The IT industry is expanding rapidly, and with that comes increased environmental impact. Then, technological development makes it possible to make all sectors and society, in general, more efficient. So, what will be the road ahead for achieving more in work for sustainability? Christopher Wellise, Chief Sustainability Officer at HPE, says that IT companies need both to reduce their emissions and to take the lead in a historical transition.
Currently, the data centres of the world consume an estimated 200 terawatt-hours. That is one per cent of global electricity consumption per year and corresponds to 0.3 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions, but if we consider IT in its entirety – a sweeping term that covers everything from smartphones to networks – it amounts to two per cent.
”Compared to other industries, this doesn’t seem much. But IT is a high visibility industry, and many regard us as a leader. Also, the sector is energy-intensive, and it’s growing fast, so we have a great responsibility.”
He believes that a great transition has taken place during recent years. A change from sustainable IT, with a focus on efficiency in energy and materials in their activities, to IT for sustainability. The latter is a vastly greater group, where IT is used for influencing other industries, from healthcare to manufacturing, in a positive direction.
”Technology is crucial for reshaping society in a way that respects the limits of the planet. I can see that digitalisation makes it possible to make just about every business more efficient, and so far we have only scratched the surface.”
During 2018, 28 million digital letters were sent using My Messages. That saved 280 tons of paper – or 400,000 average-size pine trees.
One example is ”Mina meddelanden” (”My Messages”), a service which is now used by 3.4 million Swedes. During 2018, 28 million digital letters were sent using this service. That saved 280 tons of paper – or 400,000 average-size pine trees. On top of that, this means a great reduction in emissions from, among other things, manufacturing processes and transportation. Instead, there are emissions from the IT systems, but they are much lower per message.
Christopher Wellise believes that the Nordic countries are furthest ahead in the world in sustainability. Many look here for inspiration and to see what’s happening in the field. But Germany, Singapore and the USA, primarily the coasts and Texas, are also far ahead.
”This might startle many people, but the current administration has been beneficial for environmental work in the USA. Because since the public sector put its heels down, others have increased their pace. Customer demand for sustainable products and services is rising, and many major companies are now taking the lead.”
This applies, not least, to the IT and technology industry, which currently includes the five most highly valued, and most powerful, corporations in the world. With this position follows a responsibility, and things are going in a positive direction. Bloomberg reports that during 2018, 121 companies in 21 countries procured 13.4 gigawatts of renewable energy. This is more than twice as much as in 2017. The company that accounted for the highest part was Facebook at 2.6 gigawatts; number two was Google.
”The global IT infrastructure consumes a lot of energy and demand is increasing. So we in the industry must lead the way and do a rapid change to environmentally friendly energy sources. In HPE, we have more than doubled the amount of renewable energy in two years. In 2017, it amounted to 25 per cent of our power. Our goal is 50 per cent by 2025.”
Between 2015 and 2017, HPE also reduced its emissions of greenhouse gases by 29 per cent, but Christopher Wellise believes that a corporation like HPE needs to think bigger.
The global IT infrastructure consumes a lot of energy and demand is increasing.
”95 per cent of our emissions of greenhouse gases occur in production and when we use products. So that is where we have the chance to make a difference. We do that, partly by making our products more energy-efficient, but also by working with our subcontractors to reduce emissions.”
The goal is to reduce emissions in the entire supply chain by 15 per cent and to improve the energy efficiency in the product portfolio by 30 times by 2025.
”But in addition to this, we also need to become better at reusing technology and materials: a circular economy where we significantly extend the lifespan of our products. Today, we have one recycling centre in Massachusetts and one in Scotland, receiving four million units every year. Eighty-nine per cent of them can be reused.”
”These machines are modular and are designed to be used again. They come back to us after having been written off and ’used up’, they’re dismantled and put together again for the next customer.”
”The current lifespan of many IT products today is two or three years, not much considering the number of resources needed to make them. In the industry, we need to increase the pace of transition to a circular economy where we reuse a lot more than we do now and take planetary limits into account. There is a demand from customers, so how we have every opportunity to take the lead in this historical transformation,” concludes Christopher Wellise.
Christopher Wellise, Chief Sustainability Officer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, has taken an interest in environment and sustainability ever since he was a child. His father was not interested in sports at all. Instead, he took Chris out into the forest and for fishing trips. When the time came for studies, he wished to work in the borderland between business and sustainability. Chris has a Master of Science in Environmental Studies from San Jose State University. Before HPE hired him, he worked in research for several years.