How to Boost Environmentally-Conscious IT Practices in Enterprise

Sustainable IT Practices

In conjunction with Earth Day 2023, Blancco’s CTO, Russ Ernst, answers 5 questions on how to increase environmentally-conscious IT practices in the enterprise as new sustainability regulations and incentives emerge:

1) What should enterprises consider when it comes to increasing the sustainability of their IT organization? 

There are two important ways to foster sustainability in your IT organization:

Reducing e-waste through recycling and minimizing physical destruction of IT assets 

More than 50M metric tons of e-waste is generated globally every year, posing a threat to human health due to the toxic substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) that are found in many types of electronics disposed of in landfills. To tackle this growing problem, the United Nations has set a target to raise e-waste recycling rates globally from 20% to 30% by the end of 2023, as well as increasing the percentage of countries with e-waste legislation from 39% to 50% on the same timeline. In the U.S. the Biden administration recently announced $375 million in funding for new recycling, reuse, and waste prevention programs and initiatives and we are also seeing U.S. investors and financial influencers, such as S&P, ramping up incentives for businesses to be more ESG-minded. With technology now a basic necessity for conducting business operations, these target figures pertain to enterprises worldwide, as they contribute significantly to the e-waste generated every year. 

Fortunately, enterprises can help turn this around by fostering more sustainable IT practices within their organization. One challenge that has long stood in the way of increasing enterprise IT reuse and recycling rates is the slow pace of changing traditional mindsets in the enterprise toward physical destruction of IT equipment. Oftentimes, IT assets that are not used but that are still functional are destroyed to prevent sensitive data from being recovered and used for malicious purposes; however, advancements in modern technology related to data sanitization methodology, tools and proof capabilities, have become pivotal in changing attitudes toward more sustainable approaches to data security. Changing mindsets, and ultimately behavior, is easier than IT decision makers might imagine. Minimizing physical destruction of IT assets for the sole purpose of eradicating data, and instead refurbishing or recycling them, will make a tangible impact on the e-waste crisis. 

Playing a role in decreasing carbon footprint

Another way IT departments can help their organization become more sustainable is by supporting them in going carbon neutral. Under new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission requirements, companies must measure and publish their Scope 1 and Scope 2 carbon emissions beginning in 2024. And for larger companies, required reporting on Scope 3 emissions (or carbon emissions from customers and the supply chain) may not be far behind. IT departments can support these goals in a few ways, including making business sustainability part of their decision-making criteria – e.g., energy considerations related to data storage (cyber landfills) as well as the selection of third-party technology vendors, the carbon emissions of which count towards an organization’s overall carbon footprint.  

2) How can they achieve the proposed strategies?

The best approach to address both of these areas is to take a holistic view of the organization’s business sustainability priorities and practices. To do so, the following three steps can help:

  • Create a sustainability-specific leadership role to drive efforts across all departments, including IT – Appointing a sustainability leader to take ownership across all departments, including IT, is a critical step in assuring accountability and performance success. A concerted effort is necessary to make the shift from simply supporting sustainable changes, to communicating the message across departments, to actually making those changes. A single leader can address challenges that make behavioral change difficult with strategies such as incentivizing individual performance through bonuses, etc., and linking teams together to meet a common goal.  
  • Define budgets to ensure a clear path to success — One of the first roadblocks to making these changes within an organization is the lack of funding. In order for new sustainability policies to be successful for IT teams, there needs to be an approved budget, which requires the finance department’s cooperation and support. Defining a plan for this expenditure may take some convincing, but should be made easier when the case is made as to how many of the changes could potentially save money. A great example of this is increasing reuse and recycling of IT assets, which should result in savings down the road due to purchasing less IT equipment and/or getting compensation for recycled parts. 
  • Extend sustainability efforts beyond your own company – Putting the efforts into place to calculate and reduce a company’s carbon footprint shouldn’t end at their front door. Companies also need to assess their supply chain in detail to ensure that their partners operate sustainably as well, ranging from equipment suppliers to insurance providers. This is the basis for reporting on Scope 3 emissions in the future. As noted above, all of these components make up the sum of an enterprise’s total carbon footprint, and therefore contribute to the delicate balance of overall carbon emissions goals.

As new mandates and regulations raise the bar for enterprise ESG performance, more time, effort, and money will be required to ramp up efforts. Starting company policy updates and associated changes as early as possible reduces pressure and the potential for fines for non compliance down the road, not to mention the rewarding ways enterprises can help the environmental challenges faced today. 

3) Other than IT leadership, who else should be involved early-on? 

IT decision-makers need to collaborate with the organization’s sustainability point person, if such a role exists, but it is also important to collaborate with the finance department to ensure that necessary resources are budgeted for early on. It’s important for the IT and finance departments to align with at least a cursory view from the resource usage standpoint and the alignment of IT requirements and sustainability priorities. Similarly, wider education for all employees on the enterprise’s sustainability objectives and policies is essential to success, including how seemingly unrelated topics such as data security can actually impact sustainability policies.

4) What are ways to persuade enterprise management about new business sustainability strategies? 

The volume of sustainability-focused regulations will significantly increase in 2023 and create new drivers for management to push change throughout their organization. The initial impact of these regulatory changes will result in companies making more of a cross-functional effort to understand what needs to happen internally to meet the moment. We will see enterprises staffing up on sustainability roles, from coordinators to C-level executives. IT leaders should embrace the hiring of Chief Sustainability Officers, as they will be critical in expediting how IT teams can approach procedural changes, which current sustainability-tasked teams may not have the authority to mandate company-wide. One concern may be data security for any information saved on company assets, which the IT organization can alleviate through software-based data sanitization best practices, which are sustainability-friendly. 

Among the new regulations will be a focus on carbon footprint reduction. This will significantly drive the need for sustainable third-party service and solution suppliers, ranging from insurance companies to accounting and legal firms, to technology providers. Those who do not take steps to reduce their carbon footprint will be left behind by the business community.

5)  What’s a common misconception made by planners? 

An easy mistake for companies to make is to implement incomplete plans, or to move forward without fully committing to their sustainability initiatives. Implementing half-hearted sustainability initiatives could be labeled “greenwashing,” or the idea of a business creating a false pretense of being sustainability-minded. 

Another mistake is not ensuring there’s buy-in with regards to sustainability goals company-wide and from individual employees at all levels. Only when management and stakeholders are fully aligned can the program successfully create change within an enterprise.

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Russ Ernst

Russ Ernst

As chief technology officer at Blancco Technology Group, Russ Ernst is responsible for defining, driving, and executing product strategy across the entire Blancco data erasure, device diagnostics, and mobile lifecycle solutions suite. Russ is a regular speaker at IT and data security industry conferences, where he addresses data lifecycle management, end-of-life IT management, and data sanitization best practices. He also provides expertise on how organizations can reach their sustainability goals and fuel the circular economy by harnessing secure disposal processes. With over twenty years of experience managing ITAD and enterprise technology product development, Russ is regularly sought for comment. You can find his insights in Recycling Today, Security Boulevard, Data Center Knowledge, Business Insider, and The Fast Mode, and in the upcoming book, Net Zeros and Ones: How Data Erasure Promotes Sustainability, Privacy, and Security.