Why should carbon emissions be a part of IT infrastructure decision-making?

integrating carbon considerations into decision-making processes for IT infrastructure leaders is not just a choice, it's necessary for responsible corporate IT stewardship and long-term sustainability.

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By OxygenIT
Apr 10, 2024
6 mins read

In the age of climate change awareness and sustainability initiatives, businesses across industries must evaluate their environmental footprint and prioritize strategies that mitigate all their carbon emissions. Amidst this paradigm shift, more and more attention is being paid to Information Technology (IT) infrastructure due to its substantial energy consumption and resultant carbon emissions. Thus, integrating carbon considerations into decision-making processes for IT infrastructure leaders is not just a choice, it's necessary for responsible corporate IT stewardship and long-term sustainability.

The Carbon Footprint of IT Infrastructure

Today, IT leaders in charge of infrastructure, whether on-premise or in the cloud, consider several factors when evaluating their performance. These factors include the cost to purchase, update, and maintain the infrastructure, the capacity, and coverage, and the performance including reliability, downtimes, latency, user-friendliness, backup and recovery, and cybersecurity.  

In addition to these factors, IT infrastructure has a tangible environmental impact. Data centers alone account for a significant portion of global electricity consumption, with estimates suggesting they could contribute up to 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 if left unchecked.

The need to address and control this environmental impact creates a complex challenge for businesses, and it is continuously growing, as described in IDC’s 2023 survey.  In this survey, sustainability (37%) is the top area that organizations have identified for investment to optimize their cloud operations. 

The primary sources of carbon emissions in IT infrastructure include electricity consumption and operational carbon emissions for powering and cooling data centers/servers based on their real usage (CPU/GPU load, data in/out…), manufacturing processes for hardware, and the disposal of electronic waste. As the demand for digital services continues to grow, so does the environmental burden associated with purchasing and operating IT infrastructure.

Despite this growing importance, it is very difficult for enterprises to obtain reproducible, accurate, and precise data on the carbon emissions of their IT infrastructure.  Cloud providers may provide data, but it can be averaged over several data centers and include carbon compensation and credits, making it useless for operational IT decision-making.  To address this situation, enterprises need more and more to look for and/or develop tools and processes that explicitly take into account the carbon emissions that are a direct result of the operations of their IT infrastructures.

The Imperative of Carbon-Aware Decision-Making

Integrating carbon considerations into decision-making processes for IT infrastructure offers several compelling benefits:

Environmental Responsibility: Embracing IT carbon-aware decision-making demonstrates a commitment to reducing the environmental impact of IT operations. By minimizing carbon emissions, businesses contribute to global efforts to mitigate climate change and preserve the planet for future generations.

Innovation and Competitive Advantage: Embracing sustainability in IT infrastructure can drive innovation and foster a culture of continuous improvement. Companies that prioritize carbon reduction are drivers for new technologies, processes, and business models that enhance efficiency, resilience, and competitiveness in the marketplace.

Cost Reduction: Many strategies aimed at reducing carbon emissions from IT infrastructure also lead to cost savings. Improvements in energy efficiency, such as server virtualization, data center and server consolidation, less consuming software code, and optimizing cooling systems and Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), can significantly lower electricity bills and operational expenses.

Enhanced Reputation and Stakeholder Engagement: Consumers, investors, and employees increasingly expect businesses to demonstrate environmental stewardship and social responsibility. Integrating carbon considerations into decision-making processes can enhance corporate reputation, attract environmentally conscious customers, and foster employee engagement and loyalty.

Regulatory Compliance and Risk Mitigation: Governments worldwide are enacting regulations and implementing carbon pricing mechanisms to incentivize emissions reduction. By proactively addressing carbon emissions in IT infrastructure, businesses can ensure compliance with existing and future environmental regulations, thus avoiding potential penalties and reputational damage.

Practical Strategies for Carbon-Aware IT Infrastructure

To integrate carbon considerations into decision-making for IT infrastructure, IT decision-makers can adopt the following strategies:

Regroup Containers: Optimize containerization operations to improve resource utilization and reduce carbon emissions. By regrouping containers and consolidating workloads, businesses can minimize the number of instances running on cloud infrastructure, leading to energy savings and reduced carbon emissions.

Remove Heavy Carbon-Emitting Instances: Identify and decommission instances that consume excessive energy or rely on carbon-intensive resources. Replace these instances with more energy-efficient alternatives, and optimize workload placement to utilize resources more effectively.  Include carbon emissions of instances in your operational decision-making.

Energy Efficiency Measures: Implementing energy-efficient hardware, optimizing server utilization through virtualization and consolidation, and adopting advanced cooling technologies, improving data center PUE, can significantly reduce electricity consumption and carbon emissions.

Renewable Energy Sourcing: Transitioning to renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, or hydroelectric power, can decarbonize IT operations and demonstrate a commitment to clean energy.

Carbon Accounting and Reporting: Implementing robust IT carbon accounting methodologies and reporting frameworks enables businesses to track, measure, and transparently communicate their carbon emissions associated with IT infrastructure.

Move Regions: Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) operate data centers in multiple regions worldwide. By choosing regions powered by renewable energy sources or located in regions with lower carbon intensity grids, businesses can reduce the carbon footprint of their cloud operations.

Lifecycle Management: Proper disposal and recycling of end-of-life IT equipment can minimize electronic waste and associated carbon emissions. Additionally, extending the lifespan of hardware through upgrades and refurbishment reduces the environmental impact of manufacturing new devices.

Select Sustainable CSPs: Evaluate CSPs based on their actual carbon emissions, their commitment to sustainability and carbon reduction initiatives. Choose providers that prioritize energy efficiency, renewable energy sourcing, and carbon offsetting strategies in their operations.


In conclusion, integrating carbon emission considerations into decision-making processes for IT infrastructure is not only ethically and environmentally responsible but also economically prudent and strategically advantageous. By prioritizing carbon emissions optimization and reduction initiatives, businesses can mitigate their environmental impact, drive cost savings, ensure regulatory compliance, enhance reputation, foster innovation, and maintain a competitive edge in an increasingly sustainability-focused marketplace. Embracing carbon-aware IT decision-making is not just a choice; it's a strategic imperative for a sustainable future.

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