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Changing the world with sustainable business practices

Changing the world with sustainable business practices

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Organisations have had to reassess their consumption strategies to ensure they can make more sustainable choices when managing and storing data. Marco Fanizzi, Vice President and General Manager EMEA at Commvault, offers his advice for organisations to develop more environmentally friendly business practices and make better and greener decisions.

It’s no longer possible to ignore the impact we are having on our planet. That’s the clear message coming out of global politics and climate activists. Events like the recent G7 summit in Cornwall have seen renewed pledges by attending leaders to tackle climate change and preserve world biodiversity.

But we all need to take more action to protect the environment while there’s still a chance to reverse the damage we’ve done since the dawn of the industrial age. We need to abandon our old bad habits and find a way to maintain productivity while respecting and cherishing our planet. Yet, while individuals are being offered tangible advice like taking steps to avoid single-use plastics or carbon offsetting against travel, it’s another story for businesses.

On a global level, organisations across every sector could make a massive difference to the environment if they increased their efforts to engage in sustainable business practices. The IT sector has an important role to play. Here, more than anywhere, there’s the potential to rollout new and innovative solutions that could help solve (or at least mitigate the effects of) the climate crisis. But just how is this to be accomplished?

Learning from COVID-19

Since the start of the pandemic — and the government order to work from home where possible — businesses across every sector have been disrupted. There’s been a digital revolution and transformation of IT processes and infrastructure at an unprecedented scale and almost unimaginable speed to counter that disruption. Without it, businesses and — more widely — the global economy wouldn’t have survived to the extent that they have.

The pandemic has led to a surge in Internet traffic and skyrocketing data consumption. This is because organisations have had to pivot rapidly to remote work models. It’s also because although the government is continuing to relax most social restrictions, many people are still spending much more time at home — whether that’s working from home or dedicating hours to watching the latest Netflix hit show.

This upward trend in data consumption is unlikely to change even when COVID restrictions finally lift. One reason is that we’ve started to see big businesses like SAP and NatWest Bank championing hybrid working models. This means that, long-term, more people will be at home for more of the day. NatWest, for example, claims that only 13% of its staff will return to pre-pandemic office work. Unfortunately, this continuing boost in Internet traffic and the resulting spike in produced data is not positive news for the environment. Data needs power and energy to store it, maintain it and protect it — and most of that energy still comes off the back of fossil fuel consumption.

Becoming more environmentally responsible with data is reasonably straightforward for consumers. We can research companies to understand if (or how) their business practices aim to reduce their carbon footprint — or even make an everyday choice such as SD over HD when streaming TV or downloading music.

However, it’s not quite so clear how businesses can reduce the environmental impact of data. Microsoft, Facebook and Google — some of the world’s biggest data silos — have committed to becoming 100% renewable through the RD100 scheme, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done.  

Don’t let ROT set in

Data is everywhere. Businesses of every size and sector use it to drive forward, improve efficiency and increase profits. Because of this, it’s key to raise awareness about how companies could better manage their data’s carbon footprint as their data landscape increases and their cloud consumption expands.

One way is to reduce the enormous volume of data that companies produce. Data centres currently account for around 1% of the world’s total energy consumption. That might not sound a lot, but that translates to 205 TWh of global electricity use. More concerning is that analysts suggest that we might experience anything between a five-fold and 40-fold increase by 2030 if things continue to go unchecked. In this context, you can see why many people compare data to oil, given its potential to cause environmental harm if we consume it in excess and without being conscious of its impact.

Tackling ROT data is one way to cut down on data consumption. ROT data is Redundant, Obsolete or Trivial data. It’s data that doesn’t contribute anything to normal business operations. It’s often backup copies of what is often relatively unnecessary, or users’ non-work data like personal photos/emails. Given that it’s not regularly accessed, ROT data is likely to be stored in a secondary physical data centre and builds up round-the-clock energy consumption. Bad news if you’re trying to get a leaner, greener carbon footprint.

ROT data isn’t easy to tackle. You can’t just go and run a ‘clean disk’ tool and wipe the redundant information. It needs a cross-company approach — ideally championed at board-level but bringing in records management, legal, compliance, HR, and of course, IT teams. Most importantly, it can be achieved with effective, intelligent data management solutions that help IT departments focus on the life cycle of their data from the very edge of the corporate network all the way to the data centre – and remove ROT data more efficiently with fully integrated data management processes.

To do this, businesses need to understand the value of their data: does it, for instance, actually need to be retained? And if so, for how long? Where should it be stored for easy use and access? If businesses don’t need to keep it, what should happen to it? Companies that identify the answers to these questions can reduce the data they produce and store — and create a sustainable, environmentally sound cloud infrastructure.

Build back greener

Working to develop more sustainable business practices has never been more important. Earth is our home and as a global society, we cooperate and unite so that we take better care of it. A lot of companies are only just beginning their sustainability journeys and though it will take time to see the changes, every step in the right direction is a valuable one. Of course, we can’t escape data growth, but businesses can make more environmentally sound storage, management and access choices that can have a hugely positive impact on our planet’s future.

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