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Fighting Climate Change with ‘Ecological Workspaces’

I recently read in a survey by the Carbon Trust that 67% of UK consumers are more likely to buy a product with a low carbon footprint. Add to this the increasing levels of Climate Change awareness in general, then perhaps it’s fair to state that most people would prefer to consume IT in way that lowers environmental impact. One of the areas we can make this happen in business is by moving away from traditional desktop computing towards agile device based solutions that lower our personal carbon footprint. For now, and as one element of the research I am currently working on, I will call this the ‘Ecological Workspace’ or ‘EWS’ for short (as the IT industry loves a three letter acronym).

Here’s how it works…

Moore’s law observes that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit double every two years. By this, the founder of Intel was suggesting that processing capabilities of ‘computers’ will increase two fold every twenty four months. This theory has, with minor deviations, proven to be true and following the popularisation of personal computers in the 1980’s, businesses have been fighting to keep pace at the desktop ever since. As such, investment in desktop computers is, in most cases, a short term or tactical strategy and the hardware only remains performant in years one and two. After this, the desktops are liable for replacement from year three onwards. This race to stay productive as old computers struggle with new applications designed for faster processors has caused peaks and troughs in both business capital expenditure and employee productivity for almost forty years. Add to this the recent proliferation of a myriad of end user device options, the lure of cloud computing and a surge in security issues, it is not surprising that companies are exploring better ways of delivering an agile, scalable and secure desktop experience.

‘Secure Digital Workspaces’ from global software companies such as Citrix, meet this threefold criteria by enabling access via any device, in any location, to a workspace that mirrors the look and feel of a traditional desktop and its applications. This is achieved by delivering the image, security and processing power directly to the device from on premise, cloud or hybrid data centres via internet technologies. Adopting such an approach means that the user / company can now select user devices that suit business models and promote a work life balance that increases productivity and employee satisfaction.

As the device no longer needs to be a highly performant traditional desktop nor does it need connection to a local private network there are, perhaps not so obviously, environmental gains to be achieved too.

‘Ecological Workspaces’ Reduce Pollution

The creation and consumption of electricity represents over 60% of all CO2 emissions, a gas responsible for as much as 84% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Currently, as nations strive to abate the production of CO2, Information Technology (IT) continues to be the world’s 12th largest consumer of electricity and produces 2% of global carbon emissions. As we enter what is being termed the 4th Industrial Revolution, driven by digital transformation, IT is set to increase electrical consumption dramatically. Seeking sustainable methods of IT delivery that lower carbon footprint is essential if the IT community is to help to reduce the damage this digital revolution will have on the planet.

Low Energy Devices

As described, secure digital workspaces remove the need for intense processing, high-energy consuming desktop computers and monitors by shifting the workload back into the data centre. An ‘Ecological Workspace’ takes one-step further and rather than replacing one power hungry device for another, such as changing a desktop to a traditional laptop, it replaces the desktop computer with a low energy portable device such as a tablet, smart phone or Google Chromebook.

To highlight this, imagine a single employee using a traditional desktop computer from 9am to 5pm, Monday through to Friday. Taking into account the statutory UK 28 days paid holiday (including bank holidays), this equates to 232 working days or 1,856 active desktop hours during a working year. The average desktop (including a monitor) uses 70w of power per hour resulting in an annual electrical draw. This is equivalent to leaving a 60w lightbulb burning constantly for 90 days. A low energy device uses less than half of this, consuming an average of 33w per hour. Additionally, due to the ten-hour plus battery life, the same device will only be drawing power from the mains supply for an estimated four hours each day. This reduction in electricity consumption by using a low energy device equates to being able to switch that ethereal light bulb off after just 21 days.

Translated to carbon emissions, a low energy ‘Ecological Workspace’ device will deliver a staggering reduction of 1,656 light bulb hours of electricity per user, per year. In a company with 1,000 employees this equates to abating 73.9 metric tonnes of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2e). That’s equal to stopping the carbon emissions equivalent of over 181,000 car miles every year.

Improved Carbon Life Cycle

Each year the UK disposes of over two million tonnes of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and IT is one of the main and growing sources of WEEE. All electrical and electronic equipment has a carbon footprint that stretches from manufacture to disposal. This is measured as a carbon life-cycle assessment and includes the impact of the product’s raw materials, manufacturing process, transportation emissions, power used during operation and impact from re-cycling, recovery and disposal. Adopting an ‘Ecological Workspace’ approach allows for the use of devices with a lower carbon life cycle impact. Material needed during manufacture and associated transportation emissions are reduced as the items are most often smaller in volume. Power consumption is reduced as previously described reducing associated CO2e emissions and crucially, the useful life time of the product is extended due to breaking the tie with performance at the device level. This alone minimises the need to introduce more devices more often into the supply chain, reducing the strain on Earth’s natural resources.

Low Carbon Data Centres

Encouragingly the carbon footprint reduction does not stop at the device level. When combined with locating the digital workspace management plane and a selection or all of the workloads in a highly energy efficient and low carbon cloud data centre, the now ‘Ecological Workspace’ infrastructure can deliver as much as 99% CO2 emissions reductions when compared to traditional on premise data centre operations.

The reason this is feasible is due to the fact that large scale cloud data centres are now concentrating on Power Usage Efficiency (PUE) and Carbon Usage Effectiveness (CUE).

Data centres consume up to thirty times more electricity per square foot than office space and are on track to be responsible for 18% of the global ICT carbon footprint by 2020 producing emissions of 0.257GtCO2e. The majority of traditional on premise data centres house as many as between 15-30% of servers that are powered but idle. Additionally, with almost half operating at temperatures of up to 15°F below the recommended ASHRAE limits, these non-cloud data centres are deemed to be highly energy inefficient. To address this, best practice frameworks for data centre efficiency operate in both the United States and Europe and incorporate a measurement called Power Usage Efficiency (PUE) created by The Green Grid.

PUE calculation allows for electrical efficiency to be measured by comparing the Total Facility Power and the IT Equipment Power. A PUE result of 1.0 suggests the data centre is 100% energy efficient whilst one of 1.7 suggests that the power grid is having to supply 70% extra electricity to power the data centre compute, storage and networking capability than is theoretically necessary.

Studies highlight that PUE ratings for on premise data centres, range from between 2.9 and 1.7. This indicates that traditional data centres ‘waste’ between 70% and 190% of energy consumed due to inefficient operations. For several years, ‘hyperscale cloud service providers’ such as Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and Google, have examined multiple options to reduce cost in an increasingly competitive market where lowest price per Gigabyte is vital. One key area of focus has been the reduction of energy consumption. As a result, AWS data centres have already achieved an average PUE of 1.2, Google 1.16 and Microsoft 1.12. With PUE readings approaching the realms of zero waste, hyperscale service providers are now generating comparable computing capabilities with over 50% less electrical waste than standard on premise data centres. The impact is such that even Greenpeace reports recognise that this significant shift to cloud computing is playing a part in reducing the overall IT carbon emissions.

Carbon Usage Efficiency (CUE)

Whilst this ecological advantage of hosting in the cloud is considerable, PUE is only part of the story. To achieve significant CO2 emissions reductions Carbon Usage Effectiveness (CUE) must be considered. CUE is a sustainability measurement that calculates carbon per kilowatt-hour intensity for data centres, again created by The Green Grid.

Over 80% of on premise data centres continue to consume electricity created from fossil fuel, such as coal, whereas many of the hyperscale service providers have switched to predominantly renewable energy sources. As an example, Microsoft has created multiple wind farms that directly supply their cloud data centres with low carbon, renewable energy plus the company has committed that all new data centre construction is subject to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. To highlight the ecological benefits of combining renewable energy sources with electrical efficiency, it is worth examining the CO2e emissions of a standard on premise data centre versus a cloud data centre.

A 5000sqft on premise data centre with a PUE of 1.7 and relying on 100% fossil fuel (coal) derived electricity would produce (27,000kWh x 870gCO2e/kWh) 23,490tCO2e emissions. A similar hyperscale data centre with PUE of 1.1 consuming 100% clean energy source would produce (17,490kWh x 5gCO2e/kWh) 87tCO2e.

The difference between the two CO2e emissions for the data centres is 23,403tCO2e. This is the equivalent removing 5,011 cars annually from the road per data centre suggesting that an ‘Ecological Workspace’ service operated from an energy efficient and low carbon data centres will carry a far lower carbon footprint per user.

Lowering Employee Commuting Emissions

Secure Digital Workspaces enable employees to work securely from anywhere at any time. This new level of flexibility enables employees to create a work life balance that suits modern living, increases productivity and improves employee retention. One dimension of this is that staff can choose their place of work. As such, many opt to work from home on a limited number of working days. According to Global Workplace Analytics, employees embracing E-Working solutions such as digital workspaces are spending on average two days a week working away from the office. This lowered commute time is reducing transportation fuel consumption and over the course of several years (to 2030) and will contribute to an impressive 3% (0.363Gt) global emissions reduction. As an example an employee utilising an ‘Ecological Workspace’ and working from home for two days each week, during a year consisting of 47 work weeks, could reduce the number of commute journeys by 94 return trips. As the average commute journey in the UK is 7 miles, an average one thousand-user ‘Ecological workspace’ solution would prevent 1,316,000 car miles being driven every year. This is the equivalent of removing 114 cars from the UK roads every year, forever.

In this instance Corporate and Social Responsibility charters that encourage home working for the well being of the employee are, when coupled with an ‘Ecological Workspace’ approach, reducing personal and business atmospheric pollution and carbon footprint.

Summary

Whatever your views are about climate change, it is sadly a scientific fact that our atmosphere has become highly polluted due to what is termed as anthropogenic interference. This unnatural pollution is driven in the main by electricity generation, industry and transportation. Previous and current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports predict that if we simply continue regardless then by 2050, humankind will face a pivotal environmental milestone whereby this pollution will have irreversibly damaged the Earth’s atmosphere. The impact of this will be accelerated global warming and climate change. Temperatures will increase as our ecosystem struggles to release radiation through a blanket of greenhouse gases (GHG), seas will acidify as CO2 dissolves into carbonic acid, and oceans will rise as the polar caps and ice sheets melt.

Faced with this information, it is reasonable to state that we all need to investigate ways to improve our carbon footprint if we are to secure a sustainable future. Perhaps ‘Ecological Workspaces’ (or EWS for short!) are part of the answer?

 

About the author:

Justin Sutton-Parker, MBA, has 25 years IT industry experience, is a Director at Citrix, a post graduate PhD student with Warwick University researching Computer Science, and Non Executive Director for Environmental Research at Px3.

THE UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE

Five reasons why inactivity is not an option.

We live in uncertain times and balancing social and business growth with sustainability has never been more vital to the longevity of humankind. In January 2017, the UK Government’s UK Climate Change Risk Assessment acknowledged that climate change is not a distant notion, but something that is happening now. The same report documented that UK temperatures have already risen by 1 degree Celsius and that UK sea levels are rising by 3mm per year. As a result, the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan was cited as, ‘one example of how we are building climate adaptation into our plans and investments to ensure that we are resilient for the future’.

 

In times of uncertainty our reaction is often to do nothing – to plan but not to act.  So is that our best option today – to wait and see what happens next?  In this post I set out the key reasons why taking the right action now has never been more important.

  1. We Suffer More from Ignorance than Uncertainty

It may seem to us at the moment that we live with the greatest uncertainties ever, but the reality is very different.  While change and disruption may be common place, we can be more certain of outcomes than any previous period in history, as we have access to far more data, analysis and precedent.  Of course, what we choose to actually access, and what we do with the information when we have it are very different matters.

The reverse is true of ignorance.  There’s a temptation to think of villagers in the dark ages surrounded by woods with no knowledge of events outside a 10 mile radius as “ignorant”, however they lacked the information on which to act.  In fact it is us, armed with the information but choosing not to act on it, who are truly ignorant.

We can reduce uncertainty by arming ourselves with the right information, but to avoid ignorance we have to accept that having the information gives us a responsibility to act.

  1. We Need to Prioritise Actions Which Benefit “Us”

As a species we are very often guilty of defining ourselves by identifying our differences from others, rather than our similarities to them.  At its most basic level we need to extend out from a purely selfish view of what affects me, not just to family, friends and colleagues but to a greater world view.

This is not a simple ask.  To define us as all the inhabitants of the planet requires a huge cognitive, cultural and attitudinal shift.  Placing “planet” in our thinking at a personal, group and business level is essential, however, if we are to make the changes necessary to keep the world viable for future generations.

  1. Time Can’t Heal an Escalating Problem

The reason that a fundamental shift is needed now is quite simply that we continue to make the problems worse.  From climate change to pollution to population growth and food shortages, the situation will not improve without action on the part of individuals, businesses and governments.

Our actions are directly causing the problems, so our actions are needed to bring about more positive outcomes.

  1. It’s the Selfish Economy, Stupid

Money matters.  Promoting an agenda which ignores an individual’s aspirations for improvement in personal circumstances or a business’ drive to make profits is naive and ultimately unlikely to succeed.

Equally if we continue to pursue goals which are based purely on the acquisition of material wealth and EBITDA growth we are promoting activities and behaviours that are incredibly damaging for ourselves, society and the environment.

Ultimately it’s a question of balance.  Px3’s priorities of people, planet and profit exist in that order for a reason.  From a sustainable leadership perspective our people must be our first priority, and we need to encourage them to consider what we can all change to reduce harm to the planet.  If we can do these two things and make the organisation more cost effective, more productive and more efficient then we believe that is a goal worth investing in.

  1. We Must Become Our Own Heroes

Humankind has made huge impacts on our planet and has assumed the role of rightful owner without taking any of the associated responsibilities.  Today we idolise and celebrate those who achieve success in business, culture, sport and politics.

We must take a longer, wider view.  Success is not embodied in others, and responsibility for the planet does not rest elsewhere.  A fundamental shift is needed to take joyful ownership of “making a difference” in every decision, whether business or personal.

The uncertainty of our current situation needs to drive us to take positive action based on the information we already have and to seek new information to make better decisions in the future.

About the author:
Ewen Anderson is CIO of Px3, a company which provides analytics and consultancy to help organisations improve the efficiency and ecological impact of their ICT operations. Ewen has a background in management services, enterprise IT and executive leadership. Over the last 20 years he has worked as a strategy consultant for many FTSE 100, public sector and Not for Profit organisations.

 

People, Planet, Profit – Why 3 is the magic number

Why have we chosen to focus on People, Planet and Profit, using them as the major axes for our analysis? The answer lies in the inter-connected nature of the work we do and our interest in helping clients gain clear visibility of “the bigger picture”. In this post, we explore why People, Planet and Profit all play key roles in transformational change.

A Word of Explanation
After decades spent working on justifications for particular projects and spending I can confirm that most of that time was really spent pursuing a series of mostly pre-determined, objectives. Whether the underlying driver is technical upgrade, cost saving, career progression or keeping up with peers, the justification accompanying projects is often something of an afterthought. It’s a bit like seeing a destination on a map, fighting your way through dense jungle to reach it, then drawing the route map after you reach your destination.

This approach has three key flaws. Firstly, the journey may never reach its intended destination. Secondly, the destination may not be worth reaching given the time, distance or cost. Finally, you may reach the destination and discover that you are alone. Equally, the organisation that expends too much budget on analysis, preparation and planning may expend too many critical resources (time and/or budget) compromising the ability to complete the project itself.

The trick is therefore to understand the planned destination and gather enough objective data to allow key stakeholders to make informed decisions about the “whether” as well as the “what, why, who, how and when”.

The Px3 mission is twofold. Firstly, we have an overriding objective to reduce carbon emissions associated with ICT and we track our progress on that by each engagement we complete. Secondly, we are committed to giving customers the best chance of achieving successful change by providing actionable insights across three key areas, People Planet and Profit.

People
Is it possible to effect change through technology alone? The chances are that most of us have been on the receiving end of a technology change that has not been well thought through from a user / customer perspective. Our reaction ranges from mild frustration to outright rejection, depending on our emotional engagement with the organisation responsible and the criticality of the service provided.

In subsequent posts, we will examine the people elements of change much more closely, but for now, we can identify the headline areas in which People aspects directly affect our chances of driving successful change. From the outset we need to have a good understanding of who the users are, what they do and what issues they may have today. At its simplest level, this gives a baseline for change. At best, it can give us a rich source of data to help quantify the potential benefits, risks and challenges to both the business and the People. Through this deeper engagement, we can also gain valuable insights from the users themselves about their suggested improvements and gain the support of “champions” to assist us in driving change. This element is important as positive change that nurtures culture and productivity through shared and desirable outcomes, such as improved work life balance, makes an organisation more attractive to talent, especially in the transformative age we live in.

Px3 research and live application highlights that applying a properly constructed engagement tool can simplify the process of monitoring how staff actually feel about the proposed organisational change. It allows a much more pro-active engagement with key groups based on categories often overlooked. An example of this may be ‘geography’ whereby instant and secure remote access to systems and applications scores highly in People satisfaction due to a reduction in unnecessary daily commuting and improvements to flexible working.

Planet
As responsible People, we all have a duty to cause as little harm as possible to the world we inhabit. As individuals this comes down to lifestyle and behavioural choices, plus, decisions we make about who to work for and where to spend our money. Organisations have the opportunity to make changes that both directly benefit the environment, but also set an example to the wider community of staff, customers and supply chain.
There’s a reason why ecological considerations are featured in the mission statements of most organisations. It is an indicator of their commitment and integrity. At its most basic it can be seen as “me too”, however those organisations that make a real commitment to the environment as part of their core mission and corporate and social responsibility policies do differentiate themselves.

In an increasingly competitive market where brand attraction counts, genuine expressions of integrity, ethical practices and ecological responsibility have real worth. In fact, our research highlights that over 67% of UK consumers stated they were more likely to buy a product or service with a low CO2 footprint. As such, it is true that ‘People’ are becoming more aware that the way we consume goods and services can either have a negative or positive effect on the ‘Planet’.

Extensive research highlights that improvements to ICT practices will enhance an organisation’s approach to sustainability. ICT is collectively ranked as the 5th largest electricity consumer in the world and as such produces excessive CO2 emissions. The constant need to refresh technology also drives consumption of precious metals and production of hazardous waste. However, it’s not all bad news when it comes to information technology. The industry is also cited as being capable of enabling global CO2 reductions of 20 times it’s current emission figure if utilised effectively and sustainably. Effectively means not only as an enabler for innovations such as IOT enhanced farming or smart road transport fuel reduction programs; but also everyday sustainable, ecological and practical IT consumption practices.

From an impact perspective, Px3 gathers data on energy consumption from both datacentre operations and devices. By measuring the consumption and efficiency of ICT equipment, we can look to make reductions through a combination of lower energy devices, cloud technologies and fuel sources. We also examine travel and premises considerations to determine whether improved flexible working could significantly reduce energy consumption from transport (such as commuting) and building (lighting, heating and cooling). The results are accompanied by Px3’s unique Carbon Car Indicator (CCI) rating that proves the level of CO2 emissions your organisation has reduced by transforming to sustainable IT.

Profit
Not every organisation is focused on making a profit, but every organisation is concerned with its costs and productivity. Getting these two elements right does however often increase profitability. Clearly there are cost implications for some of the areas discussed earlier, such as energy, premises and travel. Equally, most organisations have significant costs associated with infrastructure (hardware and software) support and operations management.

Our experience is that costs can be significantly reduced by a combination of simplification (right-sizing, standardising and converting complex on-premise solutions to cloud-based services) and optimisation (moving to the right devices and from purchasing for peak usage to an on-demand model).

Productivity improvements can be driven by giving people the tools they actually need to perform their role. Technology should be an enabler provided to the employee by the organisation based on a real understanding of what that person needs. Too often, we have seen technology projects fail and invested wasted because the driver was to change the technology, not the way of working.

Having a sound business case that considers cost reduction, cost avoidance and the business benefits of improved productivity is an essential part of the road map for change and will help all stakeholders determine the value of change, as well as the cost.

Conclusion
If we are serious about driving effective change in an organisation, then consideration of People, Planet and Profit is the optimum starting point for any transformational journey. Understanding strategic goals, current state in each area and the options for change are the key stages of forming and executing a successful plan that will take you in the right direction. When you arrive at that destination you will find that your People will be with you, your Planet will be a better place, and your Profit will have benefited from taking the time to investigate a sustainable approach. Surely, that’s a course well worth following?

About the author:
Ewen Anderson is CIO of Px3, a company which provides analytics and consultancy to help organisations improve the efficiency and ecological impact of their ICT operations. Ewen has a background in management services, enterprise IT and executive leadership. Over the last 20 years he has worked as a strategy consultant for many FTSE 100, public sector and Not for Profit organisations.