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Meeting ESG goals with green IT

Image: Adobe Stock / troyanphoto

From creating, implementing and running new eco-friendly operations, to elevating the importance of diversity and inclusion, and even taking part in wider climate change initiatives – organisations are making it clear to investors, regulators, staff, and customers that environmental, social and governance programmes are a key priority in 2023. 

Over the coming years, there will be more and more companies that include energy-efficient and low-emission operations in their corporate strategy and restructure their operations. At the same time, organisations are increasing their use of cloud services, with many creating multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments as part of their ongoing digital transformations. The timing is serendipitous because cloud providers that prioritise energy efficiency or renewable energy sources can help enterprises achieve their ESG goals.

Another contributor to ESG elevation is the advancement in hybrid and remote work. Thanks to this phenomenon, organisations can downsize and redesign their office space, thereby additionally reducing their carbon footprint. By taking such measures, they are fulfilling their sense of duty to their employees and the environment. In offering flexible working options, they improve the work-life balance and relieve the burden on the planet with their sustainable and resource-saving commitment.

But where do you even start with ESG programmes? 

Cue the cloud!

Cloudy with a chance of ESG

Migrating data to the cloud plays a crucial role in reducing energy consumption in companies. This is because cloud servers enable rapid access to system resources such as data storage, databases, and software. As a result, cloud-based data management and reporting can help enhance ESG efforts by automating processes and standardising the data. This provides increased transparency within the company as executives seek to better understand diverse social and environmental risks. 

A major benefit of cloud technology is the proliferation of having multiple data sources stored in a modernised architectural format. Consequently, it helps organisations reduce siloed working, encourages knowledge-sharing, and creates the blueprint source for data while also moving physical data centres to the cloud – thus reducing emissions. Another benefit of using the cloud would be the increased efficiency for businesses; having timely access to reportable data would increase transparency for stakeholders and regulators, and allow businesses to focus on their day-to-day operations.

Additionally, they can rethink their own hardware equipment. Many companies have low utilisation rates because they have purchased additional equipment in anticipation of server load spikes. With servers in the cloud, on the other hand, hardware utilisation is consolidated, so they can be operated with high efficiency. 

Overall, cloud computing is expected to save billions of tons of CO2 emissions by 2024, as large cloud storage centres manage power demand and cooling power more effectively and deploy more energy-efficient servers.

Efficient cooling processes

Cooling systems account for about 40% of a data centre’s energy resources. On the other hand, air and liquid cooling systems can reduce power consumption while protecting temperature-sensitive equipment.

Most computer room air conditioning (CRAC) systems use standard fans with speed that cannot be adjusted to match the data centre’s heat load. The sustainable alternative is variable speed systems. This is because they only consume power during operation and determine their speed via innovative room temperature analysis. A low CPU load on the servers therefore simultaneously reduces power consumption by up to 20% when using variable-speed fans. 

Liquid cooling is more effective than fans. Here, the cooling liquid is directed from one component to another through a closed system of hoses to cool the systems. The pumps required for this use less energy than fan systems in conventional CRAC/CRAH units. Solutions vary from heat exchangers at the back of racks to direct-to-chip cooling. While liquid cooling is significantly more expensive to purchase than common air-cooling systems, it also operates much more efficiently and conserves resources. In addition, it enables better space utilisation in the data centre.

More recently, a public swimming pool in Devon started utilising the heat produced by a nearby data centre to reduce its increasing expenses. The computers within the centre are surrounded by oil that captures the heat generated by the machines. This heat is then transferred into a heat exchanger, used to warm the water in the pool. This ‘digital boiler’ will dramatically reduce this public pool’s energy bills and carbon footprint. Very nifty!

Office space

In an ideal world we would have all contacted Mystic Meg so that she could have predicted the massive shift to remote work caused by the Covid-19 pandemic – but that’s not how life works. 

Today, most organisations have switched to remote working to avoid any potential risk to their employees’ health and wellbeing. But remote work also had an adverse effect on company culture and interpersonal relationships within teams – so most organisations are looking for a safe, collaborative option that could help them restore team spirit and still offer the benefits of remote work. By now, most companies have the necessary technologies in place, such as a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). This allows all employees to access desktops, applications, and services from home as well as the office, benefiting from less commuting and more time for family.

Companies are thus able to rethink office space needs and, depending on the concept, can choose a smaller office, reconfigure space for other purposes, or set up locations completely remotely. Downsizing office space not only reduces energy costs for lighting, heating and air conditioning. It also reduces CO2 emissions for employees who have to commute less. 

What’s next for organisational ESG? 

ESG is constantly evolving. Therefore, it is clear a lot of work needs to be done on an ongoing basis for it to be held to the same standard as the quality of data in other more advanced areas of the business. 

However, thanks to the increased emphasis from governments and businesses working together, there are many opportunities to exploit. Despite its challenges, harnessing state of the art technology and utilising cloud capabilities can allow organisations to experience vast benefits and possibly see the shift to a greener, more ethical way of operating their business.  

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