There are increasing drivers on business to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. Regulation and taxation will increasingly apply direct costs on organisations based on their carbon emissions, while customers are increasingly factoring in considerations surrounding sustainability performance and carbon emissions into the supplier selection process. Responsibility in reducing carbon emissions will be shared across any organisation, however information and communications technology is coming under particular scrutiny for its often significant contribution to overall energy consumption. So how can a ‘green’ ICT strategy enable reductions in carbon emissions?
As a result of wide usage and the extended lengths of time that equipment is switched on, information and communications technology (ICT) represents a significantconsumer of electricity and thereby a significant source of carbon emissions. Recent estimates put the contribution of global ICT use to global warming as comparable with the aviation industry, and this is expected to increase with even greater penetration of ICT and increasing data storage and processing.
Measurement of electricity consumption and carbon emissions
Given the electricity consumption of ICT equipment, a key objective for any ‘green’ ICT strategy must include the management of carbon emissions. The key deliverable for such a strategy is the measurement of carbon emissions resulting from the operation of an ICT estate. This requires information on the ICT assets in use within an organisation and the electricity they consume, which can be sourced through the following means:
- Meter the electricity consumption of a range of equipment types over a typical usage period and extrapolate that measurement to the rest of the IT estate.
- Calculate the electricity consumption of equipment types using power ratings provided by the manufacturers (or indeed through your own measurement of the equipment) and apply that to the ICT asset registry for your organisation.
The most effective management of carbon emissions in the ‘green’ ICT strategy will seek to optimise the accuracy of this exercise. While not always provided, information on power consumption is relatively easy to obtain from ICT manufacturers; however those figures may not always reflect real-use conditions. The ‘green’ ICT strategy can help guide the information requested of suppliers, mandate its provision as part of the procurement process and put in place processes to monitor actual energy consumption from ICT in due course.
Once an accurate assessment of the overall electricity consumption of an ICT estate has been made, the carbon emissions resulting from that consumption can be calculated. Typically, publicly available conversion factors for the use of electricity, for example as provided by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, are used in calculating these emissions. This will provide your strategy with data on baseline ICT electricity consumption and resultant carbon emissions on which to base onward emissions management and reduction.
Other sources of ICT-related carbon emissions
While carbon emissions resulting from the consumption of electricity to power ICT equipment will generally constitute the largest proportion of emissions resulting from its operation, there are further sources of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the operation such equipment which may or may not carry direct costs or regulatory implications, but should still be considered in a comprehensive ‘green’ ICT strategy:
- Supply chain and ‘end of life’ emissions – as for most consumables, ICT equipment incorporates ‘embedded’ carbon emissions resulting from the energy and resources consumed in its manufacture. Similarly, disposal of ICT equipment will result in a carbon footprint according to the means of disposal. A comprehensive ‘green’ ICT strategy will require information from suppliers at the procurement stage on such parameters to enable decision making that can minimise life cycle emissions.
- ICT cooling – significant energy can be consumed not only in the operation of ICT equipment but also to provide cooling for data centres and servers. In addition, refrigerant gases usually constitute very powerful greenhouse gases, and inevitably are released to the atmosphere over the life of the equipment. The ‘green ICT’ strategy will seek to minimise the energy requirement for ICT cooling, and to seek refrigerant gases with the least potent global warming potential.
Holistic management of ICT emissions
Establishing the means and processes to measure energy consumption and carbon emissions represents just the beginning of the journey to manage carbon emissions from the ICT estate. An effective strategy will also incorporate the costs of purchasing and operating infrastructure to inform benefit analyses, as well as factoring demand forecasts, setting performance targets and management actions to reduce emissions and quantify the contribution of the ICT estate towards the bigger picture of reducing wider carbon emissions across the organisation. To that end, the most comprehensive and effective ‘green’ ICT strategy will:
- Prescribe the means by which ICT energy consumption and emissions will be measured ongoing
- Establish the scope of ICT equipment and related infrastructure that will be included in an ongoing assessment of carbon emissions
- Set targets, actions and strategies to enable emissions management and ongoing reductions.
- Contextualise electricity consumption and emissions against overall emissions across an organisation.
- Establish the proportional contribution of ICT to energy related and regulatory based carbon emission costs.
- Consider the carbon impact (both embedded and usage) in procurement considerations
Integrating these parameters to provide for a fully comprehensive and measurable ‘green’ ICT strategy based on quantitative data can constitute a challenge. However, solutions are available, for example carbon management software applications that can automatically undertake carbon calculations, some of which even go so far as to enable the implementation of energy and emission strategies, demand forecasting and even the measurement of ICT emissions. A ‘green’ ICT strategy that integrates these parameters will not only help manage the energy consumption and emissions resulting from the use of equipment, but also better enable IT managers to quickly model the impact of upgrading or replacing IT infrastructure equipment and significantly help the CIO to analyse the carbon and energy impact of different management options available.
Cost benefit case
Consumption savings enabled through a comprehensive and effective ‘green’ ICT strategy can be very significant. In a recent project, Greenstone Carbon Management compared the energy and carbon performance of the current ICT estate of a local authority, including servers, desktop computing, telephony and printing with a scenario of a complete refresh of the equipment with modern, energy efficient equivalents. This was projected to result in a reduction in carbon emissions as a result of reduced electricity consumption of over 50% over the course of a five year implementation period. This provided for significant financial savings both in terms of the cost of electricity and of emission allowances that will be required to be purchased under the UK CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme.
Clearly, the ability to provide a meaningful ‘green’ ICT strategy based upon real consumption data and informed cost benefit-based targets and actions will be provide a much more effective and financially rewarding strategy to manage and reduce emissions than based on aspiration and good practice alone.