Can the tech sector help mitigate its own environmental damage?

19 Dec 2023

Image: © zulfan/

While the tech sector can and has caused its own environmental issues, Kyndryl’s Faith Taylor explores the way the industry can take progressive action.

This year has seen record after record being broken when it comes to climbing temperatures as the climate crisis continues to take hold.

These reports were punctuated by the COP28 convention a few weeks ago, in which a deal was reached to push nations to transition away from all fossil fuels for the first time. The agreement was called historic by some, while others were more critical, citing a “litany of loopholes” and remarked the deal was “incremental” instead of transformational.

But no one agreement or so-called solution exists in a vacuum and the enormity of the climate emergency means that steps must be taken across every industry, not least the tech sector.

From excessive electronic waste to the insurmountable volumes of data being created and stored in energy-guzzling data centres, there is no shortage of environmental issues that are caused by the tech sector. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways in which technology leaders can mitigate the damage and even use technology to effect positive change.

“If we want to avoid these increasingly dire forecasts, it is imperative for the technology industry to embrace its dual purpose: advancing our own environmental goals in tandem with our customers,” said Faith Taylor, global sustainability and ESG officer at Kyndryl.

“Take, for example, the need for a company to understand its environmental footprint in order to consider and adjust energy usage. We know IT requires a great deal of energy to power the innovations that keep global commerce running smoothly, and as such the sector bears responsibility for reducing emissions associated with operations and supply chains.”

While capturing data can increase the pressure on data storage and, by extension, energy usage, it can also be an important element of measuring emissions effectively in a bid to achieve net-zero goals.

“By embracing technologies like predictive AI, organisations can better anticipate and mitigate risks associated with Scope 3 emissions; accurately forecast future energy consumption based on current data; and even predict and prepare for natural disasters more effectively.”

Taking practical steps

According to a sustainability study from Kyndryl and Microsoft, 80pc of respondents acknowledged that technology has an important role in achieving sustainability goals, but only 32pc believe they are effectively harnessing its full potential. So, where can IT leaders start?

Taylor said aligning technology with sustainability ambitions will ensure fact-based target-setting and data-backed evaluation of progress. “Organisations can start by re-evaluating existing infrastructure, whether that’s server refreshes, assessing subscription-based on-premises solutions, or increasing investments in cloud and server virtualisation,” she said.

“These endeavours support digital transformation by creating opportunities to integrate sustainability into broader modernisation goals.”

However, while the tech itself is important, culture, understanding and education must play a role in driving better sustainability practices.

“Organisations struggle to hire individuals with a deep understanding the scientific aspects of these goals, the ability to translate sustainability objectives into business advantages, and technological expertise to facilitate streamlined sustainability initiatives,” said Taylor.

“Encouraging employees to become more environmentally conscious goes beyond raising awareness; sustainable practices need to be embedded into company culture through ongoing employee education and engagement, empowering employees to make more sustainable choices across all aspects of their lives.”

Challenges beyond the tech

While most organisations can take steps to reduce their IT carbon footprint as well as baking sustainability targets into their goals going forward, the challenge for businesses remains balancing profitability goals with a commitment to operate sustainably.

But the reality is reaching sustainability targets can actually help a company’s bottom line. According to research by Deutsche Bank, companies with high ratings for ESG factors have a lower cost of debt and equity, and the majority of studies reviewed by Deutsche Bank found that companies with high ESG ratings outperform the market in the medium and long term.

“Today, neglecting sustainability poses financial and reputational risks – and organisations across the globe are aware of the urgency and the implications,” said Taylor.

“Achieving global climate goals will require widespread adoption of emission-cutting measures. The technology industry can – and should – be a leader in helping us reach these goals.”

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Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic