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Achieving long-term network sustainability

By , Global Head, Digital Sustainability, BT.
13 May 2024

Sarwar Khan, Global Head of Digital Sustainability at BT, shares insights to the key challenges facing increased network sustainability and the critical steps to defining a blueprint for a sustainable network.

Sarwar Khan, Global Head of Digital Sustainability at BT.
Sarwar Khan, Global Head of Digital Sustainability at BT.

Sustainability is a global priority but achieving it can be a significant challenge for organisations. Networks and IT infrastructure are known contributors to carbon emissions as they’re notoriously energy hungry. But many organisations struggle to measure their own usage. In fact, 21.9% of organisations say that a lack of measurable or consistent data makes it hard for them to tangibly demonstrate their sustainability goals. On top of that, with accountability around Scope 3 emissions increasingly expected, organisations also need access to accurate and detailed information from their providers. This becomes especially tricky in a multi-vendor environment.

39% of organisations also claim they lack the skills in-house to effectively manage their carbon footprint and create accurate reports, as it takes specialist technical design architecture knowledge and experience to reconfigure both IT and Operational Technology (OT) infrastructure domains.

Further, 40.4% of global enterprises say the reliability of the solutions currently available to them holds back their sustainability approach, making it difficult to consistently monitor and report the accurate real-time energy performance of their networks. Another key part of maintaining energy efficient operations is continuously uplifting both IT and OT network infrastructure where - too often - much of the obsolete equipment goes to landfills that now makes up to 70% of the hazardous waste being deposited.

Defining a blueprint for a sustainable network calls for three main steps to be taken:

Step 1: Focus on measuring the total impact of IT products and services

Adopting holistic measuring tools able to streamline data from disparate IT devices, apps and workloads to create detailed reports on power usage and carbon emissions are essential to generate a baseline from which to make informed decisions. For example, our Digital Carbon Calculator and Carbon Network Dashboard offer complementary data-driven insights to help customers optimise their own IT for both carbon and energy, demonstrate achievements and contribute measurably to their organisation’s net zero and circularity goals.

Step 2: Explore sustainable procurement decisions

Next, explore where it’s possible to evolve the network, replace any end-of-life or old equipment with more energy efficient solutions, or proactively plan a full network redesign. Often, moving workloads to a cloud-based co-located data centre brings clear cost benefits and significant sustainability gains. But it is also likely to involve discarding or replacing equipment, so it makes sustainability sense to explore where end-of-life recycling schemes can minimise waste.

Step 3: Reduce the ongoing operational environmental footprint

The options for boosting sustainability are growing in the operating environment. Edge computing is ready to help organisations cut their data centre capacity considerably. Processing at the edge significantly reduces the volume of data travelling to the cloud, which enables data centre consolidation, reduced energy consumption and accelerated decarbonisation. Supported by cloud capabilities, it even opens the gateway to innovative Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning tools that will continue to identify new energy efficiencies.

We know that what holds organisations back is not a lack of motivation to cut carbon, but an absence of the tools and expertise to measure, monitor and report on emissions across the network. Without this accurate data as a base, organisations can’t be sure any proposed changes will be effective or worth the investment. To enter the next phase of sustainability, organisations need to have proven solutions and methodologies in place for making external and internal improvements.

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