Sustainability in the tech industry: The hidden problem and how to tackle it

Businesses are constantly innovating towards a better tomorrow—to compete, win customers, and expand into new territories. However, to exist and grow in tomorrow’s world, organisations must adopt sustainability. Priyanka Roy, enterprise evangelist, ManageEngine outlines the steps that organisations in the IT sector can implement to adopt a sustainable approach.


This is a contributed article by Priyanka Roy, enterprise evangelist, ManageEngine.

Technology has helped businesses move towards a better tomorrow—to innovate, to compete, to win customers. The digitisation of value chains has accelerated new business models, cost efficiencies, and revenue streams.

But beneath the glossy exterior lies a silent enemy: technology’s contribution to the carbon footprint. A recent study predicted that if the trends in the information and communication technology (ICT) industry continue at the current rate, the field will constitute 14% of global carbon emissions by 2040. While some tech organisations have begun to opt for green energy sources to combat carbon emissions, the industry is still primarily fossil-fuel driven.

Software giants such as Microsoft, Google, and Infosys are on the path to net-zero environments. As the first to go carbon-neutral in 2007, Google is the front runner in committing to utilising renewable energy sources. Infosys claims that it is already 30 years ahead of the climate change target set by the Paris Agreement, getting there by optimising its energy sources and using solar panels in its offices.

Eco-friendliness in the tech industry is falling short

Compared to what we’re seeing in industries such as food, fashion, and manufacturing, eco-friendliness in the largely intangible ICT industry is lagging. For example, the fashion industry could curb its carbon footprint by 40% using AI-based tools to predict demand and increase profits. Using these models, organisations in this industry can predict which designs will be popular and which won't sell as much, thereby reducing waste by making fewer versions of less popular designs. That said, while AI reduces carbon emissions, it has its own environmental impact, and ignoring this hinders the goals of sustainability and the move towards a circular economy. 

Generally, there are five accessible ways tech companies can adopt a better, more sustainable approach:

  1. Internal audits: Evaluate the current processes followed across the value chain to highlight any unsustainable practices that may contribute to the carbon footprint. For example, assess the source of power, turn off unused appliances, and optimise data centres.
  2. Green upgrades: Track the consumption of resources across the organisation. This can also include upgrades that range from energy-efficient equipment to implementing eco-friendly software within the organisation.
  3. Renewable power sources: Look for renewable sources of energy that can power the company. Some companies are strategically located close to power plants that supply renewable energy, and some can even install solar power units within their premises. Location is key since renewable energy sources are not available in abundance yet.
  4. Operational efficiency: Look for ways to reduce storage and power use at data centres. Data centre management software can improve operational efficiency by analysing bottlenecks and the performance and organisation of data to ensure optimum usage.
  5. Data centre temperature monitoring: Install smart temperature control devices to reduce energy use by monitoring data centre temperature and turning cooling devices off when the data centre reaches the right temperature.

There is yet another dimension to sustainability: the human aspect. By moving corporate facilities to smaller towns, organisations can offset the tremendous strain placed on resources, such as energy, as a result of employees and their families moving to urban centres.

Here at Zoho Corporation, we power our Indian offices with a 5-megawatt solar power plant, and our IT management division, ManageEngine, has set up a Zoho Farm near Austin, Texas. This enables employees to work from the Wi-Fi-enabled farmhouse as well as step outside to harvest organically grown crops for themselves and their families. Excess produce from the farm is contributed to a local food bank.

Extending sustainability to users

Sustainability practices can also be extended to users. Green coding produces algorithms that reduce energy consumption during the use of software. This leads to simpler processes and superior performance, increasing efficiency for the user by reducing glitches and processing time. Similarly, deploying software upgrades that increase memory consumption without slowing down devices can increase the life span of devices.

Customer reviews can also be analysed to find any hidden sustainability problems. For example, a customer might talk about increased battery consumption due to a software upgrade for their device, a possible signal that the upgrade itself is not eco-friendly. Customer education is key, too. How many times have we heard people say they never shut down their laptops? Customers often feel that they aren’t directly responsible for sustainability until they are made aware of the alarming impact of individual actions. Raising awareness is key to changing the mindset and habits of customers towards being more environmentally conscious.

Technology can be a powerful force in driving progress, but we can't ignore the detrimental impact it is having on sustainability. In its continuous cycle of consuming and releasing energy, the tech industry must adopt sustainable practices and contribute more to a cleaner, greener future.