Darker Backgrounds, Brighter Futures: Siemens’ Real-World Green IT

Darker Backgrounds, Brighter Futures: Siemens’ Real-World Green IT
August 19, 2021

Have you ever heard the phrase “greenwashing”?

It refers to those companies and organizations that talk a good talk environmentally – but often walk in a different direction altogether.

At Siemens, though, we’re trying, really trying, to be green inside and out. Want proof of this (you should)? We’re firmly committed to achieving net zero carbon by 2030 for scope 1 and 2 and by 2050 for scope 3 emissions. This means analyzing everything we do, and thinking how we can effect changes that can help us reach that goal.

And an absolutely key focus of all this is of course Digitalization – and ensuring that our IT services are green.

At Siemens today, this is a key part of our DEGREE framework (Decarbonization, Ethics, Governance, Resource efficiency, Equity and Employability), which clearly sets our sustainability priorities at Siemens.

Here’s an introduction to what we’re doing in green IT, and why…

Green IT primer

Unfortunately, the world’s love affair with digital, both in and outside of the workplace, has a significant environmental impact. The good news is that, small workplace actions, such as properly shutting down your laptop when you’re not using it can results in huge improvements if extrapolated across thousands or millions of devices every day.

On the most fundamental level, these improvements can be achieved through better communication and education. There are also, however increasingly sophisticated ways of encouraging and ultimately empowering employees to adopt greener IT practices.

Imagine – to return to that first example – that you had left your laptop on standby for three weekends in a row. Now imagine a friendly, unobtrusive pop-up that didn’t simply inform you of this, but also pointed to what the impact of that might mean to the environment, and your own professional carbon footprint…

Green digital dashboards

Just as our IT teams use dashboards detailing the factors affecting IT experience, at Siemens we are also developing ones that show individual users how their software, hardware, and digital habits ultimately impact their carbon footprint.

The aim is to illuminate the low hanging fruit, the small behavioral changes that can make an individual a more responsible consumer of IT. It could be something as simple as using darker backgrounds in a PPT, which consume less energy than light backgrounds. A tiny action that, again extrapolated across thousands or millions of users, can make a genuine impact.

Similarly, we’re enhancing our IT ordering portal so that users can see the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions and options, as well as the features, benefits and price.

Green Vision

Implementing small, measurable, constant improvements, and giving access to a baseline against which to measure progress, is a key part of green IT as well as modern IT in general. And both require greater visibility into IT consumption. For green IT, of course, what we’re primarily seeking is visibility into how that consumption translates into carbon emissions, and how it can be improved.

This visibility is something we’re continuously building out at Siemens. This requires the participation and expertise of countless stakeholders, and a general willingness to share knowledge and insights for the common goal and greater good.

This collaboration is very much a work in progress at present. It remains difficult, for example, to know what specific carbon emissions are related to Office 365 services – such as a one-hour Teams call (and yes it’s the same for Zoom). As long as we’re all working with the same goals in view though – companies like Siemens, as well as software and hardware vendors together – we’ll get to where we need to go.

Green targets

Cyber security provides an interesting point of comparison, and a model for progress. Think back just ten years, when few employees gave cyber security a second thought. Now, it’s mandatory annual training at many companies. At Siemens, employees get reminders when the time comes to refresh their cyber awareness, and full support in doing so.

Similarly, green digital employee engagement can be further enhanced through strategies of positive reinforcement: for instance, targets which are a part of individual KPIs. Every company has a bonus system of some kind, with rewards and remuneration tied to a set of specific achievements and goals.

Here too there is potential for IT to not merely provide better measurement and insight into consumption, but to prompt, nudge and encourage people towards achieving those agreed-upon aims.

We see the potential ‘gamification’ of green digital employee engagement as an exciting, positive avenue that could complement this goal-based approach, and help the collective transition to greener IT habits – such as using IMs more than email and linking to shared files in favor of sending attachments.

Green futures

In IT today, there is a strong trend towards encouraging employees towards greater ownership of their digital experience. And it’s the same in green IT.

In both cases, however, the onus of responsibility will lie with IT itself. And the greater transparency IT teams have into user consumption, needs and context, the more effectively and securely we’ll be able to make responsible environmental decisions without having to be concerned about unnecessary impacts on different employee needs.

This is where personas can have a key role going forward. Knowing what technology individual employees really require to do their jobs, for example (rather than having to make assumptions about entire user populations) can help IT manage things like the hardware lifecycle with greater environmental efficiency.

Ultimately, achieving greener IT practices within organizations has to be a collaborative process, not only involving all the internal stakeholders, but vendors and partners also.

In this it’s the same as the wider challenge presented by the climate crisis: we’re all in it together, but in order to come together to solve this existential problem, we must seek to better understand the wider context in which we live, work and consume resources.

Rainer Karcher is the Global Director, IT Sustainability, at Siemens. He has over 20 years of IT experience and a long-standing passion for protecting the environment. Rainer and his team focus on ways to unlock sustainable solutions in IT for business.Learn More

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