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Sustainable IT: A Crisis Needing Leadership and Change (CIO)

Why IT leaders play a crucial role in spearheading sustainability initiatives within their organizations and what they can do to be an agent of change.

This article was originally written for and published in CIO.

As demand for computing power continues to rise, the environmental impact of technology cannot be ignored. We recently held our annual corporate conference addressing many subjects top of mind with IT leaders and it came as no surprise that a session on sustainability was one of the most attended. As technology innovators, we all must take responsibility and develop strategies to impact meaningful change. My first step in that process is sharing some of the great insights I learned with all of you.    

The rapid expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT), fueled by generative AI, is putting increasing pressure on data centers worldwide. With the number of connected devices expected to reach 55.7 billion by 2025, it’s critical that we understand the environmental consequences caused by big tech.

Enterprise IT is contributing significantly to the world’s carbon footprint. In fact, a Sustainable IT report by Capgemini states that 89% of companies surveyed recycle less than 10% of their IT hardware, and less than half of executives say they are aware of their organizations’ IT footprint. By 2025, Enterprise IT will have the equivalent carbon footprint of 463 million passenger vehicles driven for one year.

This environmental impact is a growing area of concern that needs change.

Understanding sustainable IT

Sustainable IT encompasses strategic leadership in enterprise technology to minimize negative environmental impacts and maximize positive outcomes across environmental, social, and governance (ESG) areas.

Let’s dive into the three pillars of ESG in the context of sustainable IT.

Environment. This area of sustainable IT concentrates on green infrastructure, implementing circular technology strategies and reducing emissions to achieve carbon neutrality. Companies can focus on this by transitioning to renewable energy and implementing sustainable technology sourcing. IT leaders can also look at expanding the lifecycle of their products to reduce waste.

Social. This component focuses on addressing technology accessibility and the innovation of technology system designs that benefit society. Companies can evaluate the health and safety impacts of their IT products and services as well as drive diversity within their vendor ecosystem.

Governance. This aspect is about data usage, privacy, and responsible technology innovation. To fulfill this, companies can be transparent about their strategies and risk management. They can upskill and reskill employees to focus on a more sustainable talent pipeline.

One example of a company that’s paving the way for ESG efforts is Google. The tech giant aims to be the first major company to be carbon neutral by 2030, operating on 24/7 carbon-free energy. As a result of its ESG efforts, a Google data center is now twice as energy efficient as a typical enterprise data center. The company is also putting an emphasis on recycling and in 2021, resold 4.9 million components on the secondary market to be reused by other organizations. As far as employee engagement goes, Google offers 4,000 EV charging ports at offices in the U.S. and Canada, encouraging team members to adopt eco-friendly practices.

A corporation can have a significant impact on the environment if they focus on prioritizing some of these ESG efforts, but ultimately, it’s up to IT executives to lead the charge.

Tech leaders as agents of change

IT leaders play a crucial role in spearheading sustainability initiatives within their organizations, yet according to the non-profit, one in four IT organizations are not supporting any ESG mandates. Why is this? Implementation challenges could present a roadblock. A lack of standards to follow to evaluate a company’s carbon footprint also presents challenges. In fact, 50% of firms surveyed in the Capgemini report say they have an enterprise-wide sustainability strategy, but only 18% have a strategy with defined goals and target timelines.

This is where IT leadership needs to step up. IT leaders have the right relationships and are best positioned to pioneer and champion this change. These leaders have the power to ask the right questions, initiate process changes, and implement strategies that foster a more environmentally-friendly business environment. For instance, IT leaders can improve employee awareness surrounding sustainability and can streamline data processes to optimize efficiency to reduce electric consumption. IT leaders can also ask the right questions of their suppliers to make sure everyone working with the organization is following similar initiatives.

Streamlining workflows, optimizing efficiency, and leveraging automation save time, energy, and cost, contributing to sustainability goals. By empowering the workforce and ensuring employees are equipped with the necessary skills, tech leaders can drive the transition to a sustainable future.

Embracing individual responsibility

There is no magic answer or one-size-fits-all approach to sustainability. If you think there is a smarter person in the room to work on your company’s sustainability plan – there probably isn’t. As a technology leader, you need to be the one to step up. It is your responsibility to implement the company’s sustainability plan as the executive in charge. You can become a great agent of change by making sustainability a larger initiative within your organization and encouraging employees of all levels to get involved in their various departments. You have the power to unite the organization to work toward this unified goal.  

Engaging in sustainable business practices could not only help the environment but also your company’s bottom line. The SustainableIT study shows that companies with consistently high ESG performances achieved 2.6x higher total shareholder returns than mid-level ESG performers from 2013 to 2020.

It’s time to overcome any hesitations and break free of the mindset that someone else holds the answer. Companies must drill down on their priorities and set themselves up for success when it comes to migrating to a more sustainable path. There are many actions a company can take, these five are a great place to start:

Set clear goals for sustainability. Look to create specific, measurable, and attainable standards for your path toward sustainability. Make your goals relevant and in accordance with larger governmental standards. Make sure someone in leadership is continuously checking to ensure the company is on the path toward achieving its goals.

Adopt sustainable practices. Moving from an on-premise infrastructure to cloud computing offers significant energy savings. Cloud hosting also enables remote work, eliminating the need for employees to be at a physical office, using additional energy, power, and resources.

Collaborate with suppliers. Remain in constant communication with suppliers to engage them in eco-friendly operations. By encouraging suppliers to use sustainable practices and environmentally-friendly materials, the greater goal can be reached faster.

Advocate for policy changes. Advocate for regulations that support sustainability in business. Collaborate with other businesses that share in this like-minded approach.

Share your sustainability successes. As an IT leader, you have a voice and a platform to speak out for change. It’s important to share successes, challenges, and future sustainability plans to encourage others to move on this path as well.

The efforts by executives that are already doing this are not going unnoticed. They are receiving positive brand recognition, achieving workforce loyalty, and higher client satisfaction.

The time for a sustainable future is now

Don’t wait any longer to embark on the journey. The time for action is now. Moving toward a sustainable future requires long-term commitment and continuous improvement. Companies should regularly reassess their strategies, adapt to changing circumstances, and embrace new technologies that encourage a path to a greener life for both their company and the planet.

It’s a task that can’t be done alone, but together a change for the greater good can be made.

It starts with us.

It starts now.

So, what are you waiting for?

For more on this topic, watch the webinar featuring Ralph Loura, board member of, and Kevin O'Marah, co-founder of Zero100.

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Post by
Ross Meyercord
CEO, Propel

Ross Meyercord is CEO of Propel Software, a SaaS provider dedicated to helping high tech, medtech and consumer goods companies build compelling and profitable products. Throughout his 30+ year career, Meyercord has worked in a variety of capacities, including directly with manufacturers to implement PLM and QMS solutions, managed global technology organizations, and has been instrumental in guiding customer-facing teams to increase customer success and drive corporate growth.

Fun Fact: When not working or with family, you will likely find Ross on the tennis courts.

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Ross Meyercord