Pan(dem)ic: two trends that are here to stay
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic struck the planet, businesses have been quick to adopt their IT models to propel new work paradigms. While some organizations like Twitter shifted to a remote-first model, others have taken the middle way and implemented hybrid work models.
However, both of these models rely on the ability to activate the workforce remotely, a key component of supporting remote workers with computing devices at their homes. Moreover, many of these remote workers are likely to stay remote—a McKinsey study estimates that there would be ~4-5x more remote workers after the pandemic.
At the same time, concerns regarding climate change have gained greater traction across employees, customers, industry leaders, and governments alike. Estimates suggest that the ICT industry contributes to about 1.4% of the global carbon emissions.
The computing industry accounts for as much carbon footprint as the aviation industry—2% of the global carbon footprint. This begs the question—is remote or hybrid work greener than traditional ways of working? And if not, what can we do to make virtual work greener?
Digging deeper into remote work
During the pandemic, nearly 111mn people were working remotely in the US alone, and investing in remote-enablement devices and infrastructure was the top priority for almost 70% of organizations. To do so, many organizations shipped laptops, tablets, ICT, and other computing devices to their workers.
As a result, 72mn laptops were shipped globally (11% rise than the previous year) during the pandemic, and consumers were willing to pay premiums for faster deliveries even though expedited deliveries cost more carbon than regular ones.
Consider the carbon emissions resulting from the production of an average laptop, which stands at 331kgs—nearly as much as a family car emits when you drive it for 480 miles. Add to this the damage of mining rare earth minerals and the carbon footprint of expediting millions of device shipments from manufacturers or distributors to individual households.
Suddenly, remote work ceases to look green despite eliminating the need to commute to work. Moreover, keeping your employees' devices running calls for regular off-site service visits, which increases the carbon costs of remote work.
So, is there a greener version of remote digital work?
Close the loop with circular IT
Managing IT operations in a reactive mode usually add monetary and carbon costs over time. For example, employees often report devices going out of service, which leads to technician visits. The lack of standard protocols and policies further contributes to contingency device purchases, followed by the usual use-and-throw pattern of the device life cycle.
However, concerns around rising amounts of digital waste and the carbon footprint of such linear consumption models are on the rise. As a result, many businesses have been considering a shift to circular value chains to mitigate the unending need for fresh raw materials while extending the life-cycle of finished products before promoting recycling, reusing, and refurbishing.
Returning to our previous question, circular IT is the key to achieving that greener version of remote work. In enterprise IT, device-as-a-service (DaaS) models can help organizations significantly cut back on the climatic impact of remote work.
Device-as-a-Service: tracing the sustainability impact
Here are some of the key ways in which DaaS models are more sustainable compared to traditional approaches to empowering a hybrid workplace:
- Persona-aligned devices with the right power policies
DaaS model accesses various personas in the environment and equips employees with the right configuration devices with optimum experience levels to reduce the overall carbon footprint
- Experience-based refresh
DaaS model proactively manages end-user experience with real-time identification and remediation of issues. It allows DaaS providers to tie refresh cycle with experience index rather than standard 3-4 years, e.g. if digital experience index (DEX) is > 8 after three years, customer can extend the life cycle by six more months.
- Utilizing next-gen technologies
The use of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) for providing remote support and utilizing hardware based out of band management technologies enables employees to remain productive at all times and have a consistent experience.
- Extending device life
Depending on their performance, DaaS providers minimize the need to replace old devices with new ones by upgrading low-footprint device components (microprocessors are the highest-footprint components in devices) , thereby extending the life-cycle of devices.
- Repair and refurbish
When the product reaches the end of service, it can be repaired and refurbished with minimal input of new materials and brought back into the value chain. As a result, the use of virgin materials per device is lowered, reducing the associated carbon footprint.
- Sustainable recycling
Finally, electronic waste is recycled carefully since improper disposal can be hazardous because it can contain dangerous chemicals that can result in accidents or seep into the soil or groundwater.
In a DaaS model, the service provider aims to maximize the length of the product life cycle, and as a result, upgrades are made as long as they are viable without violating the promised service level agreements (SLAs). Our calculations suggest that upgrades can be up to 90% more cost-effective than replacing devices in some scenarios.
XaaS models have been on the rise across industries because such models enable businesses to scale their expertise in manufacturing components or rendering services in the most economically viable and sustainable fashion.
Moreover, achieving high utilization and complete ownership of the product life cycle in XaaS models also complements the objectives of implementing circular economic models. This points to the pressing need for extending the thinking behind circular economy to DaaS paradigms as enterprises look to advance their sustainability strategies in an era of virtual work.
DaaS models will ultimately leverage standardization in process design and policy implementation to empower more sustainable and cost-effective decisions. The model can also reduce the uncertainty underpinning self-run IT devise budgets while improving the RoI on IT spending that shot up to double digits during the pandemic.
As businesses look to mitigate their digital carbon footprints (of which leading digital natives are setting examples), DaaS will be a lucrative option to unlock the sustainability benefits of circular economic models.