If you are responsible for reducing GHG emissions, then IT and travel should definitely be priority areas. But where to start? You probably need a high-level view of all the GHG emissions produced by technology and travel at work. Possibly a simulation to calculate what would happen if you changed devices, adopted new work practices or moved certain workloads to the cloud. But what about the detail on the individual devices, roles or locations? In this post we review the issue of “accountability” and how rich decision-making data can help improve sustainability at work.
We all know that how we work (as well as how we live) has a measurable impact on the planet. We also know that while that impact may be small at an individual level, once it is scaled up (for example by a worldwide working population of 3.3 billion1) then the impact is considerable.
Of course not everyone in the 3.3 billion workforce uses technology or travels to work, but a very significant proportion do.
As examples, shipments of new computers (PCs, tablets & laptops) have exceeded 400 million per annum2 every year of the last decade, internet users now exceed 5 billion3 and, despite a 65% reduction due to Covid-19, US commuters still drove 140 billion miles just to get to and from work last year4.
There are some positive signs that things are changing. Here in the UK Covid has had an impact on the way we work and travel. In the early stages of the 2020 lockdown car trips into UK city centres dropped by over 80% in Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester5 as the “working from home” population went from 1.7 million to 20 million in a matter of a few days 6.
2021, however, is now forecast to see the second highest increase in carbon emissions ever recorded7 as the global economy uses investment in fossil fuels as a way to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.
Accountability, Compliance and ESG
In April 2021 the UK government announced plans to set arguably the world’s most ambitious climate change targets into law8. This legislation introduces a sixth Carbon Budget and commits to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels, in line with the recommendations from the independent Climate Change Committee.
Through its presidency of the COP26 UN climate summit, taking place in Glasgow later this year, the UK is urging countries and organisations around the world to deliver “net zero” globally by 2050 and crucially to commit to more ambitious targets for cutting emissions by 2030.
“The next decade is the most critical period for us to change the perilous course we are currently on. Long term targets must be backed up with credible delivery plans”.COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma
Most organisations are rightly concerned not just about their sustainability and legislative compliance, but also how it is perceived by customers, staff, investors and stakeholders. The increasing use of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) scorecards mean that organisations need to collect actual metrics about their actual performance rather than the broader strategic commitments of a CSR (Corporate and Social Responsibility) policy.
The problem, quite literally, is one of accountability. How do we count (measure) environmental impacts at work? How do we ensure that the data we have is based on independent, science-based measurements rather than guesses or estimates? Who is responsible for gathering and presenting the data? How can we then turn it into information that is both compelling and useful enough to drive real and rapid change?
Taking accountability to the next level, while the organisation might have a dashboard of overall emissions and trends, drilling down into the detail is not simple. What is the impact of specific departments, locations, roles (or even individuals)? How efficient are the devices and datacentres when compared with “best of breed”? What has been the impact of reduced travel over the last year and what would it mean if we went back to “normal” ways of working?
This is precisely what Px3 was set up to achieve. Firstly to provide verifiable, independent measurements of the environmental impacts of the information technology we use for work and the travel we undertake to, from and for work. Secondly to model the impact of changes. Thirdly to visualise that information in ways that decision makes, staff and stakeholders find easy to understand.
Too Little Detail, Too Many Blind Spots
So how do we balance the need for both headline figures and granular detail for each organisation? At the top level it’s fairly easy to get meter readings for premises and calculate the carbon footprint of our office space.
The challenge comes when we want to know which IT devices are actually using that electricity and how efficiently. What about all of those staff using our IT equipment from home? And how will our IT and travel policies affect our commitment to and progress towards Net Zero?
Talking to sustainability managers they often state that I.T. is their big blind spot. They can measure power to the desk, but have no visibility of who or what is consuming it. Equally when we talk to heads of IT / CIOs, sustainability was not in the top 3 on their checklist when specifying devices and services three years ago, although it increasingly is now.
Datacentres pose another challenge. On-prem datacentre emissions are recorded as scope 2 (created by energy used in business operations), so there may be some benefit in moving some of the workloads to the cloud. But which provider has real “green” credentials? What will be the actual impact on emissions and reporting?
These questions are all about how organisations go about balancing the need for best-value, performance, security, user experience and sustainability – a complex mix of factors to be considered.
The Answer: Actionable Sustainability Insights
This is where the Px3 sustainability reports come in – providing answers to complex questions through actionable insights into sustainability. We’ve recently worked with customers ranging from a few hundred up to hundreds of thousands of devices, presenting them with rich, decision-making data, such as:
- Which makes, models and types of devices are being used?
- How much GHG emissions are they creating?
- Who is using devices (e.g. which departments)
- Where are the emissions hotspots?
- How much work travel is taking place
- Why are people travelling as much as they do?
- What can we do to make a significant difference?
The result is two-fold. Firstly a simple set of dashboards, reports and easy to understand illustrations which help communicate the results. Secondly a “drill-down” capability into the data to reveal the complexities and nuances needed to turn policy into action. “Eye-opening detail” was the response from one of our customers this month.
Can it make a difference? Our independent research8 overseen by the University of Warwick shows that the right choices can cut energy consumption and GHG emissions by as much as 90%.
If you’re looking to make significant savings, a 90% reduction is a great place to start.
Predictably, the answer to the question posed in the title is that you need both the dashboards and the details to make the right choices and drive effective change. The good news is that we can help provide you with both.
Simply fill in our contact form to book a live demonstration of Px3’s sustainability reports, dashboards and modelling tools.
1 ILO: World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2020 https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_734455.pdf
5 INRIX: https://inrix.com/scorecard/
About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3
Ewen is CIO of Px3, a company on a 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.