The environmental debate progressively embraces all human activities, and technology is no exception. Consumers are now realizing that most of the technologies they use are far from clean. Companies have little choice to follow this awareness. So, what is the carbon footprint of your company’s IT?
Coal, oil, automobiles, polluting industries: the traditional targets of environmental movements always had a strong physical presence illustrating the damage they caused to the environment.
On the contrary, computers and telecommunications have long been considered as means of reducing pollution.
- Digital data replaced paper. There is no need to cut down so many trees: books, newspapers and magazines were gradually being replaced by databases, websites and mobile applications.
- Digital communications replaced polluting physical journeys: e-mail replaced mail while videoconferencing reduced the need to travel to meet each other.
But environmentalists gradually realized that the technology was not as green as one might think.
Devices that waste natural resources.
First, electronic devices are physical products. Their manufacture requires considerable resources and, most often, non-renewable ones.
Internet and mobility have put smartphones in the hands of billions of people who previously did not have a computer.
Made mostly in Asia before being exported around the world, these devices are designed to be replaced (as soon as possible) by new ones, ever more powerful versions.
However, the smaller the devices, the more complex their recycling. Many are sent to Third World countries where they are burned to extract precious metals such as gold, silver and bronze. The toxic vapors that emerge cause serious health problems in the area and contribute to the pollution of rivers.
Other devices simply end up in a dump. The metals used in their manufacture – lead, mercury, cadmium, nickel, lithium – are lost forever or seep into the ground.
The manufacture of electronic devices therefore leads to a huge waste of natural resources, with adverse effects on health and the environment.
Huge energy resources to propel the data
The other big black stain on green leaf technologies is due to energy consumption.
Servers and related equipment require a powerful and continuous power supply. IT installations must also be air-conditioned.
Consumers who download movies and series or listen to music on a continuous basis are not aware of it, but their entertainment requires many servers to propel gigantic amounts of data.
As a result, the IT industry alone consumes 7% of the electricity produced worldwide.
However, except in favored regions of the world such as Quebec, the majority of electricity comes from non-renewable sources.
As a result, data centers already generate 2% of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, as much as the aviation sector!
Servers that are constantly “mining” to create cryptocurrencies are a counter-example of environmental progress. Some worry about the computing power that will be required when artificial intelligence becomes generalized.
How to reduce the company’s carbon footprint
Under the pressure of groups like Greenpeace, the big tech players have become aware of the problem. In the last ten years, many have committed themselves:
- to reduce the use of rare and dangerous metals in their products;
- to increase the proportion of recycled components in their devices;
- to focus on renewable energy sources for the electricity they consume.
For a normal SME, it may seem difficult to emulate their example.
However, any company can reduce the ecological footprint of its technologies:
- Promote suppliers who derive their electricity from renewable sources. In Quebec, it is fairly easy, since the vast majority comes from hydroelectricity.
- Focus on suppliers who make efficient use of energy. The Green Grid Association has popularized the ratio of power-use effectiveness (PUE). It calculates the ratio between the total energy consumption of a data center, and its consumption that is directly allocated to IT equipment. The lower the ratio, the less the building wastes electricity in air conditioning, lighting or heating. In large hosting companies, which make efforts and benefit from economies of scale, the ratio is usually between 1.15 and 1.30. Ask for its ratio to your hosting provider.
- Strive to recycle obsolete computer equipment.
- Use technology to limit travel – for example, by promoting teleworking.
Unfortunately, IT contributes to global warming. But with good partners, your company can reduce its environmental footprint.
With more than 25 years of experience in the information technology world, GTI CANADA offers outsourcing, technology consulting and cyber security services designed to meet the needs of SMEs.
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