2021 was among the top seven warmest years on record and saw some of the most extreme weather events: from severe flooding in Belgium to devastating wildfires that saw 7.3 million acres [1] of land reduced to ash in the US.
The climate is changing, and for many of us, the effects are being felt on our doorstep.
Meanwhile, technological advancement offers tools and capabilities to deal with the climate crisis. It is increasingly being used to measure, monitor and reduce carbon emissions, and ever more sophisticated computer modelling techniques will allow the forecasting, preparation and mitigation of extreme weather events. The third GIEC report released this April 2022 calls on sobriety, energy efficiency, and innovation – the solutions are there, and the IPCC is categorical: acting will cost less than not acting.

The materiality of the invisible
But technology has an impact too. It is based first and foremost on physical realities: terminals (servers, computers, phones etc.), antennas, underground and submarine cables, satellites etc. To manufacture and use these instruments, we need energy. Data transmission networks alone already constitute 1.1-1.4% [2] of total global energy consumption, while the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector consumes 10% of the world’s electricity and produces 50% more greenhouse gases than air transport per year [3].
Energy consumption can often dominate the conversation surrounding the footprint of technology, and leading by example, major tech players, such as Google, have already made the switch to 100% renewable sources [4] – but this is only where it begins.
It’s also when viewed as a commodity that’s manufactured, sold, used and discarded, that our devices are responsible for real physical, social and environmental damage. We’ve reached a point where no business can operate without technology – and just as few can afford to not take action to reduce its impact.

Prioritising sustainability as a strategic pillar
One way of conceptualising corporate strategy is the how (the methods and actions) used to achieve the why (a company’s mission and vision).
There is a drastic need for companies to make sustainability a driving force behind their decisions, and the first place to start in this process is placing sustainability within their mission and/or vision – in business, sustainability starts at the top.
This is why Evernex has enshrined its commitment to a more sustainable IT world within its company mission to guide the implementation of day-to-day business processes and operations that support this goal.
Part of this has been to take ownership of our role in the problem and dedicate resources to measuring our impact to find actionable methods to reduce it.
In 2021, we updated our carbon footprint calculations using the French ‘Bilan Carbone’ and GHG Protocol methodologies, which found we produced more than 15,000 tCO2e in 2020: equivalent to the emissions of 1400 Europeans.
This presented us with a challenge as 96% of our emissions originate in the supply chain: sourcing and delivering materials, and shipping products to businesses.
Our response was to develop and implement a low carbon strategy by joining a CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) initiative called ACT Assessing Low Carbon Transition – step by step, supported by the French agency ADEME. Aligned with sector decarbonization goals and scientific guidelines, we look at potential optimisations along our entire process.
Another example is our Environment ISO certifications, which require the involvement of all manner of teams and staff members in the assessment of whether the business is acting responsibly or not.
During the process, staff have time to reflect on and reappraise their actions, which has created a mindset of continuous improvement – necessary to build a truly sustainable future in IT.
Evernex has been able to implement a robust roadmap to reduce its environmental impacts that enables this sustainability to filter down into every department of the business.

Rethinking the use of IT for improved value
A crucial step in incorporating sustainability at the strategic level is reframing our use of IT to see environmental – and economic – value at every stage of the asset lifecycle.
Historically and today, consumption of technology is based on the linear economic model of take-make-dispose. Raw materials are extracted from the Earth, from mines that are concentrated in few countries on which we all depend.
The digital industry consumes 320 tons of gold and 7500 tons of silver, 22% of the world’s mercury consumption (514 tons) and up to 2.5% of lead consumption. The manufacture of computers and cell phones alone consumes 19% of the global production of rare metals such as palladium and 23% of cobalt.[5]. China is now the leading producer of 28 mineral resources essential to our economies, often accounting for more than 50% of world production [6].
Raw materials are then processed and transported to facilities all over the world where they are manufactured into hardware. At this stage in the life cycle analysis, more than 75% of their lifetime carbon emissions have already been emitted (7). After manufacture, products are marketed and sold, transported, and installed.
After around 5 years of use, the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) issues an End-of-Service or End-of-Service-Life date, oftentimes spelling the end of the lifespan of that piece of equipment as manufacturer-provided maintenance becomes unsustainably expensive and warranties end. The hardware is replaced with a newer model, and frequently ends up as e-waste in landfills.
This model, which sees functioning IT equipment end up scrapped contributes to the mounting piles of e-waste, predicted to grow by 70% by 2050 [8], and creates numerous socio-environmental problems.
At every stage, from the extraction, to manufacture, operation and disposal, carbon emissions are released, and after their short lifespan, precious earth metals are laid to waste and toxic chemicals (used for extraction and fabrication processes) are free to leech into and damage the environment and local populations as they eventually end up in the food chain. Due to this, 10% of China’s arable land is contaminated with heavy metals and 80% of its underground well water is unfit for human consumption [9]
This should not be the norm. And major players, such as Google and HP, are acting towards both the energic and material sustainability of technological consumption by implementing circular practices in their operations [10].
A circular economy is regenerative and restorative by design and aims to always maintain products and materials at the highest utility and value – and for equipment, this means retaining it as functioning hardware for as long as possible.
Growth in the use of third-party maintenance (TPM) is an example of how hardware life extending services benefit both company finances and environmental responsibility by offering up to 70% savings compared to the manufacturer.
Sustainable IT practices not only provide economic value by extending the life of equipment. In improving customer perception, businesses with sustainable practices and transparency can gain a competitive advantage [11] to attract customers [12], retain talent and generate revenue.
It’s by implementing practices where environmental protection and economic value creation converge that we are going to see real movement towards sustainability. While large firms have the resources to manufacture, remanufacture and recycle their own data center equipment, for most business an operation of this scale is out of the question.
An immediate way companies can reduce their impact is by partnering with service providers that offer scalable, sustainable solutions.

Collaborating with sustainable partners
No business can create real impact alone. To meet our goal of a sustainable digital world, we help other businesses support the cause with sustainable alternatives to the current use of IT.
We approach IT from a lifecycle perspective, to provide a range of IT Life & Professional Services that embed sustainability at every stage of the equipment lifespan.
This includes at the beginning as we provide refurbished hardware and spare parts through our Third-party maintenance (TPM) and Spare as a Service (SPaaS) offerings, or flexible options for lease and rental that let equipment live numerous ‘lives’. During operation, our TPM challenges the refresh cycle and eliminates the expensive need for new by extending the useful life of equipment with cost-effective support.
Once equipment reaches its true end of useful life, we collect equipment and ensure the secure destruction of data in line with industry best practices. Then we reprocess equipment, salvaging functioning components to be reused in other systems and recycling raw materials to be remanufactured, at a specialised, EU Directive-authorized facility.
Through our global coverage that enables us to collaborate across geographies, companies operating in multiple locations can begin to reduce their carbon emissions, standardise their practices and align them with a circular economic system that will be crucial for a more sustainable future in technology.

Conclusion
In March 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed the first climate disclosure rules for public companies [13], becoming another in a growing list of governing bodies, including the EU – with its forthcoming Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (Oct 2022) and Impact and evolution on IFRS (ISSB) – proposing and imposing regulations that will make sustainability an issue of compliance.
These regulations would require companies to disclose their GHG emissions as well as their exposure to climate change risks. Although potentially incurring costs for the implementation of new processes in the short-term, in the long-term, these regulations will mean that sustainability reporting will eventually be integrated into global financial audits and provide consistency in a changing world.
Within IT, adopting sustainability as a corporate strategy, businesses can take a proactive rather than reactive approach to climate change, as well as new laws that regulate their activities around it. This will help them stay ahead of the curve on reducing their impact, anticipate the consequences of climate change on their activity (double materiality), and create a fit-for-future business model, based on sobriety, energy efficiency and innovation.

Sources

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