Article written by: Tunde Abagun, Channel Manager at Nutanix Sub-Saharan Africa
Sustainability has become a focus area for many businesses across Africa. While it is ostensibly a business function, sustainability must be a high-level agenda item for CIOs as well. Given the importance that ESG (environmental, social, governance) reporting has for organisations, there is a significant push for companies to become more socially responsible than at any time in the past.
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Certainly, it has become a popular tactic to appoint a chief sustainability officer to take responsibility for this function.
But given how integrated technology has evolved in all aspects of the organisation, CIO s must spearhead the change for organisations to become more sustainable.
According to various surveys, data centres account for more than 2% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. To put this into context, this is about the same as the global aviation industry. Furthermore, the ICT sector is responsible for up to 9% of the world’s electricity use, according to the EU.
Given how Africa has embraced the digitisation of many aspects of the corporate world, the reliance on data centres will only increase.
There is also the explosion of 5G and the increased generation of high-definition video content (soon, 16k resolution will become widely accepted) to consider.
The past two years have pushed businesses in Africa and the rest of the world to normalise video conferencing and hybrid work models.
In their personal lives, people stream high-definition content, and mobile apps continue to grow in usage. The result is that data consumption will increase at an unheard-of scale.
Becoming environmentally friendly
The good news is that technological innovation is resulting in the development of more environmentally friendly data centres, servers, mobile devices, storage, and networking. In fact, there is a concerted move to ensure every aspect of ICT becomes more sustainable.
In cool climates with neither too dry nor too moist air, free-air cooling is perfect for reducing data centre heat. Increasingly, data centres use renewable energy sources such as hydro, solar, and wind power to power their operations.
All this has contributed to a global push to have data centres reach net-zero emissions by 2030. For its part, Africa is following suit with more countries focusing on adopting renewable energy sources and finding alternative ways to traditional diesel-powered generators and an over-reliance on electricity infrastructure that is no longer maintained effectively.
There is also a trend towards greener equipment. The development of hardware today often follows the circular economy and cradle-to-cradle principles. This involves reusing and recycling recycled materials. The use of microorganisms (called bioleaching) is also showing promise for mining precious metals.
The existence of badge programs such as Energy Star has made it much easier to choose tools in good conscience. Additionally, engineers are constantly working on smarter, more efficient processes and hardware to reduce their carbon footprint.
Force for good
More practically, the automation that comes from the availability of advanced technologies can help reduce energy usage throughout the value chain. Optimised processes mean users can get more done faster.
You can think of virtual goods such as digital streaming services and music downloads as replacing physical goods such as DVDs, CDs, and books.
Think about how smart manufacturing creates more efficient products and fabrication or how smart cities lead to significant efficiencies in transportation, waste collection, and digitised services. For instance, Zoom and Microsoft Teams calls are replacing international business travel.
Even in Africa, there is a concerted push to adopt Internet of Things technologies and use sensor data to improve government services to citizens.
In addition, digital platforms and tools are the raw materials that will be used to build smarter options in the near future.
Digital efforts offer us much of the opportunity to clean up our world and renew it. In addition to making their organisations greener with ICT, CIO s can also become more cost-effective by utilising ICT effectively. Sustainability is a win-win all-around, especially across Africa, where countries are looking for more innovative ways to overcome traditional infrastructure challenges.
Making the change
However, sustainability is not just a tick-box exercise. Companies can also not solely rely on hypervisors to build net-zero data centres.
This is where the CIO plays a crucial role by enabling their organisations to move to the cloud. Even SMBs can access highly efficient resources in the cloud. These resources used to be only available to big-budget companies.
Today, high-performance computing capabilities are more affordable to small companies. They can even use the likes of artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, and machine learning to improve systems. Aside from advanced virtualisation and containers, there are also advanced technologies and skills required to maximise energy efficiency.
Cloud adoption is accelerating just as data centre design is evolving and as networks become smarter and utility-like. With the advent of the new computing grid, businesses will be able to tap into greater value and efficiency without sacrificing ethics. However, sustainability must be seen from a broader perspective.
For instance, to source components, CIO s should examine the supply chains and backgrounds of suppliers. From an organisational perspective, decision-makers can turn the spotlight inwards and look at revising policies around business travel, choice of company cars, and carbon offsetting.
These are not things that will be solved overnight. There are still many challenges to overcome. Sustainability credentials, however, will enable companies to attract and inspire the latest generations of talented people who expect employers to provide more than just a salary.