Recently, Elon Musk announced that Teslas can no longer be purchased with bitcoins. The reason for that decision was an interesting one: producing bitcoins takes so much energy that it does not fit Tesla’s image as a sustainable company.
Image is just one of the elements that forces companies to opt for sustainability. Increasingly, companies are feeling pressure from shareholders, governments and customers to accelerate greening. We see more and more that sustainability targets taken into account in determining the bonus of the company top. According to research by ING, 7% of the 450 companies surveyed have already implemented sustainability targets, while 62% plan to do so.
IT departments will also have to contribute to sustainability. But in what way ? The most obvious and directly influenceable is the reduction of one’s own contribution to CO2 emissions. Greening data centers, opting for sustainable and circular IT products and virtualization are examples of this. We call this “level 1” sustainability.
“Level 2” sustainability is about facilitating the wider organization to achieve sustainability targets with the help of IT.
The possibilities are extensive. Providing information about sustainability, (re)designing processes and applications with sustainability as a key requirement or using IT for innovative solutions are just a few possibilities. A good example of “level 2” sustainability is the program for reuse of parts at Caterpillar, manufacturer of heavy machinery for construction and mining. Caterpillar collects accurate information and data about the use and status of parts with its IT systems. This is made available to dealers so that they can make informed decisions about the reuse of parts. This reuse helps Caterpillar become more sustainable by using materials and energy more efficiently.
Recently I had the opportunity to help the IT organization of an international company to define their sustainability agenda for the next 3 years. The department had already started with “level 1” sustainability. A number of initiatives had already been launched such as buying eco-friendly laptop bags, opting for hardware that can easily be repaired and facilitating remote to reduce travel can. These initiatives fell within the direct area of influence of the IT organization and were relatively easy to implement.
It became more interesting when “level 2” possibilities were inventoried, and when discussions were started with departments to which the IT department provides services. Numerous options were discussed in consultation. It became clear that IT has an important role in helping other departments to achieve their sustainability goals.
During the discussions, the potential of applications was specifically examined. The bottom line was that applications should not be the limiting factor in sustainability initiatives. But also, that many applications contain possibilities that can accelerate sustainability and that many of them have not yet been utilised. Moreover, it became clear that the IT organization was seen by other departments as a main driver and initiator of sustainability. After all, they have the knowledge of applications and processes and often control budgets for change.
In the very near future, the IT discipline will be explicitly looked at when it comes to sustainability. In particular at “level 2” sustainability, many possibilities of information technology have not yet been utilised. As treasury guardian of this potential, it is the IT organization’s turn to act. Saying “no, thank you” is not an option, the interests are far too important and the pressure is too high.