Measuring the Environmental Impact of “New Normal”

How Hybrid Working saved nearly 2 tonnes of CO2e per person

The latest international research by Px3 CEO Justin Sutton-Parker examined the detailed travel and work patterns of one international technology company, analysing the responses from 815 employees across 24 countries.

It found that that remote working had reduced commuting emissions by 43% in 2019.  In 2020 as the pandemic response was put in place this reduction rose to 97% compared with previous levels. 

Calculating the impact over the two years in the study, the research found that these measures had generated a global greenhouse gas abatement of 1.9 tonnes of CO2e per employee. 

Highlighting the role that IT has to play in enabling emissions reduction, the study noted that the subject company had invested in a Citrix digital workspace solution with zero trust security and threat analytics capabilities.  This “virtual desktop” enabled desktops and applications to be securely accessed on any device from any location.

As such, in 2019, the approach enabled 72% of global employees to work remotely, although only 13% did so five days per week whilst 28% chose to work from the office full time.  Overall the flexible working arrangement was calculated to have resulted in a reduction of 789,331 kgCO2e in scope 3 commuting GHG emissions in 2019.

With the imposition of travel restrictions in 2020 all employees were instructed to work from home for 9 months of the year, leading to a further 75% reduction in commuting emissions.  

The paper also highlighted significant regional differences in concern about the environment.  Overall employees collectively noted a ‘7.5’ score when asked, ‘If 10 is the highest importance, how important to you is reducing your carbon footprint?’, but this was highest in Asia Pacific registering a score of 8.7. In addition the study identified significant differences between regions in terms of both emissions and abatement, as shown below.

The study, from an established authority on sustainable IT and published as part of the 11th International Conference on Sustainable Energy Information Technology 2021, has important implications for sustainability and carbon-zero strategies, highlighting the positive impact that flexible working has already had on the greenhouse gas emissions and proposing some simple changes to build on the momentum.

Overall the findings indicate remote working has now been proved to be feasible for a much wider audience through the enforced business continuity in 2020, and identifies some key factors which must be examined to ensure commuter emissions do not revert or exceed 2019 values.

The focus moving into 2021 as commuting restrictions lift must be upon recognising that IT enabled remote working does support sustainable practices and GHG abatement. As such, the ‘new normal’ should include both an increase on pre COVID-19 home working instances coupled with an adoption of more sustainable transport modes where feasible. These modes should include the natural transition to electric vehicles plus increases in public transport utilisation and zero carbon activities such as cycling.

The results indicate that increasing the average number of remote working days per week and promoting an incremental shift to sustainable transport example can increase the ability for IT to abate GHG emissions by a further 20% to 60%, even in a ‘normal’ year.

Specifically organisations are encouraged to:

  • leverage the benefits of work life balance delivered by remote working,
  • raise awareness of the environmental impact of commuting
  • encourage the adoption of zero carbon transportation for commuting

The conclusion of the research is that whilst employees will begin to return to the office in greater numbers, future abatement of 60% is achievable in the ‘new normal’ when supported by investment in enabling IT solutions.

The published research is available here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877050921014320

(Photo by JÉSHOOTS from Pexels)

About the Report Author

CEO & Research Director: Justin Sutton-Parker, MBA Sustainability & Leadership  

Justin Sutton-Parker is an information technology sustainability professional with over 25 years of experience. Nearing completion of a Computer & Urban Science PhD with the University of Warwick, Justin specialises in the impact of IT on global greenhouse gas emissions, highlighting the role IT can play in slowing global warming and tackling climate change.

Justin is co-founder, CEO and Director of research for Px3. He is also the author of multiple pieces of published research and the sustainable information technology columnist for the UK’s leading sustainable and ethical news, products and lifestyle magazine and Guardian supplement “My Green Pod”.

A regular international sustainability speaker, published researcher, consultant and presenter, Justin set out a personal life goal and aim for Px3 to: ‘Remove the greenhouse gas equivalent of 100,000 cars from the atmosphere by 2050 through the diffusion of sustainable IT.’

Email: Justin@px3.org.uk LinkedIn:  Justin Sutton-Parker

Is Flexible Working Bad or Good for the Planet, People and Productivity?

There’s something of a debate currently around working from home vs returning to “normal” ways of working, partly sparked by a recent BBC report https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-57339105 predicting a return to a five day week in the office.  In particular, can either the office or the home be held up as the ideal place to work from the perspective of the environment, wellbeing and productivity?  This article will try to take a balanced look at some of the issues and make some suggestions about how to approach the issue.

Let’s start with some context.  Pre-pandemic there were lots of organisations allowing people to work flexibly.  Some of which was allowing staff some days working away from the office, much of it was having about less rigid working hours and then there were some rare conversations about the possibility of measuring performance based on outcomes or added value rather than hours worked. 

Equally there were more traditional organisations that viewed attendance at a particular location between fixed hours as mandatory unless otherwise expressly authorised.  We can term these positions as being “liberal” and “conservative” workplace attitudes with applying any political connotations.

The overall trend, however, was increasingly liberal.  A new generation entering the workforce changed the demographic,  mobile devices proliferated, connectivity improved and flexible working technology generally became more widely adopted.  The pace of change was still relatively was slow until the pandemic struck and suddenly (almost) everyone was a remote worker.  Laptops were in short supply, Zoom became the most used verb in the business lexicon and people actually started using Teams in something like the way it was designed to work.

As vaccination passes the 50% mark for second “jabs” in the UK thoughts are increasingly turning to whether we continue as we are, return to a daily conservative commute or embrace new ways of working.  So let’s take a look at this using the classic Px3 lines of analysis: Planet, People and Productivity.

Planet

The environmental impacts of commuting are well documented, not just in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but also air quality and pollution.  Pre-pandemic nearly 70% of UK commuting was by car according to Dept of Transport statistics (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/945829/tsgb-2020.pdf), with an average round trip of an hour.  That’s a huge environmental burden, even with the slow rise in take up of electric vehicles.

On the counter-argument, only 27% of those commuting into London did so by car, demonstrating that if the costs are prohibitive and infrastructure supportive, behaviour will change.  There is also unease about the environmental impacts of large numbers working from home.  Large office spaces are designed and managed to be extremely energy efficient, whereas our individual homes are typically less so.

These objections don’t really stand up to scrutiny, however.  The prospect of significantly reducing the more than 120 billion vehicle miles used each year for commuting and travel for work with public transport is at best unlikely.  The process of replacing all those internal combustion engines with electric (or hydrogen) ones is also too slow to meet our objectives.

As to minimising the emissions from our properties, we already need to address the heating and insulation issues.  We will not reduce overall emissions if we heat our properties, drive to work (leaving them to cool down), consume energy at work, drive home and then re-heat back to a comfortable level.  These are not “either / or” discussions – we need sustainable solutions for the home and workplace.

People

There is also a visible divide with regards to how people feel about a the return to the workplace.  For some this is an age and hierarchy issue – an established generation of leaders and managers inflicting rigid and out-dated working practices on the young.

It’s an emotional topic too, with many stating that the “genie is out of the bottle” and that having had a taste of freedom they would actually rather resign than go back to a standard 9-5 on-premises working day https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-06-01/return-to-office-employees-are-quitting-instead-of-giving-up-work-from-home .

On the plus side for flexible working most people surveyed have felt that flexible working was a positive change for them, saving time, money and reducing their carbon footprint.  Crucially staff working flexibly feel more in control of their lives – better able to balance time spent on exercise, with family, pets and even household tasks that otherwise had to be delayed or missed entirely.

Flexible working also offers the prospect of greater “levelling up” for regions and individuals disadvantaged by a concentration of wealth and opportunity for those willing and able to work in city centres in general and London and the South East specifically.

On the negative side there seems to be no real end to the working day.  All too often time saved from the commute is being diverted back into the working longer hours rather than improving work-life balance. Stress from work no longer has the logical “off switch” of heading out of the office and leaving work behind. As usual technology is stepping in to offer some solutions to turn off the work communication https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/apple-soon-mute-late-night-24272717) but this is simply a filter, not a solution.

The opinion on how much time should be spent in the office makes the divide resurface as well, with 68% of senior execs expressing their wish for staff being present at least 3 days per week to maintain company culture.

Overall it is likely that the divide will continue, but perhaps in different forms.  It may well be that those with skills which are in demand in the emerging new economy will best be able to dictate flexible working packages. It’s also true that new challenger businesses will typically have less of a focus on HQ real estate and fixed working hours.

Productivity

Perhaps the most debated item is whether office working is better for productivity.  Proponents highlight improved teamwork, ad-hoc meetings, chance encounters and “water cooler” moments as significant contributors to innovation and creativity.

Opponents cite the time and cost wasted on travelling, the cost of centralised premises and infrastructure plus the impact on work-life balance when more than ten hours each day is spend working and commuting.

Of course for some the journey to work is also a time to reflect and catch up in a way that going to a desk after breakfast rarely achieves.  The reality of returning to peak-time cramped commuting conditions, gridlocked roads and the frustrations of cancellations and delays make this an unlikely idyl for most.

From a pure productivity perspective, flexible working has potential benefits through more engaged and motivated employees, potentially generating 43% more revenue and delivering 20% more performance than disengaged colleagues – https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/flexible-working-business-case_tcm18-52768.pdf

The majority of staff in surveys do report being at least as productive away from the office, with about a third reporting increases in effectiveness https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2015/10/20/30-uk-office-workers-are-more-productive-when-work.   

Flatlining productivity is a major issue that has affected the UK since the global financial crisis of 2008, neatly summarised by Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at Bank of England and Chair of the Industrial Strategy Council in his foreword to “Can Good Work Solve the Productivity Puzzle –  https://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/publications/can-good-work-solve-the-productivity-puzzle/ – “working better should be our watchword, for therein lies the key to understanding and solving the UK’s productivity crisis”. 

Conclusion

It’s easy to say that the future of work is “hybrid” but that masks the complexity of what we need to consider.  There are good reasons to travel for work and to meet in person, but it’s also a fact that we need to simultaneously reduce our impact on the planet, improve staff engagement and well-being and increase overall productivity.  We will not achieve any of these things by returning to the conservative “status quo” of pre-pandemic 2019.

Hybrid working is likely to  combine HQs’, hub offices, flexible working hours, home working and (hopefully) a more nuanced approach to setting objectives and measuring productivity.  It’s crucial, however, that the organisation has real and up to date information on which to base planning and management activities.  This ranges from user experience, well-being and engagement data for workers to environmental impact assessments on premises, supply chain, IT and travel.

Px3’s recent analysis of ICT and staff travel has identified that some private, public and not-for-profit organisations are actively taking up the challenge.  By using technology to reduce energy consumption, extend device life and enable users to work flexibly and travel less the emissions savings can be considerable (typically up to 70%) and are helping organisations on the journey towards Net Zero.

As one of our customers recently fed back “We presented the Px3 findings at our last climate emergency meeting. It was the first time IT had such detailed information about our carbon footprint and a clear roadmap for the future.”

We need to celebrate this and build on these strategies and science-based metrics to properly identify where we are and where we can get to in order to meet our sustainability goals, our responsibility to the workforce and take advantage of the new opportunities that will arise.

(Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels)

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

An icon for our times? Why Professor Pat Pending is Px3’s All-Time Cartoon hero.

Taking a lighter note, we consider the remarkable talents of our favourite cartoon hero, Professor Pat Pending from Wacky Races – a true icon of what science and scientists can do for us in limiting the effects of climate change.

The three “P”s in Px3 officially stand for Planet, People and Productivity.  But is there something  else they might represent?  Perhaps there is one truly appropriate alternative – Px3’s very own hero – Professor Pat Pending.   For younger readers I should explain that Prof Pending was a racing-driver scientist who drove his Convert-a-Car in the 1960s comedy cartoon series “Wacky Races”, inspired by the 1965 comedy film The Great Race.

Pat Pending used his scientific prowess to create a boat shaped vehicle which could transform into a multitude of shapes and functions.  The more sensible of these were a vehicles such as a motorbike, tandem, hot air balloon and a jet car but also included were a flying carpet on wheels, a forklift, an arrow and a bowling ball.

Like many from the genre the cartoon now fails pretty much every diversity test, not least in having an all-white cast (with possible the exception of “Little Gruesome” who for some reason was purple) and just a single female character who was naturally obsessed with applying her make-up while driving. 

So why is Professor Pat Pending such a hero to us? 

http://www.freepik.com">Designed by brgfx / FreepikWell our 3 x ‘P’s has 3 ‘A’s we very much admire….

Appliance (of Science) – Firstly his achievements are an excellent example of applying science to overcome practical (if comic) problems.  As set out in his recent book https://time.com/5930098/bill-gates-climate-change/ Bill Gates stresses the need for investment in scientific innovation to help tackle climate change. While we need to approach scientific interventions to tackle climate change with care (see here for a cautionary view https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/mar/06/it-is-the-question-of-the-century-will-tech-solve-the-climate-crisis-or-make-it-worse) there is undoubtedly a requirement and role for practical, innovative climate science in our near future.

Altruism – Secondly his amazing gadgets and inventions were often used not just to boost his own speed but also to help other drivers who had fallen victim to the machinations of series villain, Dick Dastardly.  If there’s one thing the covid-19 pandemic should be teaching us it’s that the issues we face are global and that none of us are safe until all of us are safe.  Here’s a retrospective on that topic from Fijian Prime Minister and COP23 President Frank Bainimarama: https://cop23.com.fj/we-must-do-everything-in-our-power-to-meet-the-challenge-posed-by-climate-change-cop-presidents-speech-for-20th-conference-of-commonwealth-education-ministers/

Attitude – Finally we admire his attitude and optimism.  There is no problem his ingenuity and inventiveness can’t overcome and no tricky situation he will shy away from.  Whether it’s rescuing Penelope Pitstop on his tandem or cueing boulders back through the caverns of Carlsbad, he’s up for the challenge.  In the coming years (and starting right now) we need to cultivate positive, targeted action plans to deliver on the promises and commitments already made but not delivered.  Attitude is a critical part of this, as discussed in another article: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/blog/internal-attitudes-climate-change-matter.

In conclusion we’re certain the Professor would be a huge supporter of transparent reporting against science-based targets (https://www.wri.org/initiatives/science-based-targets) as a way to measure and accelerate our progress towards the winning line of the UN and IPCC goals.  And while we may not have quite his array of gadgets and gizmos, Px3 is proud to bring our own touch of science to the sustainability proceedings. 

For combining humour and technology for the good of others, we salute you Professor!

(For the record, Professor Pat Pending came first in three Wacky Races episodes; the ‘Mish-Mash Missouri Bash’, ‘Eeny, Miny Missouri Go!’ and, controversially given the topic, ‘Oils Well That Ends Well’!)

(Desert image designed by brgfx / Freepik)

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

Px3 Analysis Leaps Past the ½ Million Device Mark

Recent projects for central government, manufacturing and not-for profit clients have seen Px3’s tally of device emissions analysed increase dramatically. With sustainability once again firmly at the top of the news agenda, we take a moment to recognise passing a significant milestone on our sustainability journey.

With the final reports issued on our three most recent projects Px3 has now completed sustainability analysis and reporting on an end user computing estate totalling more than 620,000 devices.

Uptake in sustainability analysis has been particularly strong in the last few months and 2021 looks like being the year that sustainability makes it to the top of the business agenda, at least in those parts of the world where the pandemic is receding.

Not surprising considering that our analysis has identified over 3,500 metric tonnes of GHG emissions just from these EUC devices.  Once you add in commuting and business travel (as people return to workplaces and face to face meetings), on-premises datacentres and the issues around device disposal and e-waste, the environmental impacts are clear and the need for action urgent.

Our approach of bringing science-based measurement to drive sustainable decision making is crucial.  We need action from organisations at board-level to drive change – and board-level decisions demand independent analysis and verifiable data.

The increasing scale and scope of projects has also required significant upgrades to our modelling tools and reporting, with customers responding that the new dashboards and resulting analysis is “eye-opening”.  

This year we’ve also updated our demo capabilities to allow customers to see the sort of reports they can expect.  We’re also working on a cloud-version of our models which will give customers unlimited on-line access to all their granular data including filters, reports and sustainability metrics.

Want to know more? Just contact us for a demonstration and introductory workshop.

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

The Great Sustainability Bake-Off: CSR vs ESG vs SDG

Organisations are increasingly seeking to position themselves as ethical, green and sustainable.  But what standards are being used and what do they actually mean in terms of action on climate change and pollution?  In this post we review the history and implications of three ways in which you can tell the world you are a truly sustainable business.

The history of business ethics can be traced back to the earliest notions of “fair exchange” through the philanthropists of the 19th century and public pressure in the 1970s to modern corporate mission statements and annual reports.

Indeed perceived ethics underlies one of the key metrics that determines the success or failure of any organisation, trust.   Whether actively measured by NPS (Net Promotor Score), by employee engagement survey or investor sentiment, trust is now often declared to be as important as cash reserves in organisational “capital”.

While organisations have been proclaiming their ethical standing for the last 50 years, over the last 10 years we’ve increasingly seen sustainability added into the statements, with the emphasis ratcheting up rapidly this decade.

With this ramping up of the “green agenda” we’ve also seen concerns over greenwashing – a term first used in 1985 to describe companies seeking to manipulate our behaviour or sentiment through unsupported ecological statements.

There are clearly overlaps, as illustrated below.

So let’s look at a brief summary of CSR, SDG and ESG, acronyms that help to define our era:

CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)

CSR emerged during the industrial revolution but became more established as a concept through corporate philanthropy after the second world war.   The adoption was accelerated in the 60s and 70s  as reaction to the anti-apartheid and civil rights movements which demonstrated how “people power” could dramatically affect businesses.  To take advantage of, or defend against, this new market force CSRs sought to define and establish a social contract between business and society.

As the global and digital economy emerged from the 1990s onward, awareness of supply chains and international labour practices became the focus and CSR focussed on a combination of profit, social good and anti-slavery / human rights commitments.

From 2010 sustainability started to appear as a common CSR commitment and from 2012 this was frequently linked to one or more of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

Ultimately the issue with CSR is that there is no simple or standard way to evaluate performance and delivery against commitments.  Clearly there is accountability against promises and figures are routinely presented in annual reports, but without agreed standard of frameworks or metrics these can be interpreted and presented to flatter actual progress.

SDG (Sustainable Development Goals)

The conclusions of the paper “The Future We Want” were adopted at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012.  The paper proposed SDGs which would build on the Millennium Development Goals from 2000 which had sought to establish a global effort to tackle poverty and hunger.

The resulting “2030 Agenda” with its 17 SDGs was adopted in 2015, the same year as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.  The SDGs are interconnected goals to deal with the threat of climate change, better manage natural resources, achieve gender equality, seek better health outcomes, eradicate poverty, foster peace, create more inclusive societies, reduce inequalities and help economies prosper.

The SDGs are significant in that affirm an international commitment to build a more sustainable, safer, more prosperous planet for all humanity and one in which no one is left behind.

Importantly in 2017 the UN also agreed the “global indicator framework” for performance against the goals.  Regularly “refined” and updated since (most recently in March 2021) the framework includes 247 indicators of which 231 are unique (12 are repeated in two or more categories).

This allows the creation of an annual scorecard, league table and trending graphs rating countries from 0- 100 in terms of their performance against the goals. (https://s3.amazonaws.com/sustainabledevelopment.report/2020/2020_sustainable_development_report.pdf ).

For organisations there are now many initiatives and toolsets to align organisational performance reporting against the SDG performance indicators, typically through consultancy, architectures, “blueprints”, data frameworks and audit engagements.

ESG (Environmental Social and Corporate Governance)

ESG effectively developed from the same roots as CSR, as a reaction to increased interest among investors in particular, but also customers and stakeholders in measuring the impacts of an organisation on the planet and society. 

Closely linked with the increased interest in ethical investments, it provides a framework for evaluating and comparing performance across three key areas: Environment (Sustainability), Social Impacts (Employees, Customers, Politics and Community / Added-Social Value) and Corporate Governance (Board, Audit and Compensation).

In 2005 the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan invited some of the world’s largest institutional investors to develop principles for responsible investment.  As a result in 2006 the UN launched a set of six investment principles encouraging the incorporation of ESG issues and reporting into investment practice, attracting support from many of the major financial institutions.

Unlike other commitments and reports ESG is linked to the fiduciary duties (i.e. the legal and ethical requirement of directors to act in the best interest of clients and shareholders) so it has the real potential of driving board-level decisions and actions.

From 2020 there has been a considerable increase in attention to these metrics from individual and institutional investors.  A series of scandals around organisations that were not as green or ethical as their marketing had made out (https://www.investorschronicle.co.uk/news/2021/03/18/esg-s-dirty-secret/ ) caused real concerns that in many cases the ESG commitments were only “skin deep”.

There is a much greater emphasis on generating metrics that are relevant, timely and verifiable.  In some cases these are linked to the SDG goals above, in others they are more related to risk, including the risks caused by environmental issues.  Clearly different sectors have different priorities, and ESG lacks any single definition of what should be included, which makes direct comparisons difficult, but linking ESG to compliance reporting (including progress on reducing carbon emissions and transition no Net Zero) provides some opportunity for science-based metrics.

Conclusion

Reporting and compliance are significant issues for organisations in every region and sector.  In terms of sustainability GHG emissions reporting (which falls within all three remits as a strategic, compliance and environmental metric) is now mandatory for many organisations and policymakers worldwide are increasing the requirement for its reporting and disclosure.

There is also huge incentive to “get this right” with investment into ESG funds in 2020 exceeding $40 trillion.

There are moves to create standards around disclosure and ESG specifically from organisations like the CDP and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) but for now three significant challenges to true accountability remain.

  • Standards – the lack of international standards and methodology means that “comparability” between reports and disclosures is compromised.  Accountability is a key factor in driving behaviour.
  • Priorities – there is still a priority imbalance between financial and environmental considerations.  As long as GDP and profitability remain the prime metrics (and products are evaluated by price and feature comparison without proper life-cycle analysis and environmental “weighting”) then sustainability will always be a secondary consideration.
  • Data – there is a genuine lack of objective, verifiable, science-based data on which to base reporting.  This is the area where Px3 is focussed based on PhD research overseen by Warwick University and Warwick Business School, we aim to make it simple to measure and reduce GHG emissions from IT.

Overall it’s tempting to dismiss CSR as being too subjective to have any real value, SDGs as being too broad and ESG as too focussed on presenting the best “face” to attract investment. 

The fact is we need a combination of all of these to drive effective change, with CSR providing the “sentiment and purpose”, ESG providing the wider company metrics, alignment with and progress against SDGs offering a global perspective and GHG reports tracking actual progress.

All you need now is the right data and a simple dashboard to display it…..

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

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