In early 2024, the global landscape is defined by two sides of the same coin – the challenge of delivering a cleaner, greener planet and the opportunity this represents for our collective future.

And, while technology is the key that can unlock this transformational opportunity, it’s critical that we understand how to leverage it for maximum sustainability benefits, writes Doug Woolley, GM of Dell Technologies South Africa.

Managing this delicate balance requires a holistic approach built on sustainable IT solutions and implementing best practices. Indeed, whether the question is around investment, utilisation, efficiency – or all three – many of today’s answers can be found in sustainable IT.

In this article, we highlight five key pillars of a sustainable IT strategy.

Optimise and modernise infrastructure

Poor IT asset utilisation, including inactive or underused servers, is the single biggest waste of energy in the data centre. Start by conducting a full audit of the IT environment to identify the most power-hungry and inefficient equipment. Replacing this equipment and implementing modern, more energy efficient solutions can drive greater efficiency, optimise thermals and cooling, and consolidate space requirements.

Another way to optimise a data centre is to squeeze more work out of your current infrastructure. In particular, capacity utilisation, power and thermals are areas that can often be improved through high-performance hardware, effective device power management, and smart data centre power management.

Optimising data centre energy efficiency requires careful planning and a more thoughtful and sustainable deployment of other components which also consider advanced power, thermals and cooling. For example, across our portfolio, we continually strive to make our technology more efficient and less intensive to reduce energy waste in our customers’ data centres.

Automation technologies and telemetry data are also key as they simplify and remove the need for human intervention in power management. Implementing these technologies can help to reduce power consumption in off-peak times and identify energy performance issues faster.

Other new technologies, like artificial intelligence, software-led applications and eco modes can also support thermal and power needs management of client and infrastructure products.

Knowing when to retire legacy equipment is an important aspect of this analysis to ensure legacy systems are securely and responsibly recycled.

Do more with less

Hardware consolidation is one of the best ways to reduce carbon emissions and the physical footprint of data centres. The exponential data growth within organisations today is driving increased costs and complexity for storage environments. Data centres and remote sites face storage sprawl, increasing operating costs, storage management and data protection issues.

By consolidating mission critical data under centralised architectures, businesses can achieve low TCO by cutting energy consumption and compute density, while supporting the environment.

Businesses should also consider as-a-service models and on-demand solutions like Dell APEX. These eliminate wasteful provisioning by consuming only what is needed while also providing the flexibility to scale up or down based on requirements at any given time, resulting in power savings and enhanced efficiency.

Embrace environmentally-friendly resources

The IT industry is heavily dependent on finite raw materials, including minerals like lithium and cobalt which are associated with high energy and water consumption as well as environmental damage during extraction.

Demand for alternatives to these raw materials is increasing, as they make use of existing materials, do not deplete additional natural resources, and emit fewer greenhouse gases in their production and during the product life cycle. For example, our newly launched Latitude AI PCs use 50% recycled cobalt in their batteries, sourced from electric vehicle batteries.

Innovating for new and more environmentally sustainable materials will help drive more sustainable IT. And one of the most immediate initiatives is for the IT design process to operate as a closed loop model, which keeps products and materials in circulation as long as possible.

Recycling and repurposing

According to the UN, a massive 57,4-million tons of e-waste is generated worldwide. Recycling rates are still low, where in the EU (which leads the world in e-waste recycling) just 35% of e-waste is officially reported as being properly collected and recycled. In South Africa, only 14% of mainstream e-waste is recycled – the lowest rate of any waste stream in the country.

By improving and increasing the number of repair, recovery and reuse services available to consumers and business customers, we aim to retrieve more technology that is no longer fit for purpose and keep products and materials in use as long as possible.

Sustainable alternatives won’t be available in every line of production, so it is also critical that recycling and reusing is carried out consistently. Recycled plastic and ocean-bound plastics can be incorporated into packaging and products. Discarded electronic items, in which valuable metals and minerals reside, are also important suppliers of raw materials.

Approaching IT with a more simplified product design results in fewer raw materials used, easier extraction of components and materials for reuse and recycling, and an evolution of business models like as-a-Service to automate recovery of retired IT.

Extend IT life

Device longevity is increasing as we advance repairable and sustainable designs. However, it is common for users to readily replace their electronics when a more powerful model is available for a reduced cost or offers increased performance.

Put simply, the longer a device is in use, the better it is for the environment. To ensure the longest use of each device, manufacturers must ensure that hardware can be upgraded for future requirements, and that firmware and security updates are also available outside an existing service contract.

Repairing equipment extends its usable life and is almost always more sustainable than buying new devices. For this to be successful, it is important that components can be easily replaced, manuals are easy to find and understand, and parts and warranties are readily available.

Repairing devices to extend their usable lives and reusing materials in this process are critical elements of the circular economy, and we are seeing repair rise in prominence as an adaptable solution for the IT industry.

Technology has the potential to unlock our sustainability goals, and organisations that embrace the five key pillars of a sustainable IT strategy can lead the way in terms of productivity and environmental benefits.