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IT has a major impact on a company’s ability to go green, starting with device management and extending across all areas of the organization.

Boards of directors and other key stakeholders are asking IT leaders to go green to meet environmental sustainability goals.

“Technology leaders must take the lead on sustainability in the enterprise,” said Jeffrey Lewis, senior partner in McKinsey & Company’s life sciences practice. “If sustainability isn’t top of the CIO agenda today, it should be.”

Focusing on more sustainable devices and asset management is one way to help. The effort can pay off both in terms of reducing costs and helping businesses reduce e-waste.

Many consumers have a strong appetite for the latest gadgets. an appetite they also bring to work. But new devices and products require an entire ecosystem of materials and energy, as well as severe environmental costs.

Enterprise technology is responsible for emitting approximately 350 to 400 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent, most of which comes from laptops, monitors, tablets, smartphones, printers, and other user devices, according to a September 2022 McKinsey & Company report, “The green IT revolution.” . Climate Change CIOs Program,” co-authored by Lewis. Worse, emissions from user devices will grow at a CAGR of 12.8% annually, the report said.

Geoffrey Lewis

“Devices are actually the largest driver of greenhouse gas emissions in the enterprise, and that comes first from the proliferation of … devices, and second from the range of three emissions from devices,” Lewis said.

The devices don’t just generate carbon emissions when someone plugs them in, Lewis said. Manufacturing devices and putting those devices into the hands of employees also creates massive emissions.

About 75% of emissions from end-user devices come from manufacturing, upstream transportation and disposal, with semiconductors a significant source of these emissions, according to a McKinsey & Company report.

For CIOs looking to green their IT operations, more sustainable device management and reduced enterprise e-waste are important places to start. Here are three tips to help make that happen.

1. Focus on sustainable sources

To build more sustainable device management, CIOs must start at the source.

CIOs need to ensure they are getting products with the lowest emissions possible, Lewis said. That means greening procurement processes and increasing sustainability as a factor in IT purchasing decisions.

McKinsey's Andrea Del MiglioAndrea Del Milio

Organizations need to examine different device choices through a sustainability lens, said Andrea Del Miglio, a senior partner in McKinsey & Company’s technology practice and co-author of the Green IT Revolution report.

More technology manufacturers are disclosing the carbon footprint of various devices, Del Miglio said. CIOs can use that information to make better decisions.

As with other areas of technology, IT leaders must do their due diligence.

Numerous studies show that many tech companies are underreporting their carbon emissions, including one published in Nature Communications.

2. Extend device life and buy fewer devices

While many vendors use forced obsolescence as a modernization strategy, CIOs can take powerful steps by using fewer devices and extending the life of the devices they own where possible.

For example, CIOs can support a bring-your-own-device policy and use it to reduce the number of devices per person, Del Miglio said. That strategy, in turn, can save you money.

When it comes to extending device life, CIOs and IT leaders can examine the desire for new technologies through the lens of sustainability.

Asking hard questions like the ones below can help create greener appliance replacement approaches, Lewis said.

  • Do we update devices as new models become available?
  • Do we update them because we always update them during this cycle?
  • Are we updating them because current devices are negatively impacting the employee experience or otherwise hindering organizational value?
  • Are there actions IT can take to improve device performance?

IT managers can use questions like these to find ways to improve device performance, especially remotely, and perform device upgrades only when truly necessary.

Changes to the source may affect emissions from the user's device.
The investment graph explains the emission leverage reduction potential of selected user devices.

3. Find new life for devices

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” goes the saying, and as sustainability efforts heat up, more people are finding wisdom in it. Donating unwanted items, shopping at resale stores, and trade-in and buyback initiatives are gaining traction as more consumers focus on sustainability. But such initiatives are also growing in the technology sector. For example, through Apple’s trade-in program, consumers send their devices back to the company for credit for new ones. CIOs can check with technology vendors for similar programs.

Work with manufacturers, vendors, third parties to help these devices find life outside of your enterprise.

Geoffrey LewisSenior Partner McKinsey & Company

If IT managers decide that devices need to be updated, they can work to make sure those devices find a new user.

“Work with manufacturers, vendors, third parties to help these devices find life outside of your enterprise,” Lewis said. “It’s an opportunity to avoid producing yet another new device.”

Companies can also partner with a non-profit organization that helps distribute devices such as laptops to low-income or other organizations.

“There will be companies that will prefer to use … cheaper devices or older devices [and] their experience isn’t affected by the issues they’re doing,” Lewis said.


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