Dashboards or Details – Which Work Best for Driving Change?

Sustainability Analytics

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.

Conclusion

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.

References:

1 ILO: World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2020 https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_734455.pdf

2 Statista: https://www.statista.com/statistics/272595/global-shipments-forecast-for-tablets-laptops-and-desktop-pcs/

3 https://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm

4 KPMG: https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/br/pdf/2020/09/automotives-new-reality.pdf

5 INRIX: https://inrix.com/scorecard/

6 CBI/KPMG: https://www.cbi.org.uk/media/5101/cbi-kpmg-commuting-beyond-the-coronavirus-july-2020-final-1.pdf

7 The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/apr/20/carbon-emissions-to-soar-in-2021-by-second-highest-rate-in-history

8 UK Government: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-enshrines-new-target-in-law-to-slash-emissions-by-78-by-2035

9 Sutton-Parker, J. (2020). ‘Determining end user computing device Scope 2 GHG emissions with accurate use phase energy consumption measurement.’

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

Why Measuring Carbon Footprint is Step 1 on the Path to Net Zero for IT

In charge of IT?  Working to KPIs around cost, availability and performance? Chances are someone (it may be your customers, staff, investors or other stakeholders) will shortly be asking you for some new metrics – about your departments Carbon Footprint.

Here’s a starter set of three to benchmark against……

  • What are your total IT GHG emissions for the year?
  • What’s the trend – is it going up, or down?
  • Which of your devices are the most polluting?

And if those are the first set of questions, the next set may be even more of a challenge:

  • Can we generate a heat map for IT emissions across the organisation?
  • How do we benchmark new proposals from suppliers and vendors?
  • What happens to our emissions reporting if we move some workloads from our DCs to the cloud?
  • How do you account for the emissions of staff using your equipment at home?
  • What’s your strategy to get to Net Zero for IT?

We can help. At Px3 Our mission is to help organisations to reduce their carbon footprint.  That’s all we do. 

Working with us you get a detailed, granular and accurate picture of your organisation’s emissions using science-based measurements. 

Crucially for effective planning and decision making we can help you identify the hot-spots and problem areas. Equally importantly we’ll help you define your strategy and prioritise your Net Zero action plan by modelling the potential reductions you could make on your current emissions (and Scope 2 & 3 reporting) by:

  • Swapping some out some of your devices for lower-energy models
  • Moving some workloads to the cloud
  • Changing working patterns and commuting
  • Extending device refresh cycles

If you want to make the analysis easier for your audience to understand, we’ll also give you the figures in graphical form, using simple metrics that are familiar to everyone, like car miles travelled or acres of forest needed to remove the pollution.

You can also be reassured that we are fully independent specialists, using analytical tools and science-based measurements developed during our PhD research with Warwick University and Warwick Business School.

Your journey to Net Zero needs to start soon – so begin with a clear understanding of where you are today and which changes will have the biggest impact.

Want to find out more? – simply fill in our contact form and we’ll arrange a suitable time for an online demonstration of our Net Zero roadmap planning and modelling service.

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

Are Vampires & Zombies a Genuine Threat to the Planet?

OK – let’s be clear, we’re not talking mythical monsters here, but two largely unseen and often unmeasured consumers of power and resources.  Even if they don’t live up to the ravenous reputations of their movie counterparts, in this post we look at why zombies and vampires are serious considerations for IT sustainability and climate change.

Vampires have been around in film for almost exactly one hundred years (Nosferatu was released in 1922), with the first zombie film (White Zombie) appearing 10 years later.  Yes, no apologies, if I had a mastermind topic it would be early horror films.  But how do these mythical creatures relate to IT and sustainability?  Let’s look at them in turn.

What Exactly are the Vampires Sucking?

A “Vampire device” is one which draws power from the grid even when it is in standby or powered down.  And by device we don’t just mean a computer or datacentre “server”.  Phone chargers, power adapters, battery packs, basically anything that is plugged into sockets may be draining valuable energy.

How big an issue is this? 

Some estimates put power loss to vampire devices as high as 20% of total consumption.  EU legislation (Regulation No 1275/2008) came into force in January 2010 ensuring that electrical products have a standby mode and restricting their power “draw” to 1 watt.  This was subsequently halved to 0.5 Watts in 2013.  The EU estimates that these measures have saved 35.5 TWh per year, equivalent to the annual energy consumption of Romania. This has saved EU consumers €25 billion per year and more importantly removed 39 Mt of CO2 emissions.

So is the problem sorted?

Not quite.  The legislation is different for “networked” devices, i.e. those connected by wires or Wi-Fi to a network, including the internet.   These still have to go into standby mode, but can consume significantly higher amounts of energy. Networked devices include computers (tablets, laptops and PCs) televisions and decoders, printers, game consoles and modems.

The scope also includes devices which are connected together, so an external monitor or a printer are networked devices, even if only connected to a device via a cable.

Since January 2017 networked devices in standby mode must not consume more than 3 to 12 Watts depending on the product, reduced from 20 to 80 Watts previously. The upper power range is reserved for devices with “High Network Availability” (HiNA) functionality, typically networking equipment such as routers and switches. 

This legislative decrease is estimated to have saved an additional 36-38 TWh, but the fact is that businesses and homes contain an ever-increasing number of networked  devices which are still consuming significant amounts of power.

What to do about the Vampires?

We need to consider “standby” features (time to enter standby and passive power consumption) as well as “active” power draw when making personal and business purchasing decisions, particularly for our end user computing (PCs, laptops and tablets) and networking devices.

While the legislation sets out the upper limits of what is acceptable, it is the purchaser who determines the direction of travel for manufacturers.

We also need to get in the habit of unplugging those devices that don’t need to be in standby (including chargers and adapters), or else ensuring that they are connected to the mains via “smart” power strips that cut the power completely when not in use.

Powering down devices if they are not going to be used for more a few hours (e.g. overnight) makes good environmental and economic sense – and can help prolong the life of components, improve performance and ensure that system updates are regularly applied.  The boot up time of most devices is now so quick that the inconvenience of lost time is really very minor.

Checking that individual devices have the optimal power settings is also good practice and many infrastructure management tools can provide reports on the power profiles of individual devices to identify and target those with excessive consumption.

Px3 can help through our sustainability reports that identify these issues, profile devices and put their environmental impact into a context and format that people can easily understand.

Killing Zombies for Planet and Productivity

While Vampires are quietly drawing power from the grid in small amounts, zombies are a bit more aggressive.  They are physical or virtual devices which are switched on and consuming energy, but serving no useful purpose and providing no accessible resources. (Note that these are very different from the other type of zombies which are PCs and servers infected with malware used by criminals in spam and denial of service attacks).

How big an issue is this? 

Very significant.  One recent US study indicated that 25% of all physical and 30% of all virtual servers were “comatose” (not used for at least 6 months).  That equates  to over 10 million zombie servers worldwide, drawing 4 Gigawatts of power, wasting enough energy to power over a million homes, with obvious environmental and cost implications.

They are also a security risk, not to mention wasting valuable space, resources and licensing in enterprise data centres.

Even when they have been detected, removal is not as simple as a quick “head-shot”.  Just because a server has had no in-bound or out-bound connections for 11 months does not mean it isn’t used annually for a business-critical task. 

Why Do Zombies Exist?

It’s a simple fact that it is easier to purchase and install something than to manage it over a long period of time.  Servers which are associated with legacy applications or long-forgotten projects can simply become “part of the furniture”.  Normally they are only exposed during a major datacentre refresh or a move to the cloud, when the function of every physical and virtual device is being questioned.

Many older servers are also retained for specific tasks such as back up, for contingency or seasonal, peak workload tasks.

Do Zombies Exist in the Cloud?

Absolutely.  Zombies can exist and consume your resources just as easily in “someone else’s datacentre” as your own.

What to do about the Zombies?

Firstly, put the problem into business context. Remember that these devices, whether virtual or physical, are consuming energy, space and resources such as software licenses.  All of these have a cost to your organisation and the energy consumption in particular has a cost for the planet.

Somewhere within your toolset there should be a way to identify the scale of the problem by using:

  • Cloud workload management software
  • Server Analytics
  • Data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) tools
  • Configuration management database (CMDB)
  • Intelligent Power Distribution Units (PDUs)

Depending where you are on the on-premises / cloud spectrum there should be sufficient information from these sources to profile every server and determine whether it is fulfilling a useful function.  Remember that it as much about identifying connections and user access to data and resources (which may be very light touch) as it is about actual activity.

Zombie hunting is all about finding those resources that are seriously underutilised and either removing them entirely or consolidating them onto more efficient infrastructure, which may well be in the cloud.

When it is time to eradicate the menace, communication and change management processes will be needed to avoid business disruption and recriminations.

This is where Px3 can assist.  Putting your clean-up operation into your sustainability project means this is not just an IT housekeeping project, it’s also a corporate and environmental one.

Conclusion

While the names are the stuff of legend, the issues are ones of practicality.  We need to be more efficient and careful with our resources in order to improve the sustainability of IT.

That means making sustainability part of our purchasing decisions, operational and management practices and housekeeping.

The fact that these changes also typically reduce costs and improve efficiency means that there should be little resistance to an initiative from IT that benefits Planet, People and Productivity.

Px3 includes awareness workshops and sustainability webinars in our client engagement options.

Want to find out more? – join us for our upcoming webinar with Citrix, Royal Borough of Kingston & Sutton and Google on the 10th Feb – register here

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