• Measuring the Carbon Footprint of your IT Environment

    The IT sector, in terms of its carbon footprint, is on a par with the global aviation industry. It's projected that the IT sector could scale to up to 20% of the global electricity demand over the coming decades, and also that for Small Businesses, IT may account for up to 40% of the carbon footprint in extreme circumstances.
    So, even though many IT Departments are supporting their business with an application to collect data and report on their carbon footprint, isn't it time to be measuring the Carbon Footprint in IT itself? If you haven't got even an approximate baseline to understand, how can you plan a material improvement?
    IT hasn't come under great scrutiny yet, as the reporting has mostly been focused on Scopes 1 and 2 - and that means that the IT footprint & impact in the office is hidden within those scope 1 and 2 numbers.

    1 DIRECT EMISSIONS - Owned Assets Disaster Recovery Generators - if used
    2 DIRECT EMISSIONS - Energy Purchased Energy consumed by the IT devices such as laptops, desktop PCs, servers, storage, network devices and printers
    3 INDIRECT EMISSIONS - Supply Chain Energy consumed in Data Centres, Cloud.
    Energy consumed in the manufacture and shipping of new equipment.
    Therefore, the actual footprint for IT hasn't been critical to know - as it's wrapped up in the overall energy reporting.
    Over recent years, many companies have moved their servers to a Data Centre or to the Cloud. This means that they are in Scope 3, and this is where the focus is due to move as companies get challenged to report on their wider supply chain.  With the Carbon Reduction Plan, you may be required to understand your Scope 3 emissions to supply some of your clients.
    Capturing the carbon footprint of the Desktops, Laptops, Printers and more, is a really difficult task to achieve accurately. The good news is that what we really need to do, to drive down those Scope 1-3 numbers, is to understand the nature of the emissions and make decisions to reduce our footprint and we will see the impact on the energy used. Data is also published to make this baseline easier and to enable us to plan. All the major manufacturers publish PCFs (Product Carbon Footprint), which summarise the emissions associated with their equipment.
    One of the first things you would notice is how little of the footprint is associated with the usage of the product - typically 50% is associated with the manufacture and shipping of the product (across the industry). For laptops and desktops, the percentage is even higher - 85.9% is quoted for a typical Dell laptop used over 4 years. The quoted range for usage can still vary though (as you would expect - as we all work different hours and utilise our laptops differently for different applications).
    If the manufacture of the equipment is so dominant, how can we make a difference to our company carbon footprint? There are a number of ways – but here are just a few:
    1. consider buying refurbished PCs and Servers rather than brand new
    2. dispose of the PC for reuse (and so gain a carbon credit in some countries)
    3. look at energy settings on all the PCs
    4. plan your adoption of ALL new technology (such as AI) which might be driving your carbon footprint up rather than down
    It's important here to repeat that we don't need to actually measure the specific usage - but to understand the nature of the carbon footprint and plan a reduction. We could potentially work at a number of levels of detail, but all, if used consistently, will allow planning for reduction. We can use the PCFs as mentioned above, we can calculate a predicted emission for usage hours or we can move to full on measurement, but that final stage is unlikely to yield a greater impact upon the plan to reduce your IT Carbon Footprint.
    Data Centres (or Server Rooms with their own local air conditioning), depending on scale, can often be the bigger target. A planned migration to cloud and/or retirement of little or un-used applications can have a strong effect. With scope 3 becoming of greater importance, assessing your Data Centres and/or Cloud environment is the next step.
    Servers and Storage at a Data Centre is broadly a similar approach to that of the desktops and laptops listed above, although if in a shared environment, some thought needs to be given to virtualisation (virtualisation is the ability to run more than one virtual server on one physical server). The actual Data Centre and its location are also key assessment criteria.
    If you have a cloud environment, you can work with your provider to look at the Carbon Footprint of your environment. For instance, Microsoft offer an app (a PowerBI report to be specific) which can pull down your emissions, and also allow you to estimate how much you have saved by being in the cloud rather than hosting your own servers.
    So, the data is available for you to pull together your Carbon Footprint, or at least, to get enough data to plan a material reduction in your IT Carbon Footprint. This should then form a core part of your IT strategy.


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