A sustainable venture is not just a long-lasting one. Providing the means for sustainability from the onset offers advantages and opportunities to other future ventures. In addition, it’s the socially responsible course to take.

Modern society and the integration of ICT

We live in a data-driven society. Data is growing at an exponential rate, more than doubling every 24 months. Information and Communications Technology (ICT) systems are fundamental to this society. They form the basis of our ability to store data, convert it into useful information and share it. The ICT sector both adapts and adopts innovation at a mammoth rate, and global use of ICT has increased rapidly.

Hence, with such a sizable contribution to the consumption of energy and materials, the ICT sector has a key role to play in promoting sustainability. What’s more, that contribution is likely to increase as integration expands into new business and residential spaces.

Energy: a sustainable consideration

As far back as a decade ago in 2007, a Gartner report indicated that the ICT sector contributed around 2% of global carbon emissions.

At the time, the report indicated the breakdown amounts within ICT contributed. 40% was due to individual computers, 23% was due to data centers, and 24% was from telecommunications technology. The growth of online presences and data since then has likely pushed these numbers higher, despite the advent of more efficient technologies.

Data centers have a reputation for being the most energy-intensive ICT assets. A large amount of the energy burden of data is hidden away in data centers. While easily overlooked, the environmental impact remains. The powering of ICT equipment and keeping the data centre at its optimal temperature are the most energy intensive functions, comprising 25% to 50% of total energy consumption. In addition, up to 40% of energy consumption is utilised by data storage. Most data centers, due to reasons such as rapid growth, consist of an accumulation of aging servers and equipment. These tend to have much higher energy consumption than newer technologies. Finally, many servers utilise between 5% and 15% of their full capacity. Unchecked energy consumption not only increases costs, but has a negative impact on our planet and future generations.

Electronic waste

There is an adverse side to Moore’s Law and its corollaries. As technology innovation continues, electronic products are reaching their end of useful life much faster. this generates a vast amount of e-waste, as new devices and technologies replace older ones. This is particularly true when we bear in mind that the disposed-of devices are often still functional.

A 2010 United Nations report predicted that, in South Africa alone, electronic waste levels from computers would jump by 400% from 2007 to 2020. If not disposed of correctly, such waste poses major environmental and health risks.

Sustainable solutions: data centers

Most data centers operate at a temperature range of between 20 and 22 degrees Celsius. Studies have indicated that it is possible to run data centers at slightly higher temperatures. This helps reduce energy consumption and increases energy saving. Increasing the temperature by just 1 to 2 degrees can translate into energy savings of at least 10%.

Furthermore, organisations should include costs for energy efficiency when purchasing equipment. Idle disk arrays for tasks which are non performance-critical are a good example. Another example is using a multi-core server to replace several single-core servers. In addition, servers should be designed to consume as little energy as possible. Only necessary hardware should be installed.

To add to this, organisations need to be wary of ghost servers. These servers run in a data center and use resources, but do not contribute any useful output. Take steps to decommission or re-purpose these.

Virtualising servers is another excellent way to cut down on energy costs. Many servers utilize only between 5% and 15% of their full capacity, and service only one client or application. Virtualisation can significantly improve server utilisation. Fewer servers running at a greater capacity reduces the energy required for power and cooling. In addition, clients have incentive to use virtualisation services, as costs are reduced due to a decrease in capital expense.

Finally, it is crucial to put metrics in place to measure the impact of any changes in the data centre. Without proper metrics, it is a challenging to determine the effectiveness of changes made in a data centre in efforts to improve energy efficiency.


Sustainable solutions: remote communications

The transport sector is the second-highest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in South Africa, accounting for approximately 13% of emissions.

To cut down on emissions, one can try to use video conferencing and online meeting software (such as Skype or WebEX). This would minimise travel of employees. In addition to this, the same approach can be used to market, sell and assist clients. This also has the advantage of actively showing and sharing the benefits of such a model.

Not only will this have a positive impact by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it also adds to employees’ well-being.  It saves unnecessary travel time and contributes to the work-life balance.

Sustainable solutions: reuse and recycle

Wherever possible, find ways to extend or re-purpose electronic equipment and parts. This is done through upgrades, refurbishment and redeployment of the equipment. For example, parts that are no longer of use by one department often meet the needs of another.

In some cases, it is not possible to extend the life-cycle or reuse the equipment or components thereof. In these instances, try to resell to the market or donate it to the less fortunate.

Finally, only perform recycling or disposal in a manner that supports environmentally sound practices. Local organisations often have suggestions and processes which assist with this.

Strategy for sustainability

In order to remain effective, sustainability needs to form a part of company strategy. It is imperative to commit the entire organisation, including senior management, to these goals. Sustainability and Eco-innovative solutions should be embedded throughout all operations. Furthermore, you should have measurable goals that have a positive impact on people, planet, and profit. Sustainability is a balancing act, whereby operational and business decisions take into account the impact they have on both internal and external stakeholders.

This article was written by Carla Pietersen as part of a tertiary education assignment on sustainable enterprises. It is published here in a modified form with her permission. We thank her for her contribution!