The Journey Towards Reducing Carbon Footprint Can Seem Daunting for Many Businesses

Matt Watts, the Chief Technology Evangelist at NetApp, says technology can also play a role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions

How does technology contribute to sustainability?
While the technology sector plays a crucial role in driving sustainability, the relationship can be a double-edged sword. Technological advancements are often associated with adverse environmental effects due to the vast amounts of energy they require, good examples are the mining of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or the massive computing requirements of AI. However, technology can also play a role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing energy efficiency.

Research commissioned as part of the World Economic Forum’s 2030 Vision found that 70% of the 169 UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets can be directly supported by advanced technologies. Thus, technology companies across the board, including NetApp, are placing a huge emphasis on what we can do to help build a more sustainable future.

What sort of sustainability efforts does your company practice? Examples: minimal/recyclable packaging, use of recycled material for devices, green energy, low energy consumption, digital products, and services, and so on.
At NetApp, we seek to conserve, optimize, and responsibly source energy for our buildings, labs, and data centers. These efforts span from the energy-efficient design of new facilities to enhancements to existing facilities, such as lighting upgrades. In the past year, we have also decreased energy use by shrinking our building footprint. A mix of related strategies has helped reduce our resource consumption and improve overall efficiency:

  1. GHG Emissions: We’ve just announced our commitment to a 50% intensity reduction of Scope 3 GHG emissions and a 42% reduction of Scope 1 & Scope 2 emissions by 2030.
  2. Renewables and Efficiency: Use of renewable power, drawn and from wind generation sources, mini hydroelectric plants, and onsite solar plants.
  3. Waste: We divert as much waste as possible from landfills by recycling, composting, and encouraging employees to opt for reusables in our break rooms and cafeterias
  4. Green Teams: To encourage environmental stewardship among employees, we established Green Teams at several U.S.-owned sites. These employee groups raise peer awareness of sustainable practices and have achieved measurable resource conservation and energy savings improvements.
  5. Water: For all landscaping irrigation, our RTP campus uses non-potable reclaimed water provided by the local utility company. We also recycle wastewater to reuse for irrigation and HVAC cooling towers, making some site a zero-discharge facility.

Do we need to look at sustainability beyond the use of “green energy”?
We need to take a very broad view, when we look at how we operate our organisations we must consider all the resources in use at our facilities, energy, water, the car fleets that we operate, and the waste that we create. Also, companies such as NetApp that produce and deliver products have a responsibility to look at these factors across the companies in our supply chain so that we hold our suppliers up to the same high standards.

We have to consider the materials we use in our products, the energy that’s consumed by our products during their life with our customers, and then finally how these systems are recycled. “Green energy” is very important, but it is only one part of a green plan.

How can companies reduce their carbon footprint? Are there local or regional initiatives that encourage companies to adopt best practices?
Starting the journey towards reducing carbon footprint can seem daunting for many businesses. However, the process is much easier than it seems. The first step is to find out how big an organisations carbon footprint is – measuring and understanding where the businesses produce carbon emissions will point businesses to the areas they need to work on. Carbon literacy training will also help businesses and their employees to better understand carbon emissions and the impact it has on businesses.

It helps establish a low-carbon culture within the business. Businesses must also look at supporting and working with suppliers who have sustainable business practices. Implementing green technologies to run business operations is also essential for businesses in reducing their carbon footprint. NetApp joined the PAIA consortium in December 2021, whose goal is to help ICT companies perform quantitative and consistent environmental evaluations of their products.

The PAIA platform shows the environmental footprint of Information & Communication Technology (ICT) products. It is also a consortium of ICT peers, engaged in the use and improvement of PAIA tools and discussion of other topics related to sustainability in the ICT sector. The tools can be used to identify the major drivers of impact, known as hotspots, within the materials acquisition, manufacturing, and use of a generic product. The PAIA Method can also be used to complete “what if” scenarios on their products, such as exploring the impact of changes to materials or processes on the product’s global warming impact.

But everyone can make a difference and even making small changes to day-to-day operations like shifting to green office equipment, switching to energy-efficient lighting, encouraging employees to use public transport or share transport, and implementing best-practice within the workplace are great individual initiatives as well.

What challenges do companies face today in their journey toward net zero and how can technology help solve those issues?
Governments and the world’s largest organizations have made net-zero pledges, and this has had a snowball effect that is encouraging other companies – large and small, to join in. Companies in the process of starting their net-zero journey often face some typical challenges, such as setting targets for various activities or business areas, maintaining sustainability levels, and the economic viability of the initiative, and some are just setting net-zero goals without a path or accountability.

Net zero pledges and goals have to be grounded in science-led facts and have a measurable and public plan as to how a company will achieve its goal. A tangible, measurable plan to reduce emissions that can be tracked and delivered is probably better in many cases than net zero flag-waving exercises that aren’t grounded in hard facts and realities.

What factors can help companies advance toward their sustainability goals?
Despite IT’s sustainability challenges, companies can implement proven strategies to maximize energy efficiency. Here are four areas they should prioritize:

  1. Use Infrastructure analytics to understand how assets across their IT estate are being used, there is a lot of digital waste inside data centers across servers, storage, and networking
  2. Perform comprehensive analysis of their data. Up to 68% of data is never used again after it’s created, implementing data analytics can help companies to make more sustainable decisions as to how to manage this.
  3. Use the public cloud to take advantage of sustainability at scale, consider moving data and workloads to a net zero public cloud
  4. Challenge vendors to make sure they are providing energy-efficient storage, servers, and so on for the data and workloads that will remain in the data center
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Chris Fernando

Chris N. Fernando is an experienced media professional with over two decades of journalistic experience. He is the Editor of Arabian Reseller magazine, the authoritative guide to the regional IT industry. Follow him on Twitter (@chris508) and Instagram (@chris2508).

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