Interview: Geoff Kneen, CEO at Content+Cloud talks about sustainable cloud computing

What is the biggest driver for sustainable change in the tech industry?

The tech industry has long been recognised as a hub of innovation. It has continuously pushed the boundaries of what is possible, revolutionising how we work, communicate, and live. As a result, the industry has a significant responsibility to lead the charge in sustainable practices. By embracing its role as a driver of innovation, the tech industry can showcase how to be productive, efficient, and environmentally conscious, inspiring and supporting other sectors to follow suit. This entails exploring new ways of operating, introducing ground-breaking ideas to the market with positive environmental impacts, and fostering a culture of sustainability throughout the industry.

The second factor driving sustainable change in the tech industry is a growing acknowledgement of its substantial contribution to environmental issues. The industry’s operations, including running data centres and computing devices, consume significant amounts of energy, generate heat, and produce waste. Having recognised the impact of these activities, the industry has taken steps to make technology more energy-efficient and reduce waste generation. However, there is a continuous need to push for further advancements in these areas. The adoption of cloud computing solutions offered by tech giants like Microsoft, Google, and AWS has gained momentum. Cloud adoption not only enables businesses to leverage the expertise and infrastructure of these providers but also promotes energy efficiency and resource optimisation.

In addition to the industry’s own initiatives, client expectations play a crucial role in driving sustainable change. Clients and stakeholders now have a heightened awareness of environmental concerns and expect technology companies to address them proactively. They look to the tech industry to provide innovative solutions that meet their needs and align with their sustainability goals. As a result, Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and IT directors are increasingly tasked with considering the sustainable return on technology investment alongside financial returns when presenting business cases. This shift in expectations serves as a catalyst for the tech industry to prioritise sustainable practices, develop eco-friendly products and services, and contribute to a greener future.

Sustainable change in the tech industry is propelled by the industry’s commitment to innovation, recognition of its environmental impact, and evolving client expectations. By embracing its role as an innovator and adopting sustainable practices, the tech industry can lead the way for other sectors. Efforts to improve energy efficiency and reduce waste and adopt cloud infrastructure further drive progress. Ultimately, client expectations for environmentally responsible solutions further reinforce the need for sustainability-focused initiatives in the tech industry. Through a combination of these factors, the industry can pave the way towards a more environmentally friendly and sustainable future.

What has been the biggest environmental challenge for tech companies to date? How have you managed it within your remit?

The most significant environmental challenge for tech companies to date has been addressing the lifecycle of their products and transitioning to a circular economy model. Many tech products, particularly hardware, are currently purchased under a capital model, where they are used for a certain period and then discarded. The challenge lies in taking responsibility for the entire product lifecycle, from the innovation and design process to manufacturing, usage, and end-of-life disposal.

To manage this challenge within their remit, tech companies must shift towards a more sustainable approach. This includes considering the materials used in their products, improving efficiency in manufacturing processes, and implementing sustainable design principles. Rather than treating products as one-time capital purchases, there is a need to adopt a lifecycle approach, similar to a hardware-as-a-service model. This would involve taking back equipment from users at the end of its life, recycling or disposing of it sustainably, and ensuring responsible management from the cradle to the grave.

Another significant challenge for tech companies is related to energy consumption. The industry contributes substantial global carbon emissions, primarily due to the high energy consumption of devices, data centres, and related infrastructure. To address this challenge, tech companies should focus on reducing energy consumption in their products and operations. By developing more energy-efficient devices and systems, companies can minimise heat generation, thereby reducing the need for extensive cooling measures. Managing heat and liquid by-products effectively is also vital in this regard.

Within my role, I have recognised that one of the biggest environmental challenges for tech companies to date is the transition to cloud-based models and leveraging the capabilities of hyperscalers. It’s important to acknowledge the natural sustainability advantage offered by the cloud. Hyperscalers, being significant players in the market, have had to address and overcome environmental challenges, given their significant size and impact on energy consumption.

I have actively promoted and advocated for adopting cloud-based solutions to manage this challenge within my remit. I fully promote the advanced approaches to sustainability and circular economy principles adopted by hyperscalers like Microsoft, and where I can, I encourage clients to embrace these principles and the technologies that fulfil and enable them. Business cases for transitioning to the cloud have often focused on factors other than sustainability. However, a cloud-first strategy not only brings benefits in terms of cost savings, interoperability, and flexible working, it also aligns with ESG and sustainability goals. The environmental responsibility and advantages of a cloud-first approach, ensure that sustainability considerations are an integral part of our decision-making processes.

How can businesses throughout the channel prove they are not just ‘greenwashing’?

As businesses throughout the channel aim to demonstrate that they are not just engaging in ‘greenwashing,’ it is crucial to approach the issue with an open mind and suspend scepticism. Recognising that leaders within these organisations genuinely want to make a difference and have awakened to the need for sustainability is essential.

To prove their commitment, businesses must prioritise sustainability in their decision-making processes. This involves asking critical questions and considering the environmental impact of their choices. While challenges such as energy consumption and fossil fuels are well-known, it is essential to delve deeper and examine the sustainability implications of specific decisions. For example, when considering a return to the office, assessing the environmental impact of thousands of daily commutes versus the benefits gained from in-person collaboration is crucial.

Companies need to develop robust methodologies for reporting and measuring outcomes to address these considerations and evidence their commitment to sustainability. This will help businesses assess and improve their practices and demonstrate to stakeholders that they are genuinely taking environmental factors into account.

The key is acknowledging that industries are in a learning phase, developing the necessary muscles to make sustainable decisions and drive positive contributions. By actively integrating sustainability considerations and transparently reporting on their efforts, businesses can prove that they are not just engaging in greenwashing but are genuinely committed to positively impacting the environment.

With Content+Cloud being part of Advania and falling under EU legislation on ESGhas been an enlightening experience for our company. The EU’s sustainability measures are comprehensive and extend to various aspects. For instance, they consider the impact of outsourcing service delivery to different countries and the need to reskill individuals who may be left behind should you move operations to a different geography. This holistic approach to sustainability is crucial.

I encourage other businesses to comprehensively view their operations, considering sustainability in people, technology, travel, and service delivery. Adapting and developing new skills is essential, as the urgency of addressing climate change has accelerated. The predicted one-and-a-half percent increase in temperature is no longer a distant concern but a pressing reality. By embracing a holistic perspective and investing in the skills of our workforce, we can make meaningful progress in sustainability. It is important to use this opportunity to leverage our collective efforts and navigate the challenges that lie ahead.

Why is cloud computing better for the environment? Isn’t it just moving the problem from business to data centre?

Cloud computing is better for the environment for several reasons. First, when businesses rely on hyperscale cloud providers, they can leverage the best practices that these providers have already implemented. These providers have the largest data centres and are positioned to make a significant positive impact. Businesses can use their infrastructure to simplify the sustainability problem on a macro scale.

Additionally, cloud providers are taking responsible actions in running their operations. For instance, Microsoft has even explored locating data centres underwater, which can have environmental benefits. By adopting these cloud technologies and best practices, businesses can quickly reduce their environmental impact and address sustainability challenges more effectively.

A key consideration businesses face when transforming to a more environmentally focused model is time. Time is an enemy in addressing climate change, and if a solution already exists, businesses should take advantage of it rather than spending valuable time trying to reinvent the wheel. Adopting existing best practices can lead to faster progress and a more rapid reduction of the environmental impact.

Lastly, it’s important to highlight the individual aspect of sustainability. As individuals, we must change our habits and challenge our unconscious behaviours that have a negative impact on the environment. While keeping the message of time as our enemy as a closing point, it is crucial to emphasise the need for personal responsibility and changing individual habits to support a more sustainable future.

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