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How to Build Sustainable Technology Practices within Your IT Department


A Q&A with Katie Gibson – VP of Strategy and Partnerships at the CIO Strategy Council

Updated: October 4, 2021

As the world focuses more on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), the technology sector brings numerous solutions to the problem. Whether it’s reducing emissions through smart energy grids or electric vehicles, the tech sector is playing a pivotal role in combating climate change.

Unfortunately, the tech sector has a catch 22 situation, contributing to climate change as well.

According to the CIO Strategy Council, energy consumption from digital technologies is rising 6x faster than the rest of the economy. By 2025, 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions will come from digital technologies.

We wanted to figure out what organizations can do to reduce carbon emissions coming from their IT departments and technologies.

Katie Gibson of the CIO Strategy Council, which launched the Sustainable IT Pledge this summer, answers our questions on building sustainable technology practices with your IT department.

1. If my organization’s IT department is aiming to implement sustainable technology practices, where should they look first?

“Digital technology is a growing source of GHG emissions thanks to our increasing use of data-hungry applications and devices.”

“On the data front, the priority is data centres: shift them to renewable electricity sources and drive up their energy efficiency. For many companies, this means accelerating your cloud migration.”

“On the devices front, you should buy fewer new devices. Replacing computers and mobile devices less frequently is an excellent first step.”

2. What steps have you seen leading sustainable organizations take to combat increasing carbon footprints in their data centres and networks?

“A wide range of practices all come back to increasing the energy efficiency of data centres and networks and shifting to renewable power.”

“Leading sustainable organizations should account for the “rebound effect” concept – that expected energy savings are not realized when efficiency improvements drive higher consumption. This can be a genuine concern for cloud computing, 5G, and other technologies.”  

Katie Gibson - VP of Strategy and Partnerships at the CIO Strategy Council
Katie Gibson – VP of Strategy and Partnerships at the CIO Strategy Council

3. What are some common barriers for tech companies to achieve sustainability? Do you see and common challenges that companies are facing today?

“A big challenge is driving sustainability across the supply chain. This could be upstream to companies that provide the technologies or downstream in how customers consume products and services. For many companies, the emissions created directly by their operations are a fraction of those produced in their supply chain.”

“But this is, of course, harder to manage.” 

“For smaller companies, one challenge is not knowing where to start. Smaller companies are spinning so many plates, and they need an easy on-ramp to sustainable practices.”

“For larger companies, it’s about aligning activities across the enterprise. I’ve seen companies with solid sustainability commitments that don’t translate into changes to how the IT function operates.” 

4. Measuring sustainability is something that we’re discussing at the upcoming CENGN Summit. How do we quantify sustainable technology? Do we base this on customers, resources, end-users, data centres? What are the primary measurements needed to ensure that an organization’s technology is going sustainable?

“The key here is to use common standards for setting targets, measurement, reporting, and assurance. Consistency and comparability are critical. The importance of this is magnified for larger companies with complex supply chains. Suppliers and vendors all need to be on the same page.”

5. How can a company ensure that reducing GHG emissions is a priority? How should they add this to their prioritizied objectives?

If you already have a sustainability team, include them in conversations about IT operations and purchasing. Ensuring the right-hand knows what the left is doing is catalytic. For a company just beginning this sustainability journey, addressing your IT department’s GHG emissions is an excellent on-ramp.”

6. Many say that everyone has a role to play in the sustainability of our technology. How do we make ensuring sustainable technology a collaborative effort between techn providers, businesses, end-users, and government?

“It’s essential to get everyone around the same table.” 

When we drafted the Sustainable IT Pledge, we worked collaboratively with a group of technology leaders from Canadian governments and companies large and small. Understanding each organization’s priorities and constraints is a crucial step, and now we can all rally around a pledge that balances everyone’s perspective.”

The Sustainable IT Pledge

The CIO Strategy Council’s Sustainable IT Pledge is the first commitment made by Canadian organizations to cut rising emissions from digital technologies. Members in the pledge get resources and expertise from the council to set GHG reduction targets for their IT operations and supply chain while measuring and disclosing their progress.

Are you interested in hearing more about sustainable technology practices for your IT department? 

Katie leads an upcoming panel featuring leaders in IT Sustainability from Microsoft, the City of Toronto, and Bell Canada at this year’s CENGN Summit on November 9. 

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About the Author

Being the Content Marketing Lead at CENGN, Richard researches and shares information on emerging technologies such as 5G, IoT, and Artificial Intelligence.

Through his experience in writing and support for technological growth, he’s always interested in sharing how new technologies are shaping the lives of fellow Canadians.

More by Richard Galazzo

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