Can digital transformation and sustainability coexist?

Can digital transformation and sustainability coexist?

Sustainability is no new concept, but there has never been as much focus on it as there is now. And with good reason. The effects of negative environmental, social, and economic issues are being seen and felt across the globe. But why is sustainability important to businesses? 

 

The rise and rise of sustainability   

As well as protecting the natural environment, increasing their sustainability efforts holds benefits and more businesses than ever are incorporating it into their long-term strategies.  

For example, Microsoft has put sustainability firmly at the top of its agenda. The tech giant has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030. It has set out detailed goals to lower emissions, reduce waste and rebuild ecosystems. 

Microsoft has also launched a Climate Innovation Fund. This initiative invests in businesses offering climate technology solutions that have early commercial traction and need capital to scale in the market. 

There are also indications that CTOs will see sustainability initiatives play a bigger part in their roles. It has been predicted that by 2025, 75% of CTOs will contribute to enterprise sustainability goals as part of their duties, and 25% will have metrics linked to sustainable progress, specifically around carbon neutrality. 

 

The benefits of boosting sustainability   

The ability to be more environmentally friendly isn’t just reserved for the likes of Microsoft. As more businesses adjust to hybrid working models and digital workplaces, it is becoming clear that digital transformation and sustainability need to – and indeed can – coexist. And that there are many more reasons to compel organisations to prioritise going green. 

Reducing risk  

In 2020, the top five risks for businesses were linked to environmental challenges. This included climate action failure and environmental disasters. By implementing more sustainable practices, businesses can play their part in decreasing the risks of such events occurring. 

A positive ripple effect  

Sustainability doesn’t just concern the environment, although it does play a big part.  

Research shows that consumers care how sustainable the businesses are that they buy from. 80% of consumers globally have indicated that sustainability is important to them. While 60% responded that they would change their purchasing habits if it helped them reduce their impact on the environment.  

This call for sustainability in business coincides with the current global digital revolution. Organisations are already overhauling their business models for the digital age and investing in new technologies to adopt hybrid or remote working models.  

With this transformation happening across the business landscape, companies are in a prime position to invest in both digital technology and sustainability initiatives.  

Introducing sustainability to your digital transformation with a net-positive approach 

A net-positive business approach means having a positive impact on society and the environment. Business can opt to be net-positive rather than just trying to reduce the negative effects of their operations on the environment.  

This means creating solutions to environmental issues, rather than focusing solely on the problems. Putting sustainability at the core of your digital transformation journey, rather than retrofitting it later, contributes to a net-positive approach. 

Let the cloud lead the way 

Cloud computing provides clear benefits for your business’ digital transformation.  

Migrating to the cloud offers businesses the chance to create a Modern Workplace for their people. It removes physical barriers and allows employees to work from anywhere with ease. Services like SharePoint enable employees to access data and content virtually, while Teams allows people to meet and collaborate virtually. 

While digital transformation can present new risks for businesses, cloud computing also boasts many cyber security benefits. This can include ongoing support and regulation from your cloud services provider, as well as automatic security protocols being in place. 

 

How migrating to the cloud can boost sustainability  

Adopting a cloud-first business model holds numerous benefits, not just for digital transformation and hybrid working, but also for sustainability. 

While cloud computing does still have an impact on the environment, it’s a much more environmentally friendly option than businesses running on-site systems. As an example, the Microsoft cloud is up to 93% more energy efficient, and up to 98% more carbon efficient than traditional enterprise datacentres. 

Inherent greening through the Microsoft Cloud  

There are four main elements that contribute to the sustainability of the Microsoft Cloud: 

+ Operational efficiency 

+ Equipment efficiency 

+ Datacentre infrastructure efficiency 

+ Renewable electricity 


The first three of these elements reduce the energy needed to deliver the Microsoft Cloud’s IT services. The fourth will power 100% of Microsoft’s datacentres by 2025. 

A multi-faceted benefit of cloud systems is the ability to scale up and down as needed. Automation can be used to switch off tools that aren’t being used within your organisation. Not only can this reduce unnecessary costs for businesses, it can also reduce emissions. 

Research indicates that adopting a cloud-first approach can reduce the carbon footprint of large enterprises by up to 60%. This number rises to 90% for small and medium businesses.  

These are some of the key ways that migrating to the cloud can help to reduce your business’ carbon footprint. 

1. Dematerialisation 

Cloud computing makes it possible to share resources within your business virtually. This could mean going paperless and sending documents via email, or having employees or clients e-sign contracts. Dematerialisation also reduces the need for postage and the shipping of resources. By cutting down on physical resources, businesses can reduce their waste and their carbon footprint. 

2. Cloud-based datacentres produce fewer emissions 

Traditional datacentres produce a lot of carbon. They may also use large amounts of energy to transmit data over long distances if they’re located far away from energy providers. Cloud datacentres offer greater control of location and can reduce the amount of electricity needed to transmit data. Cloud datacentres also use less physical equipment, meaning they need less electricity to power them. 

3. Save energy with the cloud 

Physical datacentres often use a lot of energy for actions like cooling and backing up data. But many businesses don’t make full use of their servers’ capabilities, leaving potential for wastage. With cloud datacentres, server capacity is shared between companies, reducing energy wastage. Cloud datacentres also reduce the need to power physical servers, creating scope to use less energy. 

 

Microsoft Cloud services to aid sustainability and digital transformation 

Microsoft offers many cloud-based apps and services to power digital transformation. And these apps can also contribute to your business’ sustainability goals. 

Microsoft cloud carbon study found the following benefits to adopting its cloud computing services. 

Microsoft Azure  

Azure is Microsoft’s public cloud platform. It combines infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS). Azure also offers cloud-based solutions, services and applications to meet your digital and transformational needs and challenges. 

Azure Compute provides the infrastructure needed when building and deploying new apps. Compared to other compute alternatives, Azure Compute is up to 79% more energy efficient, and produces up to 98% less carbon. 

When compared to equivalent cloud storage services, Azure Storage is also up to 79% more efficient. Carbon emissions from Azure Storage are up to 83% lower than those from traditional datacentres. 

Microsoft has also launched an Azure Sustainability Calculator. This is a Power BI service which provides users with key insights into their carbon emissions when using Azure. 

SharePoint Online 

Microsoft SharePoint Online is a platform which integrates with Microsoft 365. It allows users to collaborate and exchange files and content virtually. Hosted in the cloud, it differs from traditional SharePoint, which is locally hosted. 

SharePoint Online is up to 93% more energy efficient than traditional SharePoint. Its carbon emissions are also up to 97% lower. 

Exchange Online 

Exchange Online is Microsoft’s cloud-based email, contact, and calendar system. 

Exchange Online is up to 85% more energy efficient than traditional Exchange. It also produces up to 98% fewer carbon emissions. 

Automate with Microsoft: Viva and Syntex 

Viva is Microsoft’s employee experience platform. It keeps colleagues connected, provides knowledge and learning, and integrates key insights into employee workflows. Viva comprises four modules: 

+ Learning 

+ Insights 

+ Topics 

+ Connections 

SharePoint Syntex is a tool which uses AI and machine learning to understand your business’ content. Syntex can classify different types of documents and extract the most important information from them. Using automation tools like Viva and Syntex can reduce the need for physical resources such as paper and the need to print and send documents. This can lead to reduced wastage and emissions. 

Want to learn more about how sustainability and digital transformation can coexist?

As you continue on, or begin, your digital transformation, the opportunity exists to make sustainability a focal point of your plans. Sign up for our on-demand Digital Revolution 2.0 event to learn about prioritising sustainability as you adopt new technologies. All images used are courtesy of Microsoft

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