Clean IT as an opportunity is a social task that, among other things, puts companies and their stakeholders under obligation.

Transformation is devouring its children

Corona can become a break: For economy and society, environment and health as well as personal mobility.

What’s coming – and what’s still there?

The soothsayers do agree on one thing: coronavirus could become something of a turning point. From now on, there will always be a ‘before’ and ‘after’ for our economy and society. Our attitude towards health and the environment, personal mobility and its radius will change. So too will our approach to sustainability, and to how we consume things and produce them beforehand. No matter which industry, and no matter where we are in the world. As Gita Gopinath, Chief Economist of the IMF, put it, “no country has been spared” – so a radical rethink is required. The learning curve will be formidably steep.

Lessons that have been valid for decades such as Milton Friedman’s assertion that “The business of business is business” have suddenly been exposed as one-dimensional. As Tim Höttges, CEO of Deutsche Telekom, explains, “For enterprises, it has been about much more than that for a long time already. They need to move within the ‘triangle of sustainability’ and bring together economic, environmental and social considerations.” Höttges is far from the only one who believes that to achieve this, companies need to take individual responsibility – but also to systematically pursue the goal of digitization. In concrete terms, this digitization must decouple economic growth from resource use to a great extent, with businesses being chiefly responsible for driving this forward. ((See guest post – hyperlink))

Digitization – stakeholders in protecting our climate

The background consists of grass, a corner of the labyrinth in the middle; people communicating with each other

Clean IT as an opportunity is a social task that, among other things, puts companies and their stakeholders under obligation.

As Professor Christoph Meinel, Director of the Potsdam-based Hasso Plattner Institute for Digital Engineering (HPI) recently acknowledged in German news magazine Der Spiegel, “Digital technologies can offer real leverage when it comes to ensuring that this increase in prosperity also succeeds in the future. They just need to prepare themselves first and make their contribution to conserving natural resources and avoiding CO2 emissions.” In this sense, it will be important to greatly intensify research efforts to make digital technologies more energy-efficient and climate-friendly. At that point, using ‘clean IT’ to keep the global electricity consumption of IT and internet applications under control will not only be possible – it will also be necessary. The HPI even puts a figure on it: “Deploying clean IT could reduce energy consumption by a factor of 20.”

Today, fossil fuels are still being used to meet the world’s hunger for energy in business and society, and this is seen as the leading driver of rising CO2 emissions. As Professor Meinel observes, “This is contrasted by the virtual world of digitization. It promises to use big data and artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver answers to the questions of our time – and the climate problem is one of the biggest of those.” Digital technologies are offering concrete solutions in almost every industry; in Germany alone, examples include smart grids that will provide the foundation for a successful energy transformation, smart mobility services which could potentially save up to 12 million metric tons in CO2 emissions, and smart farming techniques that could lower the use of pesticides by up to 80 percent.

The path to get there – specifically by using less energy-hungry hardware and software – takes us to the global landscape of the data centers. As Dr. Ralph Hintemann, Senior Researcher at the Borderstep Institute for Innovation and Sustainability notes, the demand for electrical energy from servers and data centers in Germany rose by 6 percent in 2019, reaching 14 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) in what he describes as “the field of tension between efficiency and digital sovereignty.” The amount of energy consumed by data centers is twelve times lower today than ten years ago, but high demand for processing power has swallowed up these efficiency gains. The energy needed to send enormous volumes of data across global networks is immense, but generating it is releasing more CO2 across all continents than the sum total of all pre-COVID-19 air traffic worldwide.

Author: Thomas van Zütphen
Photos: Palmer Hargreaves

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