Keeping sustainability at the center of digital enterprises

Digital enterprises have the unique opportunity to seed sustainability right into their foundations

By Prithika Sharone

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Published: Tue 28 Nov 2023, 11:03 AM

Businesses across the world are incorporating contemporary technologies and transforming into digital enterprises for two key reasons. First, this shift provides enhanced experiences for both their employees and customers, making the former more efficient and the latter more satisfied. Second, it makes technology accessible to everyone in the business, breaking silos and paving the way for innovation.

While this massive shift towards digital transformation positively impacts an organisation's workplace, workforce, and workload, how is it affecting the environment? In the Global Risks Report 2023 by the World Economic Forum, environmental issues like natural disasters, large-scale damage incidents, resource depletion, and ecosystem collapse have been ranked as the top global risks both in the short and long term. Shockingly, the digital sector's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions runs perilously above the estimated 2.8 per cent when considering the entire life cycle of ICT products and infrastructure. This should compel all organisations to center their IT-aligned processes around sustainability and environmental stewardship. They will not only fulfil their responsibilities to offset their own climate impact, but also help to protect the planet's health for future generations.

Moving towards sustainability

The advent of technology has changed the way businesses operate. For instance, we are no longer dependent on cumbersome ledgers to manage accounts. Instead, accounting software can seamlessly input transaction history while suggesting ways to plan expenses. While digitalisation has optimised and enhanced once complicated processes, it has also inadvertently harmed the environment. A 2018 study claims smartphones and data centers will be amongst the most environmentally harmful technologies by 2040. This is a wake-up call for hardware- and software-bound companies to make conscious efforts towards becoming eco-responsible.

There are several ways for an organisation to take up its ecological responsibilities. Digital enterprises could pledge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions and cut down on energy expenditures. The UAE has already kick-started this commitment in 2021, hoping to achieve it by 2050. Organisations can take the first step towards this goal by advocating sustainability internally, amongst the leadership and workforce. The over use and exorbitant purchase of devices such as laptops, desktops, smartphones, printers, etc., coupled with employees not following energy-efficient practices, amounts to alarming levels of power drain. This energy wastage can be curbed by endpoint power management, which can limit the excessive usage of devices by automatically putting them in sleep mode or shutting them down when idle. These technologies, especially when incorporated with AI, can help organisations to regulate their energy consumption.

With the UAE securing the 37th position in the United Nations' Technology and Innovation Report 2023, which ranks countries based on their readiness to adopt advanced technologies and implement it for green innovations, local organisations already seem to be embracing technologies towards a positive effect.

Moreover, employees should implement regular system updates, as these can extend the lifetime of devices. They can work with equipment specified to the requirements of their roles and recycle them efficiently, which results in avoiding power-consuming setups and creates a sustainable environment. Indeed, the modern digital workforce can slowly inch towards sustainability by adopting thoughtful IT practices when it comes to the purchase, use, and disposal of devices and equipment.

Integrating sustainability into the infrastructure

Digital enterprises have the unique opportunity to seed sustainability right into their foundations. In consonance with the UAE government's Green Economy initiative, organisations can build and redesign physical offices into spaces that conserve resources, including the use of solar panels and energy efficient lights and appliances, and make a meaningful difference. Although a certain dependence on fossil fuels is inevitable for now, organisations can look to minimise their overall environmental impact in other ways like food composting and greywater recycling. These measures could be supervised by a sustainability committee that can be tasked to internally audit and measure the viability of such initiatives.

Today's companies are required to be compliant with regional data privacy laws, making it necessary to operate data centers that are local and accessible. But data centers are constantly power hungry and require complex cooling systems, piling on to the list of energy concerns. Therefore, it is important to measure, regulate, and optimise consumption and replace their energy sources with renewable alternatives like solar and wind power.

Cloud adoption is a suitable and beneficial option in terms of reducing IT costs. By preferring it over on-premises servers, enterprises can also minimize their energy dependence due to less hardware being employed and relying on shared resources.

Keeping sustainability as a pivotal part of modern businesses is important. It instils a sense of responsibility, reducing the damage digital operations can cause to a world that is ever-giving, despite all our taking. Besides, embracing environmental and social sustainability can give organisations an upper hand in the market, leading to fruitful returns for the organisation and meaningful participation by customers. It's a true win-win.

— Prithika Sharone is an enterprise analyst at ManageEngine.

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