Despite many technology firms making claims of carbon neutrality and paying lip service to sustainable energy strategies of late, few seem to be making significant headway into the area of sustainable IT.
The environmental revolution is already underway – led by campaigners and consumers in the main – but the business community is yet to buy into the prospect of an environmentally engaged society and the power it will yield. I believe that by failing to address the issue of sustainability now, businesses are ruling themselves out of a potentially huge and largely untapped market.
As the recession becomes a more distant memory and more consumers and businesses demand to know whether the products and services they buy have been produced sustainably, green credentials will become one of the major buying criteria on which firms will compete.
The opportunities open to businesses ready and waiting with green solutions to cater for environmentally conscious customers are endless. On the other hand, those firms that remain unconvinced of the significance of the ‘green pound' risk losing out in a big way.
The current government has been referred to as 'the greenest ever', yet little is happening on the ground that lives up to that name. We discussed the attitudes of businesses towards sustainability recently at one of a series of round-table events we held. The feedback identified a need for incentives from government to encourage businesses to invest in green technologies if we're to keep up with our overseas counterparts.
I believe there's more to it than that. If the UK is to become an example of how a sustainable IT infrastructure can work effectively, businesses need to show their support for the pioneers in the industry that are leading the way in promoting green IT.
In early 2010 I had what I now call an environmental epiphany when I visited Richard Branson on Necker Island and we discussed the impact of business – and particularly the IT industry – on the planet. That conversation kickstarted my drive to make the firm I founded, UKFast, a completely carbon-neutral company.
It was a much bigger challenge than I had expected. The IT industry is power hungry – in fact, the hosting industry around the world produces the same in carbon emissions as the whole of Argentina.
As smartphones and the mobile web also become more popular and people expect to be able to access the world wide web from anywhere on the planet 24/7, the demand for power will increase rapidly. How will datacentres cope with that demand and can sustainability have any part in their development?
Those who specialise in building datacentres wax lyrical about the possibilities of bringing their design into the 21st century. The advances are all there to allow us to reduce power consumption and increase efficiency by embracing renewable power. But the business community on the whole remains unconvinced.
It's a difficult sell for a business to realise carbon neutrality for the sake of carbon neutrality alone. Most businesses are interested only in developing IT strategies that offer a tangible return. The fact is, sustainable IT can do just that.
We are investing £12.5m in hydro-electric power plants to create green electricity for our datacentres. We're now planning investment in 11 environmentally friendly power plants in Wales and Scotland to consolidate the company's position in the green IT market.
For us to gain carbon neutrality status with immediate effect, we invested in a series of existing hydro-electric plants in Peru, Brazil and Turkey, offsetting 2,000 tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent). And we've committed to invest further in every quarter to cover all new clients and expansion.
Our approach isn't typical and it has demanded up-front investment. But we will reap the rewards.
Addressing our environmental impact is not only improving our brand and our reputation with our existing customers – who can use the carbon neutrality of their hosting solution as a selling point to their clients – but we're making headway with potential clients who choose only to work with environmentally friendly suppliers.
What's more, the efficiencies that come with an environmentally conscious approach are having an effect on the bottom line and I believe they will continue to do so, to a greater degree, in the future.
In the same way that proactive and innovative companies had to lead the growth of the digital sector towards becoming the giant it is today, for sustainable business to become the norm, we need the brave among us to go green and encourage others to follow suit.
Energy creation doesn't have to be the realm of huge energy companies. There are sustainable energy schemes that are accessible to smaller businesses too. Environmentally friendly business practice isn't mutually exclusive to running a profitable business; eventually we expect our investment to pay off significantly on the bottom line.
Lawrence Jones is founder and managing director of UKFast
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