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Recent research from McKinsey finds enterprise technology emitting as much greenhouse gases as all of the United Kingdom. Surprisingly, user devices are found to be the biggest sinner.

When mentioning CO2 emissions, most people think about heavy industry, beef or planes rather than enterprise technology.

However, while enterprise technologies might seem like innocent yet necessary tools for work, new research done by McKinsey shows it is responsible for emitting about 350 to 400 megatons, accounting for about 1 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions – half of the emissions from aviation or as much as all of the United Kingdom.

Andrea Del Miglio Senior Partner at McKinsey
Andrea Del Miglio, Senior Partner at McKinsey

»The sheer size was a surprise, and frankly, the lack of attention we are having from enterprises and media is a testament to the problem: It’s much bigger than we thought,« says Andrea Del Miglio, Senior Partner at McKinsey.

According to Del Miglio, the industry has a disproportionate focus on making data centres greener. In reality, user devices such as smartphones, laptops and printers in enterprises can generate twice as much carbon as data centres globally.

Easy steps available

Emissions by devices are mainly generated by manufacturing – not usage. This means that organisations that have deployed bring-your-own-device policies widely have an advantage here, as the best answer is having fewer devices and recycling them.

»Employees with an additional corporate device have a 30-40 per cent reduction potential right away. It’s a relatively simple step to take to make a difference – while keeping everyone happy,« Del Miglio says.

At the same time, climate-conscious employees might want to make sure that the basics are in place: What is the most eco-friendly choice they can make, when they order a new device?

More tech needed

Answering questions like »what is the most emitting part of our tech stack?« and »how do employees make the climate-friendly choice?« will become much more manageable once carbon tracking really kicks in. Making additional technology part of the solution.

»Many companies lack a CIO role to help the rest of the company to decarbonize. The very first step is tracking: Putting in place systems to know the footprint generated. Certain things are obvious – transportation is using algorithms to optimize routes on delivery. But we can do much, much more, and we don’t have to use less tech – we have to use more,« Del Miglio says.

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