HPE’s Chief Sustainability Officer Christopher Wellise: ”A change from sustainable IT to IT for sustainability”
The IT industry is expanding rapidly, and with that comes increased environmental impact. Then, technological development makes it possible to make all industries and society in general more efficient. So, what will be the road ahead for achieving more in the work for sustainability? Christopher Wellise, Chief Sustainability Officer at HPE, says that IT companies need both to reduce their own emissions and to take the lead in a historical transition.
Currently, the data centers of the world consume an estimated 200 terawatt hours. That is one per cent of global electricity consumption, per year. This corresponds to 0.3 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions, but if we consider IT in its entirety – a sweeping term that covers everything from smartphones to networks – it amounts to two per cent.
”Compared to other industries, this doesn’t seem much. But IT is a high visibility industry, and many regard us as a leader. Also, the industry is energy intensive and it’s growing fast, so we have a great responsibility.”
From sustainable IT to IT for sustainability
He believes that a great transition has taken place during recent years. A change from sustainable IT, with a focus on efficiency in energy and materials in their own activities, to IT for sustainability. The latter is a vastly greater group, where IT is used for influencing other industries, from healthcare to manufacture, in a positive direction.
”Technology is absolutely crucial for reshaping society in a way that respects the limits of the planet. I can see that digitalization makes it possible to make just about every business more efficient, and so far we have only scratched the surface.”
One example is ”Mina meddelanden” (”My messages”), a service which is now used by 3.4 million Swedes. During 2018, 28 million digital letters were sent using this service. This means that 280 tons of paper were saved – or 400,000 average-size pine trees. On top of that, this means great reduction in emissions from, among other things, manufacturing processes and transportation. Instead, there are emissions from the IT systems, but they are much lower per message.
The current leadership of the USA has been good for the work on sustainability
Christopher Wellise believes that the Nordic countries are furthest ahead in the world in sustainability. Many look here for inspiration and to see what’s happening in the field. But Germany, Singapore and the USA, primarily the coasts and Texas, are also far ahead.
”This might startle a lot of people, but the current administration has been beneficial for environmental work in the USA. Because since the public sector put its heels down, others have increased their pace. Customer demand for sustainable products and services is increasing, and many major companies are now taking the lead.”
This applies, not least, to the IT and technology industry, which currently includes the five most highly valued, and most powerful, corporations in the world. With this position follows great responsibility, and things are really going in a positive direction. Bloomberg reports that during 2018, 121 companies in 21 countries procured 13.4 gigawatts of renewable energy. This is more than twice as much as in 2017. The company that accounted for the greatest part was Facebook at 2.6 gigawatts; number two was Google.
”The global IT infrastructure consumes a lot of energy and demand is increasing. So it is important that we in the industry lead the way and do a rapid change to energy sources that are environmental friendly. In HPE, we have more than doubled the amount of renewable energy in two years. In 2017, it amounted to 25 per cent of our power. Our goal is 50 per cent by 2025.”
Reduced emissions of greenhouse gases by 29 per cent
Between 2015 and 2017, HPE also reduced its emissions of greenhouse gases by 29 per cent, but Christopher Wellise believes that a corporation like HPE needs to think bigger.
”95 per cent of our emissions of greenhouse gases occur in production and when we use or products. So that is where we really have the chance to make a difference. We do that, partly by making our products more energy efficient, but also by working with our subcontractors to reduce emissions.”
The goal is to reduce emissions in the entire supply chain by 15 per cent and to improve the energy efficiency in the product portfolio by 30 times by 2025.
”But in addition to this, we also need to become better at reusing technology and materials: a circular economy where we significantly extend the lifespan of our products. Today, we have one recycling center in Massachusetts and one in Scotland, receiving four million units every year. 89 per cent of them can be reused.”
”These machines are modular and are designed to be used again. They come back to us after having been written off and ’used up’, they’re dismantled and put together again for the next customer.”
”The current lifespan of many IT products today is two or three years, not much considering the amount of resources needed to make them. In the industry, we need to increase the pace of transition to a circular economy where we reuse a lot more than we do now, and take planetary limits into account. There is a demand from customers, so how we have every opportunity to take the lead in this historical transformation,” concludes Christopher Wellise.
About Christopher Wellise
Christopher Wellise, Chief Sustainability Officer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, has taken an interest in environment and sustainability even since he was a child. His father was not interested in sports at all. Instead he took Chris out into the forest and for fishing trips. When the time came for studies, he wished to work in the borderland between business and sustainability. Chris has a Master of Science in Environmental Studies from San Jose State University. Before he was hired by HPE he worked in research for several years.