Dr. Sutton-Parker’s research into the Potential Benefits of ChromeOS for the Public Sector Identifies Emissions Reduction of 1.7 bn Car Miles and over £650m in Potential Savings
Background & Issues
I’ve produced countless items about the concept of keeping #endusercomputing devices for longer periods to drive #climateaction. The idea is simple. If you keep a device for 5-years then a new device must be produced for you to buy in year 6. However, keep it for 8-years and the production carbon footprint of the new device will have been ‘displaced’ by 3-years.
If all 4.2bn+ computer users did this then the positive environmental impact would be significant considering that end user computing already causes more than 1% of annual global #ghgemissions. Theoretically demand for the 460m new notebooks, desktop computers, thin clients and tablets produced every year would decline by approximately one quarter when accounting for increasing computer user numbers.
I also advocate including #sustainability into computer selection and procurement. Seeking out a new device with the lowest #carbonfootprint caused by both production (supply chain) and use (electricity consumption) will significantly reduce GHG emissions in both the immediate and long term.
The combined concepts directly support the #unsdgs including number 12, (responsible consumption and production), number 13 (climate action).
For both changes to use and procurement habits to become a behavioural norm, barriers associated to change must be overcome . If business stakeholders continue to believe #sustainableit causes complexity, additional cost and time and delivers limited #environmentalimpact then diffusion will be slow and driven mainly by compliance [1, 2].
Obviously I work hard to change this perception.
Innovation to Address The Issues
To ensure the comparison and selection of low carbon footprint computers is incredibly simple, I created the Dynamic Carbon Footprint application . It overcomes inconsistencies in manufacturer product carbon footprint reports and gives IT and procurement teams the opportunity to select devices low carbon footprint devices on a level playing field .
To also ensure organisations are aware that sustainable IT strategies are both impactful from a GHG abatement perspective (planet) and a cost perspective (profit), I created the Px3 framework and have conducted many impact case studies [4, 5].
In relation to the issue of planet versus profit, it’s reasonable to say that the majority of people want to be proactive from a #climatechange perspective but at the same time need to remain aware of costs. The balance has been constant since the emergence and popularisation of #csr #esg strategies. However, today with spiralling utility and general everyday costs, it has arguably never been a more relevant subject.
Consequently, using less electricity and buying computers less often would surely benefit every organisation? As IT costs decline because of the new sustainability strategy, so too do associated GHG emissions caused by production and use. It’s a win win situation that’s hard to ignore.
In the spirit of UNSDG number 17, #partnershipsforthegoals, my research is used by numerous global technology and eco-certification companies. I like the interaction as it means the message behind sustainable IT driving climate action will reach a much wider audience and perhaps accelerate adoption.
First Steps with Google
In 2019 I conducted independent academic research  with the University of Warwick that determined #chromebooks consumed on average 46% less energy than competing operating system devices .
Speculating that the increased efficiency would be part caused by the operating system and partly by common components used in Chromebooks, I conducted a related experiment .
Transforming Windows devices to Chromebooks using ChromeOS Flex, I determined that on average ChromeOS reduces computer electricity consumption by 19% . The concept was simple in the fact that while the operating system had changed from one measurement to the next, the hardware remained identical.
While the finding was interesting (to me) I also wanted to challenge a scientific school of thought. It suggests new product energy efficiency undermines the sustainability case for procurement displacement strategies. In plain speak this means that because new devices produce less use-phase emissions when compared to an old devices, any new production emissions are quickly compensated for.
The research proved that even when seeking out highly efficient examples of new devices with low carbon footprints, several decades passed before the new energy efficiency eroded the production emissions . As several decades was far beyond even an extended 8-year retention period, it was reasonable to conclude that keeping a device for as long as possible is a good thing.
Fortunately Google’s ChromeOS team understood what my research meant in relation to forming meaningful sustainability strategies for their existing and prospective customers.
In simple terms, both ChromeOS and ChromeOS Flex are capable of delivering reduced scope 2 (electricity use-phase) GHG emissions. While ChromeOS Flex is capable of extending the useful lifespan of Windows and Mac devices and therefore reducing scope 3 (supply chain) GHG emissions. The message is so powerful that Google has a dedicated ChromeOS sustainability website .
From my perspective the synergy of research achieving wider application is great, but what would it look like if a100% ChromeOS strategy was applied to one of the UK’s largest commercial computer user groups?
Research with the UK Government
The opportunity to answer this question arose in 2022. In spring I had conducted scope 3 computer supply chain research  for the UK Government’s Sustainable Technology Advice & Reporting (STAR) group who are responsible for over 2m end user computing devices. The research findings and high level computer install base data became publicly available later in the year as part of the Greening Government ICT 2022 Strategy update .
As such, as the computer device quantities were now in the public domain, I thought it would be interesting to use the data to test my theory of wide scale impact enable by a ‘ChromeOS Sustainability’ strategy.
ChromeOS Research for Google
In the following months, I took the recommendations of device lifespan extension and transition to low carbon footprint devices I had made in the government research [9, 10] and converted this to specifically focus on ChromeOS based outcomes.
Specifically, I calculated two end user computing use and procurement policies that followed an 8-year time horizon to 2030.
The first was a ‘do nothing’ policy where the UK government continues to buy new models of existing end user computers and keeps devices for a 5-year period.
The second was a ‘ChromeOS Sustainability’ policy where the government extended retention periods to 8-years by transforming existing devices to Chromebooks and Chromeboxes with Chrome OS Flex. Additionally, when future computer purchases became necessary, the policy ensured that only highly energy efficient low carbon footprint equivalent Chrome OS devices were selected.
To ensure that electrical efficiencies delivered to existing computer equipment and future carbon footprint reductions were specific to government computer models, I spent time conducting new power measurements and supply chain calculations.
Although obviously theoretical, as the wholesale conversion to ChromeOS had not occurred, the potential GHG emissions avoidance and financial cost savings were quite frankly staggering.
The results, summarised in our eDoc (below), showed that average scope 2 GHG emissions abatement driven by improved existing and new computer energy efficiency would be just over 1m kgCO2e per year.
In context, this is equivalent to avoiding emissions caused by driving 3.67m car miles every single year for 8-years.
From a financial perspective, by 2030 the sustainable IT strategy enabled by ChromeOS could potentially deliver an overall annual utility cost saving of nearly £9m at today’s commercial electricity rates.
More significantly, using ChromeOS Flex to extend the lifespan of devices and by seeking out low carbon footprint alternatives potentially avoids almost 57m kgCO2e of scope 3 supply chain emissions every year.
This is equivalent to avoiding emissions caused by driving 207.5m car miles annually.
Financially it is hard to argue that extending device lifespans is not compelling. The sustainability strategy returns an average annual device procurement cost saving of just over £68m.
In total, the difference between the ‘do nothing policy’ and the proposed ‘sustainable IT’ policy for the projected 8-year period was breath-taking and certainly answers the question whether sustainable IT strategies deliver impact .
Cumulatively, 464m kgCO2e of GHG emissions could be avoided from now until 2030 by implementing the proposed ChromeOS Sustainability policy.
This is equivalent to avoiding emissions created 1.7bn car miles. This is so significant that the avoided GHG emissions would otherwise require 70,000 forest acres every year to remove the resulting carbon from the atmosphere.
Circling back to earlier research that determined over 40% of company stakeholders cited cost as a barrier to the adoption of sustainable IT , this example further validates that the reverse is actually true.
In fact, during the 8 year period £651,388,610 is potentially saved by reducing utility and procurement costs .
As such, if you are an organisation that is considering the positive impact of sustainable IT during a time of financial and climate turmoil then why not see the results for yourself via the link below?
And next time you think about upgrading your notebooks or desktop computers ask yourself whether you might like to try other options that consider both planet and profit. Then perhaps sustainable IT can become the norm.
You can access the summary of the findings here.
 Sutton-Parker, J. (2020), ‘Quantifying resistance to the diffusion of information technology sustainability practices in the United Kingdom service sector’. Volume 175, 2020, Pages 517-524. doi.org/10.1016/j.procs.2020.07.073. 1877-0509. Procedia Computer Science. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Science Direct, Elsevier B.V. Available at: <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877050920317737>
 Dahlmann, F., and Sutton-Parker, J. (2020), ‘The Cost of Running IT is the Next Sustainability Challenge’. Page 105. Paris, France: The Council on Business and Society. Available at: <https://cobsinsights.org/2020/12/01/the-cost-of-running-it-the-next-sustainability-challenge/>
 Sutton-Parker, J. (2022), ‘Is sufficient carbon footprint information available to make sustainability focused computer procurement strategies meaningful?’. 1877-0509. Procedia Computer Science, Volume 203, 2022, Pages 280-289. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Science Direct, Elsevier B.V. Available at: <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S187705092200641X>
 Sutton-Parker, J. (2022), ‘Determining the impact of information technology greenhouse gas abatement at the Royal Borough of Kingston and Sutton Council’. 1877-0509. Procedia Computer Science, Volume 203, 2022, Pages 300-309. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Science Direct, Elsevier B.V. Available at: <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877050922006433>
 Sutton-Parker, J. (2022), ‘Modernising and extending device lifecycles to support climate action: Nordic Choice Hotels impact case study.’ California, USA: Google. Available at: <https://chromeenterprise.google/os/sustainability/>
 Sutton-Parker, J. (2020), ‘Determining end user computing device Scope 2 GHG emissions with accurate use phase energy consumption measurement’. Volume 175, 2020, Pages 484-491. doi.org/10.1016/j.procs.2020.07.069. 1877-0509. Procedia Computer Science. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Science Direct, Elsevier B.V. Available at: <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877050920317506
 Sutton-Parker, J. (2022), ‘Quantifying greenhouse gas abatement delivered by alternative computer operating system displacement strategies’. 1877-0509. Procedia Computer Science, Volume 203, 2022, Pages 254-263. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Science Direct, Elsevier B.V. Available at: <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S187705092200638X>
 Google. (2022), ‘Build a sustainable future with ChromeOS’. Mountain View, California: Google Available at: <https://chromeenterprise.google/os/sustainability/>
 Sutton-Parker, J. (2022), ‘Determining United Kingdom government ICT scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions for DEFRA’. Warwick, UK: University of Warwick, Computer Science Dept. Data table extract available within the appendix of the UK Government Greening Government ICT Annual Report: <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/greening-government-ict-annual-report-2021-to-2022>
 Gov.UK (2022). ‘Greening government ICT: annual report 2021 to 2022’. London, UK: Crown Copyright, H.M. Government.
 Sutton-Parker, J. (2022), ‘Determining End User Computing GHG emissions abatement within the UK Government enabled by ChromeOS.’ California, USA: Google.
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