What’s the Plan for Net Zero in 2050?

The UK’s Climate Change Committee has issued advice on the changes needed to meet the government’s 2050 target of reducing net carbon emissions to zero – but what does that mean for individuals and organisations?

Changes for the Citizen

In it’s Sixth Carbon Budget Report “The UK’s Path to Net Zero” the Climate Change Committee (CCC) identified some significant changes that all of us are likely to have to make if we want to live in a carbon neutral country. The committee identified that more than 50% of the planned emissions savings involve people and the choices they make.

Travel will become low-carbon by phasing out the internal combustion engine, at least in new cars and vans by the early 2030s. The amount we will fly remains contentious, particularly as there are no expectations in the report of reaching zero emissions for aviation by 2050.

Home Energy will be partly tackled by increasingly efficient devices, but we will need to shift away from natural gas to electricity and heat pumps for heating, a move that will require a massive investment (around £10k per older household) in much needed improvements in home insulation.

Diet and Food were always going to be controversial areas. The CCC has suggested a 20% cut in the consumption of red meat and dairy produce by 2030, increasing to 35% by 2050. It has also suggested a cut of 50% in food waste could be achieved.

Whether it’s flying less (if at all), changing our vehicles (new registrations this year are expected to be 10% electric including hybrid), wasting less or changing our diets, our personal journeys towards 2050 and Net-Zero have already started and are going to accelerate.

Changes for Organisations

Surface travel, buildings and energy supply have a significant share of of UK emissions (22%, 17% and 10% respectively). All private, public and third sector organisations will need to consider how emissions in these areas can be measured and reduced.

For most organisations reporting on energy consumption and progress on emissions reduction is now mandatory across Scope 1 (Direct emissions on site such as gas boilers and fleet vehicles), Scope 2 (Indirect emissions from electricity purchased and used) and Scope 3 (Indirect emissions from activities such as business travel and supply chain).

There are positive signs. We’ve seen from recent news how the impacts of Covid-19 have led to dramatic falls in emissions worldwide, but most significantly in the UK and France, where annual emissions are down 13% and 15% respectively. While some of this can be attributed to shut-down of industry, reductions in travel and work-based travel in particular would seem to be a major cause of the UK reduction.

Continuing the trend towards more flexible working arrangements is critical to meeting our 2050 targets as carefully consider how to balance the new world of work between pre and post Covid-19 worlds. This clearly has implications for the size and configuration of offices, as the use of these shifts from “every day” to “as required”. It’s likely that we will see greater emphasis on shared spaces, hot-desking and collaboration spaces and the technology to support this flexibility both in and away from the office becomes essential.

Despite the increasing use of sustainable energy we still need to consider the energy used by our works devices and datacentres. While we transition from our current mix to one largely free of fossil fuels (the CCC plan assumes fossil fuel supply emissions to be reduced by 75% by 2035 from 2018 levels) we will still be generating energy from fossil fuel for the foreseeable future.

That means we need to take steps to reduce power consumption wherever possible – with the added benefit of cost savings.

It’s these areas where Px3 focusses assessments – to measure the carbon footprint of ways of working, devices and datacentres and provide guidance on what can be changed, and what the benefits would be.

Conclusion

The CCC considered three likely scenarios: Headwinds (limited societal/behavioural change and innovation), Widespread Engagement (People and businesses are willing to make more changes to their behaviour, reducing the demand for the most high-carbon activities) and Widespread Innovation (Greater success in
reducing costs of low-carbon technologies, allowing more widespread electrification and a more resource and energy-efficient economy).

For those of us who can’t directly drive the innovation agenda, we need to focus on shifting from Headwinds to Widespread Engagement and making best use of resources. With the right data we can drive informed choices and all play our part in meeting these important and ambitious targets.

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.

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

And the “Word of the Year” for 2021 is….

Words are important indicators of what we are thinking and how we are feeling.  Recent Oxford English Dictionary “words of the year” suggest a growing public anxiety about the environment and the need for change, but do we need to change our way of thinking to actually drive different outcomes?

2020: Too Complex for a Single Word

In November 2020 the Oxford English Dictionary officially gave up on having just one “Word of the Year“, citing the unprecedented changes in attitudes and circumstances. Read more here

With some words (notably “pandemic”) increasing in usage by more than 57,000% over previous years you could be forgiven for hoping that 2021 might lead us into calmer waters.  That would be a mistake. There are significant trends in those lists of words that have not gone away.

As an example, the 2019 OED word of the year was “climate-change”.  In 2018 it was “toxic”.  “Carbon-neutral” and “carbon-footprint” featured in 2007 (UK) and 2006 (US) respectively.  In fact after the seemingly trivial early years commencing in 2004 with “chav”, followed by “sudoku” and “bovvered”, words relating to the environment, government, protest, society and economics have dominated the list.

What’s notable though is that the words typically relate to issues, not solutions.  They are what concerns us, not what we are doing about it.

Customer-Led Thinking

Our response to these issues and concerns can be orthodox (assume that a combination of policy, economics, society and science will sort everything out) or heterodox (decide that some of those institutions are built on flawed, self-interested or even destructive principals, so require more radical change and re-alignment).  

This latter mode is associated with disruptive economic theories and their implications for ecology and society, which will be covered in later blogs, but for now let’s consider where heterodox thinking might take us, starting with some assumptions:

  1. Changing individual behaviour is critical to becoming more sustainable – in particular our direct and indirect consumption of raw materials and our attitude to waste.
  2. People are social and their behaviour, driven by a complex interaction of things that change rapidly (influences and opinions) and those that change slowly if at all (habits, culture, traditions and beliefs), is not entirely rational or predictable.
  3. Socio-economic factors which affect behaviour are complex, evolving and heavily influenced by policy, media and by highly visible brands or individuals perceived to have particular knowledge or resonance.
  4. Our current focus on having “more”, “new”, “latest” and “best” is accelerating already unsustainable resource use, emissions and e-waste to landfill

While orthodox thinking on sustainability might lead us towards socio-economic factors (such as taxation or celebrity green ambassadors) to drive change, heterodox thinking suggests that this will be ineffective because of embedded self-interests in the systems. Instead it inclines us towards giving the individual direct feedback on their personal impact and encouraging “flood up” from the consumer rather than “trickle down” from the influencer.

Breaking the Habit

It’s not by chance that businesses often refer to the public as either “customers” (those who purchase from habit, i.e. by custom) or as “consumers”.

If we can build on the undoubted concern with a very real illustration of what an individual’s footprint is like, how it can be reduced and what it means for the planet  we can begin to drive more positive engagement at the heart of the problem – the person making the decision on whether and what to buy.

This is exactly the model we use at Px3 with our carbon footprint assessments for organisations; measure, inform through illustration, then use real, contextualised information to identify and encourage change.

And crucially when people’s decisions change, then their purchasing and voting powers flow upwards to influence those who govern them, supply them and market to them.  If we increase knowledge and accountability we cut through the greenwash and self-interest to something that needs to be proved in order to be true. And the media have become increasingly willing to expose forces that seek to undermine change in their own self interest, such as the recent dubiously-sourced report on electric vehicles.

Reducing raw materials use, packaging, distribution and waste, while also increasing longevity, options for repair, upgrade and re-purposing should all become the default, simply because an informed buyer (whether personal or corporate procurement) will demand those as a minimum.

Conclusion

In 2021 we need alternative, heterodox thinking to turn the existing influencer model on its head. 

No longer should brands determine what is on-trend and encourage us to want ever increasing output through endorsement and advertising.  Instead an increasingly sceptical public should be encouraged to ask why something needs to be replaced rather than repaired and to hold those disposable elements of the market in contempt as no longer fit for purpose.

Maybe “heterodox” is unlikely to top the list in 2021, but if we can reverse the influence then the compound word of the year could be “customer-led”.

And even if we can’t achieve that milestone, if you want to be a leading brand in 2021, your green credentials had better stand up to external audit because there’s going to be a lot more questions and scrutiny from an increasingly sceptical public.

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.

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

“They” is the Problem – The Psychology of Climate Change

While climate change is often presented as a scientific, political or even economic issue, there are some elements of it that are mostly about people.  Indeed the middle “P” of Px3 (Planet, People & Productivity) is there for precisely this reason.  If we want to make positive changes we need to consider the factors that drive change or cause inertia.

In this post I want to consider three aspects of human “cognitive” and sociological behaviour that go some way to explain how we got ourselves into this situation and what we need to change to resolve it.  I’ve presented these as simple statements, all open to challenge and debate, which I believe underlie our current threat to the environment.

Out / In Grouping – We tend to feel less positively about people when we assign them groups to which we don’t belong and vice versa (also known as “othering”)

Dissonance / Consonance – We are able to hold two or more contradictory ideas at the same time, but suffer some mental discomfort as a result and may make choices that seem illogical to ease this feeling

External / Internal Attribution – We vary in our perception of how much each of us is actually in control and therefore able to achieve or affect particular outcomes

The Issue

The Venn diagram below shows the interactions of the negative aspects of the three behaviours.  At this end of the spectrum we hold an expectation that someone else (politicians or scientists) will be responsible for resolving all the problems, that someone else (other nations or cultures) is causing them and that despite our concerns we have no actual role to play or potential to change the situation.

James Lovelock in his excellent 2019 work Novacene describes humans as “fissiparous”, meaning prone to dividing, fracturing and splitting apart.  For me this is the corner stone of the problem.  If I perceive that They are not changing, then neither will I.  If They have the authority and power when I do not, then clearly They have the responsibility for change.  And why should I be inconvenienced or go without when They are not and do not.  

It doesn’t take much to bring out this aspect of our natures.  We naturally identify as a group by identifying another group who are not like us or we imagine oppose or threaten us.  We see this demonstrated in distrust of scientists and politicians, often aggravated by social media that thrives on instant gratification and closed, self-reinforcing feedback loops.

This “othering” is particularly damaging as it allows us to think and behave in ways which otherwise we and our society would consider totally unacceptable.  From a climate change perspective this is highly concerning.  If we cannot have a truly common cause because THEY are part of it, or are actively working against it, we will not succeed.  Like the pandemic, the problem is global and unless the cure is global, it will not go away.

At best this promotes inertia and inactivity.  As climate related stress increases, however, we are likely to see this “othering” and dissociation leading to negative, even aggressive behaviours.  At the same time the increasing dissonance between our concern for the environment and our unwillingness to change key aspects of our own behaviour has serious impacts on mental health and wellbeing.

Like many psychological and societal issues we find source of the problems lie in learned behaviour, reinforcement and short-term gratification.  Our immediate pleasure from buying exceeds our guilt at both the cost and the environmental impacts of manufacture, distribution, use and disposal, mostly because they are never quantified.

The Resolution

If we were continually advised of these facts, updated on options and their impact and guided to make better choices, our position on these key metrics is more likely to change.  There are moves to do this around ethical shopping sites and initiatives to develop lower-impact and more circular economies which provide us with not just more information and feedback but also with practical ways to “green” our behaviours.

So if we are going to follow a more sustainable path then we need regular information and positive responses, either from others or ourselves, in order to persevere.  We need sufficient stimulus to overcome the inertia, followed by continual reinforcement to maintain the behaviours.

There are possibilities to expose some of the hidden environmental costs of our purchasing and activities through new technology such as blockchain that is able to track the impact of every element of a product or service through its digital footprint, but this has yet to become established in mainstream transactions.

While this article is largely about the individual, this is exactly the approach we at Px3 take to driving change at a corporate level.  Only by measuring and visualising the actual carbon footprint of various areas and activities can we inform and make positive adjustments. While this is relatively easy to do at a building or site level, it’s much harder to analyse at a granular level, particularly when staff are mobile and the workforce is dispersed.

Critical to this is Agency, where the individual feels empowered to drive change not just at in their own behaviour but in a wider context through challenge, advocacy, social and political engagement.

The second Venn diagram presents the situation where the individual accepts responsibility for their own actions and for participation in the wider change process.  Removing the “THEY” element allows not only for the individual to become an agent of their own changes, it encourages active participation in the wider “WE”.

This is perhaps best illustrated by a typical customer engagement in which we measure the Scope 2 and 3 emissions associated with an IT service.  This involves looking at the clients embodied carbon of their existing devices, the power consumed in their day to day operation, their eventual disposal and the operation of their cloud or on-premises data centres.

After making recommendations around emissions reduction we are left with a “balance” that needs to be offset.  It’s no surprise that the most effective offsetting is in protecting and replanting in the most environmentally sensitive areas like the Amazon, but equally clients want to see action and impacts closer to home.  We share a planet, and we also share a country, a region and even a neighbourhood. Change is best delivered and accelerated by building resonance (making things matter) and developing consonance (common voice and purpose).

Balancing global and local is critical to motivating change and encouraging positive activities.  The more we can reduce the concept of THEY and encourage the positivity of WE, the better.   The more we can use science-based measurements to inform and encourage, the better able we are to encourage agency and common purpose, and thereby achieve positive outcomes.

Conclusion

 One thing that the study of psychology tells us is that when we change our thoughts and attitudes we change our relationship with ourselves and the world around us.  While we are certainly capable of being divisive and destructive we are also equally capable of being inclusive and creative.

We need to recognise and reject our temptations to identify THEY and encourage the I and WE.  Through the current pandemic we have the greatest shock to the system and opportunity to reset things for the better in the last half century. Arming ourselves with real data and encouraging positive change in every aspect of our work and personal lives has to be the answer.

How we respond to the challenge of defining our post-Covid-19 world in a more sustainable and inclusive manner will literally define our place in history and how WE are judged by future generations.

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

Changing Our Thinking to Bridge the Climate Change Gap

Many organisations are feeling the pressure and urgency to “do something” to respond to the challenges of sustainability and climate change. But while we know there’s a gulf between where we are and where we should be – what should organisations actually do about it? In this article we present four areas in which new ways of thinking are needed and explore how changes to work and IT can help to help bridge the sustainability gap.

Our challenge when addressing climate change from an organisational perspective is that we need a significant change in behaviours at every level and across every function. We can actively encourage and support more sustainable behaviours, but if we genuinely want to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 (or ideally 2030) then strategy, policy and process are going to need to change, not least in the area of Information Technology. IT is not just a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, it is also a key enabler to new ways of working that can reduce our impact on the planet.

To be clear, what’s needed isn’t just a change by procurement to a more sustainable energy supplier. It also isn’t just about engaging a third party to offset our emissions or encouraging individual employees to behave more sustainably. The scale of the problem requires a strategic rethink, from every sector, every organisation and every function. In the sections below we examine four key topics which have the potential to provide a more wholistic view of the issues and options.

Lifecycle and Disposal

Let’s start with our attitude to “goods” in general and end user computing devices specifically. Traditionally our attitude has been to buy the best we can afford, use them until they become obsolete (typically 3 – 4 years) then dispose of them. Until recently we haven’t been under pressure to select devices which source their raw materials ethically or suppliers who run their manufacturing and distribution sustainably. While our disposal may have been compliant with waste regulations it has been some distance from any concept of a circular economy.

From a sustainability perspective we need to genuinely evaluate our suppliers environmental and ethical standards as key selection criteria. Choosing the right device in the first place is critical in terms of its energy, maintenance and options for upgrades. We also need to consider how to extend the lifecycle of the devices, spreading the “embodied” missions from manufacturing and distribution over as many years as possible.

As devices cease to be fit for their original purpose they can be extended by using a different, lighter operating system, by moving services to the cloud or by repurposing and redeploying the device, for example into education.

Attitude to Energy

It’s very easy for most of us to remain detached from our energy consumption and it’s environmental impact. We flick a switch, adjust a thermostat or power on a device and the power we need is simply there. We refer to this supply as a “utility” something we just use.

But of course our relationship with power is more complex. Even if we sign with a sustainable energy provider, our supply from the grid comes from many sources. No energy supplier can operate with zero impact on the environment, it’s just that some are much less impactful than others.

What’s needed is a rethink about energy away from that of a limitless commodity to one of a valuable, finite and even potentially scarce resource. We need to actively measure our energy use and seek to minimise it wherever possible. The good news is that reduced consumption reduces both emissions and costs, so the benefits are immediately apparent.

Workplaces become Workspaces

Not so long ago the world or work was very much about regular visits to one or more buildings. The daily “commute” was a fact of life for most employees, with only a small percentage regularly working the majority of their working week from other locations. The environmental impact of this behaviour, both from emissions and air pollution, is well documented.

Post Covid-19 the majority of us are now working a significant percentage of our time away from fixed places of work. While this has certainly reduced the number of journeys to work most people are making, it also has some negative consequences. Car use (as a percentage of journeys vs public transport) has increased. Employees working from home are consuming energy to heat homes as places of work, in a way that is significantly less efficient than sharing high-density shared office space.

We are also in danger of increased isolation, stress and a deteriorating work-life balance as our digital world threatens to overwhelm us, with work removed from the physical constraints of time that used to define our working day.

We need to adopt a wider view of the employee, their contribution and their role within the team. Humans don’t thrive as transactional work units, they thrive and contribute as part of a work “tribe” that values what they do. As our work becomes more remote and distributed, this team cultural glue becomes increasingly important to productivity and staff retention.

Profit, Planet & People

Our final area is probably the most challenging for many organisations. We have traditionally used a set of metrics that indicate success and those metrics are almost exclusively to do with money. Whether you look at market cap, EBITDA or market share there is little in those calculations that recognises environmental footprint or sustainability commitments.

What we are seeing, however, is an increasing focus on ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) from an investment and sourcing perspective. Research also indicates an increasing focus on company sustainability as a key motivator from younger employees entering the workforce.

It’s our opinion that strong environmental commitment and credentials will move rapidly from niche to mainstream driven by a combination of financial, fiduciary, compliance and HR pressures. Having an effective strategy in place that combines active energy reduction with a properly sourced ethical offsetting program showing measurable progress towards carbon neutrality will rapidly become the minimum acceptable standard.

Conclusion

Somewhat uniquely, challenging circumstances have given us a chance to stop and think about how we work. We have the opportunity to adopt new ways of working that can significantly reduce carbon emissions and slow the progress of climate change.

What’s needed is a new way of thinking about the world of work and our relationship with our staff, supply chain, stakeholders and the wider community. The more we can adopt sustainable, circular business practices across every facet of the organisation, the more we can reduce our impact and footprint on the planet.

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

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

Lessons Linking Leadership & Sustainability

Studies on leadership indicate that individuals are most effective when there is a balance between authority and responsibility.  Given the urgent need to improve global sustainability, are there lessons here we can apply to our work and personal lives? 

Many years ago while participating in a CEO mentoring programme I was introduced to the concept of balancing authority (taking control of my actions and decisions) and responsibility (taking ownership of the consequences of my actions and decisions).  From a leadership perspective this was a “lightbulb” moment.  I drew up the quadrant below to remind myself of this, not just for my own management development, but as a possible explanation of the actions and attitudes of others.

While the balance of the top right quadrant is the ideal state, I have frequently come across those who feel huge responsibility, but believe they have limited authority to act.  Equally it is easy to see high-profile examples of those who claim and execute significant authority, but seem to have no recognition or ownership of their responsibility or the consequences.

Equally concerning from a sustainability perspective is the lowest left quadrant; those who feel they have neither authority to change anything nor responsibility for their (in)actions.

It’s easy to understand why this happens.  When we look at sustainability as a problem which could be solved, we quickly run up the scale of action needed, going from personal to local, then regional, national, international and finally worldwide.  When you consider the scale of the issue it’s hard to see why individual actions count, particularly if you are not a CEO or world leader. 

In fact, we need to reverse this process, recognising that the individual is in fact the essential component of all of these levels, whether as a consumer, society member, employee or employer.  Again this reflects back on leadership theory – we need to empower and encourage the individual to participate and contribute fully.

We need to encourage people to move from awareness to action, but going further requires two additional steps.  Once an entry level positive activity is established we also need to encourage everyone to think “who else” (can I encourage others to do the same) and “what else” (can I find another area for improvement).

Again, this can be seen as the basics of quality improvement and employee engagement from a business management perspective, but equally it can be applied to our sustainability activities at home and at work.  I’ve tried to illustrate this with the graphic below.

As powerful advocates for change like Sir David Attenborough (www.davidattenboroughfilm.com) voice their concerns, it is vital that the awareness this creates is turned into positive outcomes rather than pessimism and inactivity.

Conclusion

Whatever our circumstances and role each individual will be presented with a series of options and choices.  For some this will be large-scale and strategic, for others a matter of individual actions.  What is needed is for sustainability to become a key factor in all those decisions, alongside more conventional ones like best value and affordability.

Ultimately change is driven by an overwhelming number of individuals making the right decisions, both at home and at work.  Recent UN reports highlight the potential for governments to create a more positive outlook for our planet in a post Covid-19 world (https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/recovering-better/six-climate-positive-actions) – but we all as individuals need to accept, embrace and celebrate the personal authority and responsibility required for a more sustainable future.

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

At the Business End of Going “Green”

Sustainability at work is about more than the “green gloss” of articles and business social media posts.  Considering consistency may be one way to help organisations assess their commitment to a more sustainable business model.

This article considers three linked areas that cut across organisational and environmental boundaries, seeking to put forward a more joined-up and sustainable ap

This article considers various ways in which “consistency” helps organisations genuinely engage in promoting and improving sustainability across their entire scope of operations.   This is examined across the following areas; Strategy (Mission & ESG), Finance (Controlling Costs), Sourcing (Procurement & Supply Chain) People (Ways of Working & Communication) and Metrics (Measurement & Analysis).

Strategy: Our first area requiring consistency is matching strategy against the UN Sustainability Goals for 2030, adopted by the General Assembly in September 2015.  These 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are based on the principle of “leaving no one behind”. 

Not all of these will apply to every organisation, but when we look at overall strategy for the organisation, is it broadly consistent with these principles of reducing environmental harm, inequality and injustice, while improving quality of life, opportunity, health and wellbeing?  Is there an overriding commitment to Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) in place which is determining direction and policy? 

To be clear, these do not have to be the prime and certainly not the only goals of the organisation (unless it is an environmental one) but commitment should feature clearly and boldly in mission and strategy statements.

Finance: One of the main concerns for organisations in the current climate is controlling costs.  The financial strategy needs to be consistent in considering the potential for cost savings balanced by commitments to staff, stakeholders and the environment.

So does improving sustainability necessarily mean an increase in costs?  The good news here is that in many cases what is good for the environment is also good for the balance sheet.

In many cases what is good for the environment is also good for the balance sheet.

As we reduce energy consumption (from premises, devices and datacentres) our costs come down.  As we move systems to the cloud, the length of time we can use a device before it needs replacement also increases.

Equally importantly if we get our ways of working right (see below) then our response to major disruptions and changes need not involve significant extra spending.  Solutions that are designed to be flexible from the outset can respond to major changes smoothly and efficiently, scaling up rather than needing to be changed or increased.

There is a lot of debate around the future of the centralised HQ, driven by a combination of significant overheads and a reluctance to return to mass commute and highly-concentrated workplaces.  While the overall economy clearly benefits from such a “return to normal” it is highly unlikely that most organisations will enforce it – leading to the potential of significant changes to spending (and working) patterns.

Sourcing: Most organisations have at least a sustainability statement in their core strategy, but increasingly procurement professionals (like many of us as individual consumers) are also starting to look at supply chain and how consistent the commitments of our suppliers is with our own key values. 

This can be as simple as making energy-efficiency a metric in a tender / supplier assessment criteria, or requiring that all suppliers have a formally adopted sustainability policy themselves.

The difficulty is measuring what these mean in reality.  A well-thought through strategy and policy document may be enough to qualify for a preferred supplier listing, but does it really mean anything?  Under UK legislation, Scope 3 (Value Chain) Emissions reporting has become mandatory for all but the smallest SMEs.

As verifiable tracking and auditing technologies built around big data, analytics, blockchain and smart sensors become available, new insights will be generated which will help to direct purchasing activities and drive true carbon-accountability from suppliers and supply chains.   

Until then we have to evaluate suppliers using a more basic “benchmark, improve, report” strategy (see Metrics below) to judge their performance.

People: If failing to have a clearly defined strategy that includes sustainability is the most common issue we encounter, failing to support it with consistent operational practices and policies (and communicate those effectively to staff and stakeholders) comes a close second.

Encouraging sustainable ways of working for all staff is unquestionably important.  From minimising energy use and waste to encouraging and enabling recycling, the organisation can promote sustainability as part of its core communications with staff.  Minimising work-based travel has long been a contentious area, with inconsistent flexible working policies for different parts of the organisation and “essential” car users mandated to meet minimum annual mileage targets to retain tax-free travel allowances.

Of course the recent changes to working practices regarding travel to work in the Covid-19 crisis have cast this whole area in a new light, but the fundamental question remains – is working flexibly / away from the organisation’s buildings consistent across the workforce and is it an interim solution, tolerated or actively supported?

This “ways of working question” is vitally important from a sustainability perspective.  According to our research 1 work-based travel (including commute) is responsible for around 2.7% of world-wide greenhouse gas emissions and has significant impacts on air pollution, quality of life and communities.

Work-based travel (including commute) is responsible for around 2.7% of world-wide greenhouse gas emissions

This is not to suggest that all work should be carried out remotely, just that a better balance is needed to create a more sustainable working environment. 

So providing the right equipment, the right “workspaces” and supporting a secure, supported and flexible working environment are all highly important.  Consistency has a further role to play here as we look at user experience from various locations.  True, security (such as access to some data and systems) may need to be adjusted based on device and location, but information technology should be designed to preserve team collaboration and the overall way of working.  In summary people should not feel disadvantaged by working from their location of choice.

It’s also worth noting that the right choice of IT equipment can have a significant impact on sustainability.  Our research also confirms that low-energy devices and cloud solutions offer significant reductions (over 40%) in energy use when compared with traditional PCs, laptops and on-premises data centres.

Metrics: Given the above requirements to consider strategy, sourcing and people, how can we ensure that organisations are taking an approach that is both consistent and effective?

There are four key areas where analytics and metrics can help.

  • Initial Benchmarking – Identifying where we are today, what is the resulting carbon footprint and how does this compare with targets
  • Identifying Priorities – Highlighting areas where we can make the most difference, how quickly and what success looks like for us
  • Progress Reporting – Quantifying the progress we have made, which areas are doing best / worst and encouraging user engagement
  • Analogous Visualisation – Translating the raw figures into something easily understood by staff and stakeholders, like acres of trees, car miles per person and similar ratios

Metrics are the key to driving changes in behaviour.  Many organisations struggle to get started in this area as they lack experience in generating this data without intrusive monitoring or expensive and disruptive systems changes. 

There are a number of organisations, including Px3, who can assist in getting this established with low-cost analysis services and annual audits.

Conclusion

Organisations need to take a consistent, balanced, pragmatic and above all informed approach to sustainability. Compliance with legislation and international goals is clearly a priority, but what is also true, in our experience, is that a focus on sustainability can also have positive impacts on both finance and user engagement / experience.

a focus on sustainability can also have positive impacts on both finance and user engagement / experience

As we translate these commitments into wider areas of the business, across the full value chain, we will start to see the benefits and impacts accelerate.

Much like the investment in flexible working, a focus on sustainability today will have immediate benefits, but will also put the organisation on the right track as we all respond to an increasingly uncertain future.

1 Research source: MBA thesis & PhD Research by Justin Sutton-Parker at the University of Warwick

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 can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

Three Key Changes Needed as We Head Towards a “New Normal”

There is an understandable desire to get back to something like “normal” as soon as possible, but this needs to be balanced by recognising that the old normal was part of the problem. So what’s key for organisations seeking to make the new normal significantly better than the one we so recently left behind?

This article considers three linked areas that cut across organisational and environmental boundaries, seeking to put forward a more joined-up and sustainable approach for organisations approaching the “post-covid” era.

Better Strategy: Perhaps an obvious number one, but worth explaining and expanding. By better strategy I mean developing and communicating an overall plan that sets out a destination or outcome plus a means to achieve it.  It should include a “live” action plan which is prioritised (doing the most important things first) and proportionate (shifting effort and resources between priorities to achieve maximum effectiveness).

We have a tendency to react to situations with a series of tactical initiatives, each logical in isolation but lacking in an overall, joined-up, coordinated approach.

A well-thought out (and communicated) strategy builds confidence, boosts contribution and productivity and both encourages and focuses ideas and innovation. It is very important that everyone understands the question “how does this help?” – what is my contribution to the delivering the strategy and why does it (and therefore why do I) matter?

Particularly as organisations have become, and are likely to remain, more geographically dispersed this notion of “contribution and value” (linked to goals, training and personal development) will become critical to motivating retaining talent and boosting productivity.

More Sharing: Again, this one is multi-levelled, ranging from internal team structures, processes and communication through to improving collaboration on global issues including sustainability.

Building from the strategy piece above, when we have a clear vision of our goals, destination and route we need to establish a team capable of delivering our aims. While this will undoubtedly contain some key individuals, we need to establish the broadest concept of shared endeavour and enterprise across the entire organisation.

As a core to this I have always tried to encourage an initial response to any issue (large or small) of “how can I help?” – a simple question which not only supports whoever has the issue, but encourages them to retain ownership of it with assistance and the real sense that their problems are shared with a wider team.

We are also increasingly aware of the global nature of existential threats that mean we are all vulnerable to something taking place on the other side of the world. The butterfly effect is truly with us and our only counter to it is sharing knowledge, skills and ideas. It may be that some of our international organisations are less than perfect, or that the alliance and sharing of data between academia, science, international governments and commerce is difficult to manage and maintain, but it is precisely this sharing that offers us the best chance to thrive and survive.

Improved Sustainability: This broader notion of collaboration to aid our survival as a species is precisely where my third concern for the new normal sits. If we fail to recognise the impact our “normal” activities are having on the planet then the crisis we will inevitably create makes the current one minor by comparison.

Not to diminish the clear tragedy of the deaths, disruption and economic impact there are some cautious positives from the current situation. We are seeing an improved respect for science and scientists as individuals and institutions turn around projects in months that would normally take many years. 

We have seen that collective responsibility can be encouraged and lead to massive changes in behaviour. We have also seen that those changes can directly lead to environmental improvements. What we have not yet seen is that those changes are literally “sustainable” – i.e. that they endure beyond the crisis. 

What’s needed is not just a minor slowing or reducing of current damage, we need a significant reversal of trend towards truly sustainable energy and behaviour. This means shifting from a selfish, myopic and short-term view based on cost and convenience to one of “how can we reduce harm and improve outcomes?” in order to take a broader perspective.

To achieve this we need to embed the key question of sustainability into every organisational plan and decision. If we do this globally across every organisation it becomes the new normal. That sounds overly ambitious, but if we insist on it as individuals, employees, stakeholders, investors and most importantly as consumers then it will become an essential part of every organisation’s operational and strategic plan. We have seen that governments can significantly change people’s behaviour – now we need to show that people can significantly change the behaviour of governments and organisations.

Conclusion

What will the new normal look like? Will we have a plan, a shared set of common goals that include a new attitude towards our shared home planet? Maybe not right away, but I believe this is a unique opportunity when we should take responsibility for making a new start on sustainability as we start to seriously think about “what’s next”.

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

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. He 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.

Ewen can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

Facing Existential Threats

Having recognised that we are pretty much all in uncharted territory, how do we respond?  First let’s be clear that we are talking about factors, internal and external, that can threaten the continued existence of an organisation.  Specifically we are not covering “conventional” threats from poor operational / financial strategy or execution e.g. poor sales performance or cost control.  Rather we are considering those factors that might otherwise seem outside of our immediate control such as environmental changes, a government mandated lock-down of citizens and a growing issue of employee disengagement with their employment and employers.

Why plan for things you can’t control?  Well, while we may not have a solution which fully mitigates the issues, our response may well ultimately determine our survival as an organisation, both directly through the response itself and, equally importantly, indirectly through the message that it sends to stakeholders (staff, customers, suppliers, shareholders and investors).

These factors will be considered in more detail in a joint webinar with 6 Degrees (https://www.6dg.co.uk/event/tackling-existential-business-threats/) and a set of action points will be covered in a subsequent post, but for now let’s consider the headline issues and responses.

Threat Origins

Probably the simplest way for any organisation to profile its potential threats is to use the PEST (Political, Economic/Environmental, Social, Technological) analysis process.  With a little creative thinking we can quickly identify not only a high-level matrix of specific threats, but also two key factors; priority and interconnections.  

What quickly emerges from such an exercise is a complex mix of internal and external issues, many of which directly affect each other; staff engagement affects productivity which affects economic performance and investment.  Sustainability is covered by compliance legislation, has a direct effect on staff attraction and retention, as well as investment.

Prioritising & Planning Responses

Our first response should be to rate the threat priority.  This is a trickier exercise than simply identifying the threats as it involves not just the importance to the organisation (in its widest sense), but also the degree to which the organisation is able to take action in a specific area. 

As an example a government instruction for all non-critical workers to “stay at home” may be the biggest impact and threat, but it can’t (and shouldn’t) be challenged.  In fact the priority response areas for this are Social (creating / maintaining a supportive culture) and Technological (creating maintaining a flexible working environment).

The creation of a weighted scorecard for priority response along the lines of criticality(the degree of threat), scope for action (the ability to mitigate the threat) and immediacy (the timeline for action / impact) allows us to list these in order and also to create a visibly comprehensive action plan.

Of course this does presuppose that the organisation has a clear view on its operational priorities and critical roles.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing but having this analysis and planning in place BEFORE existential threats materialise is always much more effective than trying to create the data sets and analysis DURING the crisis. 

Let’s be clear, we’ve all been there, making the best of difficult situations with limited resources.  The trick is to learn from our experience and that of others – to build our knowledge and capability based on reality and what actually was effective.

What Next?

In part II we’ll look at the specific issues and threats from Planet (Ecological), People (Workforce) and Productivity (Economic) perspectives.

While you’re here….

Please take a minute to participate in our research into the impact on emissions of the current travel restrictions.  The survey (https://www.research.net/r/cvd_response) is anonymous, takes roughly 1 minute and contributes to our PhD sustainability research with the University of Warwick.

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

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. He 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.

Ewen can be contacted at ewen@px3.org.uk

Doing the Impossible Every day

Not too long ago when we discussed flexible and remote working as part of an overall strategy to improve sustainability and tackle climate change the response was typically guarded.  How many people, how often?  How will we know what they are doing?

We did encounter some organisations that had fully embraced flexibility and mobility, but they were the exceptions.  Mostly it was accepted as a management and cultural issue, that attitudes and processes would need to change over time.

Today’s reality is suddenly rather different.  The impossible has pretty much been achieved and the exceptional has suddenly become normal (albeit not without significant effort, cost and disruption).  There’s an interesting lesson in the fact that nature didn’t give us the luxury of that long time to change, we have been hit by something that needed dramatic, rapid action that looks like it will affect almost everyone one on the planet.

Taking a very rose-tinted view it does show is that we have the capacity to act together on a common purpose.  What we need to do now is look out for each other and the planet in difficult times and look as far as we can outside the narrow confines of our usual perspective to consider the broader common good.

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