3 Steps to Kick-Start Sustainability in I&O

February 22, 2022

Contributor: Katie Costello

Many organizations struggle to adapt their IT infrastructure and operations (I&O) to the sustainability objectives of the enterprise. These three steps will get you started.

In short:

  • No universal standards or measurement frameworks exist today for reporting progress on sustainability goals in IT. 
  • But given growing stakeholder pressure and regulations, IT leaders need proactive plans for sustainable infrastructure and operations (I&O).
  • The three-step Gartner I&O Sustainability Model offers a framework to align operations with enterprise environmental sustainability goals.

Pressure to reduce the environmental footprint of IT is coming from all directions — customers, investors, regulators, employees and public opinion. Identifying and reporting on sustainability goals can be complex, but I&O leaders can take a few basic steps to ensure their operations align with their organizations’ larger environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts and priorities.

Download now: 2021-2023 Emerging Technology Roadmap for I&O Leaders

Sustainability touches every aspect of an enterprise’s activities, and you can no longer remain silent or opaque about your contributions — especially given the growing imperative to mitigate the environmental impacts of end-user devices and IT services, such as data center and network services. In fact, the 2020 Gartner Sustainability Survey shows that developing new technologies and IT infrastructure is a priority for most CIOs, second only to setting the strategic direction for IT sustainability.

However, kick-starting a sustainable I&O strategy is often challenging due to a lack of guidance around where to start or what metrics to measure. Ambiguity in current regulations and reporting can paralyze I&O teams trying to start or progress as the effort required can seem steeper than the payout. 

“In reality, sustainability may be an imperative for I&O, but it’s also a golden opportunity,” says Gartner Associate Principal Analyst Autumn Stanish. “Failing to prioritize it will likely result in increased costs from legacy operations or carbon accounting regulations, lagging innovation and damage to the brand’s reputation.”

The Gartner I&O Sustainability Model identifies three key short-, mid- and long-term steps to take to develop a comprehensive I&O strategy:

Watch now: 5 Steps CIOs Can Take Toward Sustainable IT

Step No. 1: Establish a baseline (short-term)

First, baseline the current footprint of the IT organization. The most critical measures to track in I&O are Scope 1 (direct) emissions, data center energy consumption and e-waste, by following principles of the circular economy and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol.

The goal of this baseline is to recognize if, where and how the I&O organization contributes to and/or can further support the circularity of products or reduction of carbon emissions. Once framed and established, I&O will know how to most effectively drive energy and asset utilization efficiency. You can then set specific and measurable IT sustainability goals around realistic targets for emissions reduction or zero waste based on your organization’s unique data instead of general industry moonshots.

Learn how to set ambitions and goals for your sustainable business strategy.

Step No. 2: Set targets and commit to measuring (midterm)

Proper governance processes enable any organization to continuously manage progress toward its long-term objectives with limited friction. This applies equally to sustainability goals, and the key is to identify what is truly material to the organization’s sustainability roadmap. 

“Materiality” is essentially the quality of importance, so saying that an issue has materiality is to indicate that it matters in a significant way to the enterprise and its stakeholders. Use materiality to identify and articulate the specific issues you will focus on, resource and prioritize. Within your assessment, outline associated technologies needed to advance the identified material issues.

“I&O leaders can iterate on key actions in bite-size milestones and improve their sustainability strategy over time in a more reliable, predictable and financially feasible manner,” says Stanish. “After all, sustainable business is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Step No. 3: Optimize operations (long-term) 

As the I&O organization grows closer to meeting its targets and develops best practices, share processes, frameworks and experiences with others to further the common good and drive more widespread impact.

To successfully execute sustainability strategy over the long term, solidify targets with measured progress and structured governance. This requires established sustainable IT teams involving a range of stakeholders. You also need to fully operationalize processes for managing e-waste, energy efficiency and sustainable education. 

We recommend creating a checklist that includes actions and key measures to ensure you deploy appropriate governance of people, processes, technology and business to meet your goals. For example, under the “people” category, define roles and accountability around sustainable IT, or establish sustainable IT awareness campaigns as part of the company’s culture and overall values. Within the “technology” category, perhaps create reuse and recycling policies for waste streams.

You can leverage a number of tools to streamline these processes and steps, including employee engagement software to allow wider participation and drive sustainable education and initiatives, or other management tools to track the real-time energy utilization of digital workplace technologies.

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