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Digital Transformation
More Sustainability in Information Technology

More Sustainability in Information Technology – Against Climate Change with Green IT

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Climate-damaging greenhouse emissions, more plastic than fish in the oceans before long, melting of polar ice caps, dwindling drinking water, growing deserts, deforested rainforests, species extinction, natural disasters due to global warming…

The global effects of decades of careless treatment of our planet which can no longer be denied have become part of our media coverage. But it was not only the “Fridays for Future” movement or other environmental activists that opened our eyes to our increasingly threatened or already destroyed environment, climate change and the fight for more sustainability. The global and in some cases catastrophic changes can already be felt everywhere – sometimes more, sometimes less.

Those who want to leave a blue planet for future generations need to act now. Industries that may not be perceived as climate destroyers at the front line are also addressed. But what part does information technology have in these developments?  

Fueled by bits and bytes

According to a study conducted by the French think tank »The Shift Project«, the ICT sector (information and communication technology) was responsible for 3.7 percent of globally produced greenhouse gases.1 This is supposed to be more than twice as much as the annual emissions of civil aviation. In Germany alone, electronic devices such as computers, smartphones, televisions and data centers consumed approximately 13.2 billion kilowatt hours in 2017 which is roughly the amount of Berlin’s power consumption.

Another example is the mining of rare earths for the production of semiconductors: in this case, people work under terrible conditions for starvation wages for the most part and destroy the nature of the region and their own bodies with the toxins that are applied and released for mining. Sorted out computer boards, mobile phones etc. end up in African slums for »recycling«.2 Mostly young people sort the electronic waste and burn it to retrieve the metals. In the process, they inhale toxic gases and leave behind a destroyed environment at the same time – further victims of our disposable society.

And the challenges for ICT companies are growing in parallel with our demand for more storage space in the cloud, new, smarter devices and faster streams.   

IT must set an example

As a matter of fact, IT ought to rethink its approach due to all these negative headlines. And something is actually happening on the semiconductor horizon. Terms such as sustainability, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or Green IT are thus increasingly moving into the focus of ICT companies.
Opportunities to meet the challenges are both available and diverse. Numerous projects have proven that they can also be economically successful in spite of sustainable concepts. Of course, this rethinking causes »pain«, a rejection of habits and a redesign of processes. The old admin slogan »never change a running system« needs to be changed. But where to start?

The main thing is to start! A big one’s doing it: according to a study conducted by Greenpeace, Apple increased the share of renewable energies to 83 percent.3  It makes sense to build data centers in colder regions as there is natural cooling (due to global warming we will probably have to move further north or south anytime soon). The waste heat can also be used for the heating of buildings. Solar cells on company roofs, wind turbines, a fleet of electronic vehicles for business trips or switching to/promoting of bikes, bus, and train are further options for a more favorable carbon footprint.
In addition, the use of data centers needs to become more efficient. The continuous training of artificial intelligence and high-performance computers with countless data consumes vast amounts of energy for example.4  Consumption in this area will certainly increase even more in the future.

Less printing helps our planet

Avoiding paper and unnecessary printouts is also part of Green IT. The often proclaimed »paperless office« is finally on the rise in many companies according to a recent IDC study »Print and Document Management in Germany 2018/2019«5  but we only have to look around the private sector to see how much paper is still underway. Tons accumulate in B2B business transactions.

Less paper would go easy on our wood and water resources since a large amount of water is needed in the production of paper. The production of a single wood-based page in A4 format consumes 10 liters of water.6  These tons of business paper documents also have to be enveloped and transported from A to B which again drains on the resources.
When it comes to the dispatch of invoices for example, the transition to an electronic substitution method, e.g. e-mail or EDI interface, via XInvoice or ZUGFeRD format (German e-invoice formats), would also significantly save on material, time and financial resources, for instance in printing, enveloping, postage, transport etc. And the next rise in postal charges will certainly come.

All solutions from AFI Solutions support the paperless exchange of documents of all kinds in the SAP environment. We do not have to start out with 100 percent but we can or we must finally take action and all make our contribution to take care of our planet in a more sustainable way.


[1] See Shift-Project-Study »Lean ICT: Towards Digital Sobriety«, March 2019: theshiftproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Lean-ICT-Report_The-Shift-Project_2019.pdf

[2] CF Article on deutschlandfunk.de »Survival Strategy E-Waste« of 21 May 2016: : www.deutschlandfunk.de/gift-in-ghana-ueberlebensstrategie-elektroschrott.799.de.html

[3] Greenpeace Study »Clicking Clean: Who Is Winning the Race to Build a Green Internet? «, 2017: www.greenpeace.de/sites/www.greenpeace.de/files/publications/20170110_greenpeace_clicking_clean.pdf

[4] Cf. Article on spiegel.de »Only sustainable digitization can save the climate« by Christoph Meinel from 26 January 2020: www.spiegel.de/netzwelt/netzpolitik/green-it-nur-nachhaltige-digitalisierung-kann-das-klima-retten-a-540d6972-bf67-4571-841d-9c1479df37e1

[5] Cf. Article on it-business.de »The paperless office is increasingly becoming an issue« by Heidemarie Schuster from 22 January 2019 : www.it-business.de/das-papierlose-buero-wird-immer-mehr-zum-thema-a-792132/

[6] CF.: virtuelles-wasser.de/papier_leder.html



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