In 2015, The Paris Agreement, a landmark global agreement across 196 nations and parties acknowledging the dangers posed by climate change, was signed. But despite all of the efforts at awareness-raising, the amount of carbon emissions being released into the atmosphere is increasing. According to Australia’s CSIRO research, the world has fewer than seven years to slash carbon emissions by half to keep the impact of climate change to a relative minimum.

The IT function within organisations can drive efficiencies that result in lower carbon being emitted by the company overall. With employees expecting to see their organisations show leadership in this way, leveraging IT to support sustainability can also improve morale, employee engagement and retention.

More broadly, countries like Australia, which have access to the kind of technologies and capabilities to drive efficiency and the wealth to invest in them, need to be more proactive in furthering the reduction of emissions. Companies within nations like Australia that do take a genuine leadership position on this will benefit commercially and reputationally.

Companies need to do better

Despite the awareness that the world is on borrowed time to address the dangers posed by climate change, progress in actually deploying solutions has been slow. A significant part of the problem is that many of the efforts businesses are committing to are questionable in terms of their impact.

Many organisations, for example, pledge to plant trees in an effort to “offset” their carbon footprint by increasing the amount of vegetation there is to capture the carbon. This method, however, has been broadly criticised.

Other companies use a carbon credit market, purchasing “credits” from low-polluting companies to account for their higher emissions. But this too is highly controversial, and in Australia, whistleblowers have called it an outright “sham.”

PREMIUM: Companies should have a detailed environmental policy to improve sustainability.

With these being such common approaches to the “E” in environmental and social governance, there has been increasing scepticism that organisations are doing enough for the environment. The concept of “greenwashing,” where companies spend more effort and money in marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than actually minimising their impact on the environment, has become a common accusation.

What employees want

Study after study shows that there are real benefits to organisations that genuinely grapple with their environmental impact. At the recent Gartner ReimagineHR Conference in Sydney, Aaron McEwan, the vice president of advisory in the Gartner HR practice, said, “There is currently a huge opportunity for HR leaders to build a stronger culture of sustainability and realise these engagement benefits.”

McEwan cited a study that found that 84% of employees believe their organisation lacks a strong sustainability culture, and 67% of employees rate sustainability as “highly important.” McEwan added that it was important for organisations to recognise the grassroots nature that needs to happen within ESG, and organisations that can do so will have a happier and more engaged workforce.

“When employees can see, understand and contribute to their organisation’s sustainability objectives, HR leaders and managers reap the benefits of increased engagement, and organisations will get closer to achieving their goals,” McEwan said at the event.

For IT, there is a real opportunity to be a champion for sustainability, and leading organisations will allow IT professionals to make this a priority.

How IT can drive sustainability

IT is often considered to be one of the big carbon emitting lines of business, but it’s actually not. Research suggests that technology only accounts for 4%-6% of electricity production, with electricity being only one of many carbon emissions sources.

SEE: Leading organisations are deploying a variety of tactics to achieve lower carbon footprints.

That’s not to say that IT doesn’t have a carbon footprint, but many organisations will find that by relying on technology, the efficiencies found will also reduce the overall footprint. Some examples of this include:

  • Implementing energy-efficient infrastructure: Businesses should look at leveraging virtualization, consolidating servers and optimising cooling systems, while also sourcing renewable energy sources, to decrease the overall environmental impact.
  • Developing company-wide green IT policies: Businesses should develop and enforce green IT policies that will power off devices when not in use, require the use of energy-saving settings and follow responsible disposal practices for electronic waste.
  • Enabling remote work and telecommuting: Improving remote working experiences reduces the need for employees to commute to the office daily, which not only lowers the organisation’s carbon footprint but also improves employee work-life balance.
  • Implementing sustainable IoT: Internet of Things devices can monitor and control energy-intensive systems in real time as well as optimise logistics and supply chain operations, reducing the carbon footprint associated with transportation and improving overall efficiency.
  • Optimising supply chain and procurement: The IT team is in an ideal position to work across procurement teams to select eco-friendly vendors and suppliers and build applications and software that improve efficiencies in these processes.
  • Enforcing employee awareness and training: The IT team is in a position to conduct training sessions to raise awareness among employees about the importance of sustainability and how they can contribute to eco-friendly practices.

With the increasing use of artificial intelligence, IoT, 5G and other advanced technologies, there is an opportunity for IT teams to look to new innovations that will further drive a lower carbon footprint across all lines of business.

Technology is a relatively efficient and low-impact source of emissions. Therefore, the more IT teams can be empowered to develop innovative solutions to shift the operational burden to it, the better organisations are going to be able to lower their carbon footprints. This can then be achieved without relying on ESG “tricks” like carbon credits, which many staff and customers alike will see as “greenwashing” the issue.


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