services to extended device lifespan

Across all of these we use the analysis and benchmark data to identify the gap between where the organisation is today and a potential “greener” future state.  Clearly there are wider considerations (not least cost) that need to be taken into consideration, but sustainability should be one of the guiding principles in any strategic procurement decisions.  Fortunately many of the measures that reduce emissions also reduce costs, so the business case for change can be compelling.

The output of the modelling is the reduced set of GHG emissions that will be created by a “future state” of devices, services and ways of working.  This is a critical asset for the organisation in terms of emissions reporting and for showing progress on the wider move to carbon neutrality.

Step 5: Offset:  Although the organisation will have committed to reducing emissions, and may have made some immediate savings, there will be a residual amount left which could not be addressed by the changes.  The world of work requires energy, and while this can be purchased from providers committed to using sustainable energy, the truth is that it is drawn from the “grid” and supplied from any number of actual suppliers.

To account for this some organisations also choose to purchase credits in order to offset the emissions from the power they use.  This is not without controversy, with some commentators (https://www.monbiot.com/2006/10/19/selling-indulgences/) likening the practice to the historical practice of “indulgences” which forgave sins in return for financial donations to the church.

Px3 do not resell offsetting (or indeed any third party products or services) but we do recommend that our clients select offsetting programmes very carefully – only those that are independently certified in line with UN protocols (https://unfccc.int/climate-action/climate-neutral-now) and ideally those that specialise in increasing the supply of truly renewable energy or invest in reducing the most polluting practices. 

While it could be argued that this is more the responsibility of governments, as with most things related to climate change the lines are blurred and the time is short, so funding positive action is to be welcomed.

Ultimately any medium to large-sized organisation wanting to achieve carbon neutrality will need to purchase some form of carbon offsets or credits to achieve this.  

Conclusion

In this post we have set out the main steps needed for organisations that want to improve the sustainability of their IT as part of their journey to carbon neutrality. 

While it’s easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm for sustainability, we understand that the decisions and changes need to be framed in a business context and trust that the structured approach we have presented reflects this.

Regardless of whether you choose Px3 as your partner for this we hope that you find the steps useful and help you to progress rapidly on your journey to carbon neutrality. We have a lot to protect, and only a litmited amount to time to make a difference.

More information about how PX3 can help is available here: www.px3.org.uk

[1] Sutton-Parker, J. (2020). ‘Determining end user computing device Scope 2 GHG emissions with accurate use phase energy consumption measurement.’ Amsterdam: Elsevier Procedia Computer Science.

About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3

Ewen is CIO of Px3, a company on a self-assigned mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies.  Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050. With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity.

Ewen (LinkedIn Profile) can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

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