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People, Planet, Prosperity: A new vision for the IT sector

How we measure value and success in the IT industry is undergoing a shift – away from a system purely driven by profit, to one that is conscious of its impact on people, the planet and prosperity in a holistic sense.

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John Gladstone

John Gladstone

Lifecycle Solutions Lead

How we measure value and success in the IT industry is undergoing a shift – away from a system purely driven by profit, to one that is conscious of its impact on people, the planet and prosperity in a holistic sense.

The technology sector is at the heart of the fourth Industrial Revolution that is fundamentally changing the way we live, work and relate to one another. It has the promise of making our lives easier, unlocking human potential and helping to solve the climate crisis.

But equally, it has the potential to make our lives more complex, limit human potential and fuel the climate crisis if we don’t make responsible decisions and take proactive action.

At Softcat, we’re making bold commitments and taking big steps to centre our organisation around our people and the planet we call home. And we want to encourage others to do the same.

Where are we now?

For all its benefits, technology carries huge environmental consequences if not used and disposed of correctly. And the current data doesn’t look good.

Global e-waste is growing each year at a staggering rate. According to the United Nations, the world discarded a record 53.6 million tons of e-waste in 2019, of which only 17 percent was recycled through the correct channels.

By 2030, it’s predicted this will increase by as much as 39 percent to over 74 million tons a year.

And where technology has environmental consequences, it’s also likely to negatively impact people too, often thousands of miles away.

Another pressing problem and an area where technology is contributing to global warming is greenhouse gas emissions, through data transfer and storage as cloud computing grows, demanding huge energy resources.

While a recent paper published in Science dispelled some myths around the energy demands of data centres (which are now believed to account for 1 percent of global energy use), the rise of data-ravenous AI and there being a limit on just how efficient we can make the process, things may take a turn for the worse without further intervention.

While the IT industry largely escapes carbon taxes set by government on the burning of fossil fuels, thinking in these terms can help us understand the scale to which we contribute to greenhouse gas emissions individually and collectively, and raise awareness about carbon impact.

A digital Catch-22?

There’s a common misconception that for technology advancement and adoption to continue at the pace we’re seeing globally, the environmental costs are an unfortunate side-effect. Humans have grown to depend so much on technology that nothing can hold us back now.

But this isn’t a digital Catch-22; it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Organisations wanting to become more sustainable and socially responsible don’t need to forfeit growth or success.

In fact, the opposite is true. Organisations slow to change in the face of rising pressure will find themselves left behind. We can expect stricter environmental legislation from governments on corporations in line with national and international emission targets, penalising those who don’t comply.

Sustainability is also becoming a vital consideration in the procurement process, with those failing to meet certain criteria missing out on new business. Investors and lenders are becoming more responsible in their decisions too, as per the Climate Action 100+ initiative, putting future funding at risk.

And not to mention the reputational costs of organisations not taking their environmental and social obligations seriously.

There’s a huge opportunity for the IT industry to refocus itself around the three pillars of people, planet and prosperity. And we’re seeing positive progress, with both small and large players leading the charge to make IT greener.

In the Big Tech space, only recently did the likes of Apple, Salesforce and Uber call for mandatory climate disclosures to be introduced by the government. This is highly unusual for an industry that evolves at a faster rate than legislation can be drawn up…or understood by legislators.

We are now seeing real efforts from manufacturers introducing the use of recycled materials into their manufacturing processes, the reduction of packaging and the concentration of sustainable packaging materials.

The second angle is the energy usage that the equipment uses, this is something that the vendors are also working hard on, to better the energy consumption of the products and also the services they offer.

The continued efforts in this area will not only support the ongoing battle of climate change, but will also start to steer the technology and solutions that organisations’ adopt.

Redefining what “success” looks like

At Softcat, we’re incredibly proud to be setting the standard among IT resellers.

Through a range of innovative initiatives and putting sustainability at the centre of our business, we’ve been able to reduce our organisation’s Co2 emissions by 37 percent over the past five years, while growing revenue (+162%) and expanding our workforce (+49%).

We’re also proud to be a signatory of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals as part of its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the first FTSE 250 company to be awarded a 5-star status. This has helped us to define our position and decide our ultimate goals as an organisation to work towards.

And this is only the beginning.

We have set the goal of achieving a net-zero supply chain by 2040, inclusive of all our suppliers and partners.

In the pipeline, we’re planning a full supply chain review including all vendors, suppliers and partners; to lead environmental workshops, prioritise reduced carbon logistics options, eliminate single-use plastics and launch our own sustainability awards to encourage and reward best practice in the industry.

We also plan to introduce a sustainability scoring system for the IT solutions and services we offer customers to boost awareness and promote positive choices among our communities. 

Our progress in recent years is proof that focusing your organisation’s goals around people, the planet and wider prosperity doesn’t have to come at the expense of success.

As an industry we need, in a sense, to go back to basics to benefit from a circular economy model that can bring success alongside environmental gains.

Just like a farmer needs to harvest his crops before we can sew more sees, in the IT world we must harvest on a more routine cyclical basis for the good of our planet, people and prosperity.