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Hybrid working: organisational development
Hybrid working: organisational development

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3.4 Digital carbon footprints

The carbon impact of technology and working digitally has been gaining more attention in recent years as we begin to understand and track the impact more effectively.

‘IT is often one of the biggest contributors to an education institution’s own carbon footprint, with one UK college attributing 20% of its emissions to IT alone.’

In working towards reaching net zero, organisations need to start to understand their digital carbon footprint, not only within their ‘digital spaces’, but also the procurement, digital infrastructure, management of physical equipment and use of electricity.

We now live in a world where everything is ‘in the cloud’. However, many people do not think about what the cloud actually is. At a very basic level, it is data servers. While many organisations still have on-site servers, most are using ‘cloud servers’. These are servers managed by a third-party supplier based anywhere in the world.

This raises an interesting question for organisations – most IT purchasing decisions are based on the needs of the organisation, the reliability, service and tools a supplier can provide, and the cost. Many IT solutions may have been purchased before the focus on sustainability started to become part of the procurement process. Large IT providers are aware of this and have voluntarily improved the sustainability of their services, especially connected to the cloud.

Many organisations are now developing strategies for their approach, for example the UK Ministry of Defence has published their Sustainable Digital Technology and Services Strategic Approach 2021-2025 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , which provides a simple ambition for net zero emissions.

There are some simple changes that individuals can be encouraged to adopt to help organisations reduce their digital carbon footprint. This can be managed through new polices and processes, such as not having images within email signatures, encourage links to shared documents rather than sending them as attachments and clear policies on deleting digital files.

What is more challenging is decisions on systems, infrastructure, procurement and management of equipment. The life and disposal of physical equipment contributes not only to carbon emissions but waste. Many organisations are adopting longer life policies for equipment, considering their choice of suppliers, especially for cloud services and starting to understand the implications of remote working carbon emissions.

Earlier in the course we introduced the GHG Protocol ‘Scopes’, which should be considered for managing your digital carbon footprint, by focusing on areas that may lead to the greatest impact for reducing your emissions.

The Jisc Exploring your digital carbon footprint report provides a comprehensive overview of the source and impact of digital carbon footprints in four areas: procurement, on-premise IT, cloud technologies and remote working.

In the video below Scott Stonham, the author of the report, provides an overview of the key findings.

Download this video clip.Video player: hyb_1_2022_sep109_exploring_digital_carbon_footprint_report_compressed.mp4
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Bookmark the Jisc report to develop your understanding of your digital carbon footprint for use in your organisation and you may wish to explore the articles listed below written by Scott Stonham on OpenLearn. While you can read it as part of this course, they are not included within the study time allocated.

Activity 7: Which cloud?

Timing: 15 minutes

Read the following article, and answer the following question:

When making a purchasing decision, what should organisations be considering about the sustainability practices of the potential supplier? You may wish to make notes in the free text box below.

Amazon, Google, Microsoft: Here’s who has the greenest cloud

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