Sustainability predictions for 2020

As the threat of climate change becomes increasingly critical, what sustainability initiatives should organisations be embracing throughout 2020?

iot and climate change primary4
Thinkstock

In 2020, the UN’s target for halving the world’s carbon footprint and keeping global temperature rising by no more than 1.5C by 2030 is a mere decade away. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, Australia has just experienced its hottest day on record, with temperatures reaching a blistering 40.9C and carbon dioxide emissions have risen on average by 1.5 percent a year for the previous decade.

The technology sector has a major role to play in helping to achieve the UN’s sustainability goals. Current estimates have the IT industry on track to generate more carbon emissions than the automotive, aviation and energy sectors.

A recent survey from Trainline found that the ethics of a company is set to be a deciding factor for job hunters. Two thirds of tech workers are planning to change jobs in 2020, with a staggering 88 percent of respondents saying that the ethics of where they choose to work next will play a key part of their decision - and 40 percent of participants aged between 18-24 said they intend to work for a brand which benefits the environment.

Organisations across every industry can not afford to be complacent about their environmental impact if they want to remain competitive. While overhauling your entire operating model on 1 January might be a somewhat unrealistic proposition, there are a number of key sustainability trends that industry experts predict will impact the UK technology sector throughout 2020.

Supply chains

Successful supply chain management is vital to the success of most organisations. However, as we move in 2020, a lot of companies are using their supply chains as a starting point for efforts around sustainability.

Software vendor SAP has taken this one step further, launching its ‘Plastics Cloud’ project which aims to remove single-use plastics from global supply chains altogether. In September 2019, the company announced it will be using Ariba Network, its business to business network, to create a new global marketplace that connects businesses with suppliers of recycled plastics and plastic alternatives.

Alex Saric, smart procurement expert at Ivalua says that sustainability efforts are no longer just an internal issue, as companies become more aware of the impact that entire supply chain could have on the environment.

“UK organisations must ensure they are seen to be taking action,” Saric says, “[organisations need to be] building more sustainable supply chains and ensuring high standards are being applied by their suppliers.”

Saric believes that procurement specialists such as himself therefore have an important role to play and need to start actively choosing suppliers that are demonstrably more sustainable.

According to Raphaël De Perlinghi, director consumer business EMEA at Targus, we’re also likely to see a much broader range of recycled materials coming into the market.

“As recycling knowledge and processes improve, more sources of material that can feed a global supply chain will become available,” De Perlinghi explains. “There’s been a struggle to find enough high-quality recycled materials to meet a global company’s demand; all that is set to change. Historically it’s also been a challenge to remain profitable as a business, as cost-effective, sustainable products have been difficult to make.”

Improve technology lifecycles

Alongside improving the sustainability of supply chains, some experts believe that next year, organisations will start to address the issue of making products as sustainable as possible across their entire lifecycle.

We’ve previously written about the circular economy on Computerworld and while overthrowing the entire global manufacturing industry might not be possible in just 12 months, individual companies can make long-lasting and significant changes to help make their business and products more sustainable.

“The first fundamental shift we will see in the next year will be some of the world’s biggest companies actively transforming their supply chains to become ‘circular’, under pressure from ethically-minded consumers,” says Jonquil Hackenberg, head of C-suite advisory at Infosys Consulting.

“With consumers now looking to the corporate world to help them reduce their carbon emissions and cut down on the plastic filling our oceans, in 2020, the onus is firmly on businesses.”

Hackenberg argues that companies can no longer afford to take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to their products and must instead take responsibility for where their products end up at the end of their life.

“This means no longer simply making shampoo and shipping it out in a plastic bottle, but being responsible for where that bottle ends up and how it gets there,” she says.

However, improving the lifecycle of products is about much more than ensuring the plastic bottle you manufacture doesn’t end up in the sea for the next 70 years, it’s a practice that also needs to be extended to the hardware companies invest in.

Currently, when a machine reaches the end of its life, vendors encourage customers to take a full replacement of the hardware, leaving the now unusable machine to sit in a landfill site and release toxic waste into the atmosphere.

Paul Speciale, chief product officer at Scality believes that vendors need to start offering an alternative to the current “rip and replace” culture that is causing untold damage to the environment.

“Storage is a great example of a place where that reform can happen,” Speciale says. “Software-defined storage, with ultra-strong data resiliency schemes, is a great way to take data servers to their true end-of-life, rather than replacing at refresh time.

“Adopting a robust software-defined storage solution that can scale infinitely using standard servers – and that is 'generation-agnostic' so it can accommodate the steady evolution of hardware over time – is a good way to reduce waste.”

Carbon offsetting

Carbon offsetting is not a new concept. The UK became the first country to set standards for carbon offsetting schemes back in 2007 and the demand for carbon offset schemes has grown over 140-fold over the past decade.

The IT industry is a notoriously large carbon contributor. Global data centres currently account for about two percent of all greenhouse gas emissions while the energy required to store unopened emails contributes 1.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to the earth’s atmosphere.

The Guardian reported that in the previous 18 months, ClimateCare – a company that specialises in helping businesses offset their residual carbon – has seen the amount of carbon offset increase from about 2 million tonnes to 20 million tonnes.

This is a trend that is expected to continue increasing throughout 2020, especially as so many large enterprises in the UK have started to publicly pledge to be carbon-neutral at varying dates throughout the coming decade.

Lars Larsson, CEO of Varnish Software, believes that environmental guilt will become even more prevalent throughout 2020.

“We’re becoming an increasingly digital society, with our entertainment, shopping, social interactions and working life all moving online, and our usage of the web shows no signs of slowing…[but] more digital activity means more clicks and page views and more carbon-fuelled data centre power.”

For Larsson, 2020 will therefore see businesses place a greater focus on what both their online and offline actions mean for the environment. “[It’s about balancing] what businesses can do to reduce their carbon footprint, despite investing in the next giant technology leap,” he says.

However, whilst carbon offset schemes benefit sustainability initiatives that might not otherwise have been funded, it’s worth remembering that an EU study from 2017 found that 85 percent of carbon offset projects overestimated their impact or failed to reduce carbon emissions at all.

Work related travel

Another significant trend we can expect to see emerge in 2020 is the change in how business travel is justified.

While the impact of the aviation industry has been long known, many people who travel regularly for business have seemingly held the attitude that constant air travel is absolutely necessary.

However, as the pressure builds on organisations to put sustainability near the top of their business agenda, Mark Strassman, SVP and GM for unified communication and collaboration at LogMeIn, believes that we’ll start to see this point of view shift in the coming year.

“Rather than hopping on a plane to visit one customer, management will expect the travel to serve multiple purposes,” he says. “We’ll see employees leverage a customer meeting as an opportunity to also schedule a corporate outing with colleagues in a satellite office, attend a conference or speak at a local event. Expect that employees will combine business travel with personal purposes more so than ever before as they’re able to switch on and off from work.”

Strassman is also of the opinion that remote work will evolve from being an exception to a rule next year, driven by both this new need to justify travel and the continued proliferation of communication and collaborative working software.

“Collaboration tools have replaced the need to travel in order to connect with clients and colleagues globally," Strassman says. "This is not a prediction for next year per say, but over the next five to ten years, the motive behind business travel and the amount of business travel in general, will change.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

How to supercharge Slack with ‘action’ apps
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon