The role of digitization in the race to net zero | information age | Panda Anku

Working from home is one way to reduce emissions. Photo: Shutterstock

In the course of the UN climate conference (COP26), the race to reach net zero has intensified.

Carbon reduction and renewable energy sources are high on the Board’s agenda as governments around the world steadily increase the regulation of carbon emissions.

Net-zero targets now cover about 90% of the world, and mandatory reporting puts a direct spotlight on how organizations’ sustainability strategies contribute to climate goals.

Alongside regulatory pressure, environmental, social and governance (ESG) decision-making means investors are divesting from organizations that are heavy users of fossil fuels, while 40 per cent of Australian consumers believe a company’s social and environmental efforts are important when making a purchase of products are very or extremely important or services.

Faced with combined pressure from investors, consumers, supply chain partners and employees, companies need to get their emissions under control and make firm sustainability commitments.

A shift towards science-based goals

What sustainability goals look like is also changing. Once the first solution to sustainability, carbon offsetting is becoming increasingly expensive and its effectiveness is under scrutiny.

Experts predict that the voluntary carbon market will need to grow significantly – 15x by 2030 and 100x by 2050 – for us to reach net zero.

We are seeing more stringent policies like the Science-Based Target Initiative (SBTi) starting to replace a carbon-only offsetting strategy.

SBTi drives ambitious corporate climate action with targets that accurately illustrate how much and how quickly an organization must reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

With these clearly defined emissions reduction goals, companies know they need to act fast, but it’s not always clear what the best course of action is on the path to net zero.

Twin transformers – digital technology and sustainability

The intersection of digital technologies and sustainability is at the heart of successful, sustainable companies.

Companies that use digitization to improve technology and sustainability are more likely to be among the top-performing companies of tomorrow.

Digital transformation can go far beyond streamlining operations and creating more agile business models – it is also an important part of the sustainability toolkit.

The three digital sustainability levers

At the heart of the purposeful sustainability mission is the drive to use and waste less, while future-proofing operations so that any savings last long-term.

There are three key ways technology can help companies accelerate their sustainability journey:

1. Minimization of energy consumption

Legacy on-premises equipment is more power hungry than a shared, virtualized environment. By phasing them out and moving to a hybrid cloud environment, you also move to sharing infrastructure power and cooling costs. You also lose all the associated CO2 emissions. Capabilities like data center colocation services from leading providers like Equinix that create innovative sustainable operations can help lower energy consumption efficiency (PUE), access renewable energy, and reduce your greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

2. Reduce waste

A managed service that includes a life cycle analysis is an efficient way to create a circular economy that selects products that can be reused, repaired and refurbished. Introducing intelligent network monitoring as part of this can help ensure devices operate as efficiently as possible. Early detection of a fault increases the likelihood that it can be fixed remotely, thereby avoiding travel emissions. It also minimizes the extra energy consumption that often accompanies faulty equipment. Additionally, a circular economy approach includes strategic end-of-life planning, identifying when it is worth upgrading to more sustainable equipment and when it is better to extend the life of the asset.

3. Creation of a digital workplace

Digitizing the workplace is another powerful driver for sustainability that can reduce travel-related emissions and decrease the resources needed to build and maintain business premises. Technology and infrastructure such as cloud-based contact centers and optimized tools for voice and video conferencing ensure both productivity and sustainability, allowing employees to work where they live instead of commuting to an office.

These three sustainability levers are available to any business to accelerate growth through responsible, inclusive and sustainable technology.

The pace of change is accelerating in almost all areas of life.

Standing still is not an option. We can – and must – seize the pace of technological change forever.

To survive, companies must keep pace with change. But to be truly successful, companies need to do it right.

Sarwar Khan is Head of Global Digital Sustainability at BT and is responsible for integrating sustainability into the way BT designs, builds, sells, markets and measures the performance of digital products and offerings.

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