The tech chief’s guide to sustainability

Tech leaders are prioritising sustainable digital transformations. Might they be the natural leaders of an organisation's wider sustainability efforts?

Gone are the days when an organisation’s sustainability initiatives were the responsibility of just one individual. Today, sustainability must be embraced across every business function if firms are to make meaningful changes; it has become everyone’s responsibility. But business sustainability initiatives, no matter how holistic and democratised, still need leaders. Thankfully, CTOs appear keen to step up.

New research from Intel suggests that CTOs are not being forced to lead sustainability initiatives either; rather, they are volunteering for the challenge. What’s more, their colleagues in the C-suite seem to support their climate-conscious ambitions. And given the centrality of IT to modern organisations, tech chiefs may indeed be the perfect candidates for sustainability leadership. This data takes a look at how senior IT leaders are driving sustainability in their own function and across the wider business.

As organisations continue to prioritise digital transformation, tech leaders naturally find themselves with a long to-do list. But sustainability – and, specifically, sustainable transformation of the IT function – still ranks among their top priorities. More than a third of senior IT leaders cited sustainable transformation among their top-three priorities – the highest share for any tech-related business outcome.

Carbon emissions is one of the most obvious metrics businesses use to measure and assess their sustainability credentials. But in addition to emissions, senior tech leaders most commonly look at the energy consumption of their tech stack (61%), tech purchasing decisions in their supply chain (53%), electronic waste (48%) and water consumption (38%).

As for external reporting, Intel’s research shows that senior IT leaders at so-called sustainability frontrunners – companies that have clear net-zero strategies to deliver positive ESG impact – are most likely to report on energy consumption (59%) and carbon emmissions (53%). Although more than half claim to measure sustainability factors in the supply chain, only 45% report those metrics externally.

Tech chiefs are pursuing a variety of strategies to help reduce the IT team’s environmental footprint. Energy efficient hardware, renewable energy sources, ‘green’ technology and other innovative tech are all being pursued by more than 50% of organisations. About a third of tech leaders are putting their money toward AI to help reduce emissions, while roughly two in five are recycling hardware to cut down e-waste.

Most IT leaders are focusing on e-waste and education to improve their function’s sustainability performance. There are two primary methods used by senior IT leaders to reduce e-waste: repairing equipment when necessary rather than replacing it (64%) and simply keeping tech in use for longer instead of bringing in new tech, which inevitably has an environmental cost (59%).

Other popular strategies include educating employees about using tech in an energy efficient way (54%); adjusting digital processors and available memory (50%); ensuring hardware is being used on optimal settings (44%); and switching to renewable energy to power some devices (40%).