Greening your ICT – Small Business ICT and the Environment

Posted on
5th December 2019

It’s understandable that environmental issues may not top your priorities list when you’re concentrating on keeping your business productive and profitable in challenging economic times.  However evidence shows that consumers are increasingly looking at the green credentials of firms when deciding to part with their money.

With daily news about various climate emergencies and actions, the environment has now jumped up to fourth in a list of the UK’s biggest worries (2019 poll by BritainThinks). An important benefit for SMEs of thinking about the environment is that as well as reducing your company’s carbon footprint you could save on costs too.

Eco-friendly ICT

Recycling rubbish, optimising heating and cycling to work may get more frequent attention but given their universal adoption, ICT-related activities are receiving some specific green attention too. While digital technologies are accepted as essential for economic and social development there are growing worries that our use of ICT is contributing to environmental problems rather than being part of the solutions.

The ICT industry is said to account for 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, due to rise to 14% by 2040. Yet the effect of ICT use on the environment has received less attention than others. Faced with evidence about the negative effect of human activity on the plant, it’s right that companies should demonstrate their own responsible approach to reducing environmental impact in all aspects of their business.

You might wonder how sending emails, making phone calls, maintaining database and printing forms could impact the environment. However, the truth is that many of the digital activities of businesses leave a carbon footprint.

Energy consumption and clean power

One area in which all businesses make a huge impact is energy consumption and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Energy bills are also a major cost for many small firms.  UK businesses consume 56% of the UK’s energy while the energy consumption of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is said to be increasing by 9% every year.

One global analysis has revealed the following ICT-related distribution of energy consumption per source in 2017:

Reducing energy consumption and switching to renewable energy can be a key way of cutting your carbon footprint and reducing costs – 72 per cent of SMEs already want to be more committed to renewable energy according to research.  One way for your business to reduce its energy consumption and carbon emissions is by moving certain on-premises applications into the cloud.

360ict Ltd specialises in working with small businesses and can provide you with a full assessment of your current usage, including checking for green energy providers. The well-established ICT provider is also pioneering an offer of ‘green hosting which makes the best use of low-cost power and natural weather resources.

Greening Data Centres

Data centres figure highly in global energy consumption and some say that 2% of gas emissions can be attributed to data centres. Data centre electronic waste (‘e-waste’) is another concern. There is a turnover cycle of outdated electronic systems every 3-5 years, much of which goes into landfill. There is an expected growth in e-waste of 17% by 2021.

Energy consumption by data centres currently accounts for 3% of the global electricity supply and more centres are being built all the time – it’s one reason that real estate in colder climates is highly sought after by tech companies, real estate owners and investment companies.

In one recent case, it was revealed that around 30% of the electricity consumed by one 600-year-old UK University was being used to power ICT equipment, most of which runs 24/7.  It took action to build a new, more efficient data centre which used only energy from renewable sources: in its first year of operation has saved £65,000 on power costs and reduced the University’s carbon output by 375 tonnes. The positive green achievement won praise and an award from the Chartered Institute for IT (formerly British Computing Society) who were impressed by their “dedication to energy efficiency best practice within the data centre environment and its use towards its overall carbon reduction goals.”

While small businesses will not be able to take such drastic and costly measures, there is plenty they can still do.

Sustainable use of paper

A paper-less office is one of the classic goals of going digital. And using less paper has got to be good for the environment, right?

Actually, being environmentally-conscious means more than just doing double-sided printing. In fact some experts claim that, far from ‘saving trees’, a healthy market for forest products, such as paper, encourages the long-term growth of forests through sustainable forest management. Between 2005 and 2015, European forests, which provide 90% of the virgin wood fibre used by the European paper industry, grew by 44,000 km2 – an area bigger than Switzerland, according to UN data (United Nations FAO data, 2005 – 2015). The encouraging news is that 72% of paper consumed in Europe is recycled and the majority of the fibre used by the European paper industry now comes from recovered paper. (Confederation of European Paper Industries, 2017).

So the message is to ensure your business sources its paper from sustainable sources and that it recycles all paper waste.  At the same time, it’s undeniably still a good idea to consider how your firm can eliminate paper waste.

What other actions can businesses take?

While larger businesses may have staff dedicated to measuring and reducing their environmental impact, it can be seen as time-consuming and expensive for a small business to do so. While it’s also true that SMEs will generally have a smaller carbon footprint, it’s also true that that they can nevertheless take steps to make a proportionate difference, taking advantage of cost-saving and marketing opportunities at the same time.

In addition to reviewing energy consumption and paper use, there’s a host of other ICT-related activities to which businesses can apply green practices:

● Choice of ICT products – From printers, to toners to computing hardware, SMEs should consider their use of environmentally-friendly ICT products. For example, do they have good energy performance? Do they make use of recycled products? Do they minimise packaging? What is their carbon footprint?

        ► Spotlight on Printers – many manufacturers are investing in sustainable development. One way is through using more recycled plastics in their products – for example, in 2018 HP incorporated more than 21,000 tonnes of recycled plastic in their products, accounting for seven percent of the overall content and they have made a commitment to increase their use of recycled plastic to 30 percent by 2025.

● Device recycling & green disposal – what do you do with end-of-life ICT products such as mobile phones, tablets, computers and printers? Are you disposing of them in an environmentally friendly way?
● Supply chain – do you look at the green credentials of suppliers, contractors and sub-contractors? Could you work with them to improve their environmental performance?
● Reducing emissions through ICT – could you make more use of video/phone conferencing to eliminate unnecessary travel?
● Declaring your environmental commitment – Adopt an environmental policy and show your customers, clients and suppliers that you are a responsible company.

Besides these initial steps, there’s a lot more that can be done about green computing – for example did you know that energy efficient coding can save power by writing more efficient software? It’s estimated that energy efficient coding could cut energy use by up to 30%.

Look out for our future articles spotlighting the effects of business ICT on the environment – we’ll be focussing on how small firms can go green in many of these areas. Going green can make your business proud of its environmental ethics and save on business costs at the same time.

At 360ict Ltd we’re always on the lookout for providing sustainable ICT services and optimising the use of environmentally-friendly products. For free specialist advice about your company’s ICT requirements, please call us on 0208 663 4000 or Contact Us.

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