Building a Sustainable Future: The Rising Importance of IT Sustainability

Deloitte’s John Mennel and Brett McCoy explore the growing push for green IT

By Evelyn Hoover

Building a Sustainable Future: The Rising Importance of IT Sustainability

Deloitte’s John Mennel and Brett McCoy explore the growing push for green IT

By Evelyn Hoover

Image created with Adobe Firefly

Organizations have reached the point where they must address IT sustainability not only to control costs but also to manage expectations from regulators, investors, customers and employees.

Gartner’s 2022 Sustainability Opportunities, Risks and Technologies Survey underscores the importance companies place on sustainability. According to the survey:



86% of business leaders see sustainability as an investment that protects their organization from disruption




Four out of five leaders see sustainability as helping their organization to optimize and reduce costs



83% say their sustainability program activities directly created both short- and long-term value for their organization

There are two important ways to define sustainability in IT, according to John Mennel, Sustainability Assets and Data Leader at Deloitte Consulting LLP. The first, and most important, is to provide the technology and data that will allow businesses to respond to the challenges and capture the opportunities, represented by the climate crisis and energy transition.
“The second is to manage and reduce the footprint of the IT organization, which is primarily driven by decisions related to sourcing of computer hardware, the energy efficiency of computing workloads, and the energy sources for cloud operations and data centers,” he concludes.
TechChannel interviewed Mennel and Brett McCoy, Cloud Leader, and Principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP, to learn more about the growing push for IT sustainability
TechChannel (TC): 

Could you define what sustainability in IT means, and why it's become a critical focus area for businesses today?

Brett McCoy (BM): 

As there’s an unprecedented climate crisis and growing pressure to confront issues of inequality and inequity, companies are faced with expectations from regulators and investors, and from customers and employees, to take meaningful action. While Chief Sustainability Officers and other leaders have spearheaded sustainability efforts in the past, CIO/CTOs are now also essential in meeting those goals.

  1. Identify
  2. Protect
  3. Detect
  4. Respond
  5. Recover

Data centers consume a significant amount of energy. What innovative approaches can be adopted to enhance energy efficiency in data centers?


The first step for enterprises to reduce their data center carbon footprint is a thorough evaluation of the resources contributing to carbon emissions. Apart from a data center’s location vis-à-vis climate conditions, other factors include the sources of electrical power (e.g., coal, solar), the efficiency of the data center design, and the total IT energy consumption by servers and networks.


To reduce their carbon emissions, enterprises can take measures such as improving the efficiency of their data centers across four pillars:

Infrastructure power

Identifying how data center infrastructure can be optimized to consume less power, without hindering necessary business operations. One of the most effective ways to pursue sustainability is through energy efficient infrastructure and optimized power consumption.

Cooling management

Cooling is paramount to keep data center equipment functional; hence, higher-efficiency cooling techniques such as liquid cooling and implementing newer technology within the existing one reduce the cooling burden.

IT efficiency

Focuses on a data center’s critical load optimization through assessment of server utilization. Gartner’s Phillip Dawson, VP Analyst, says that data center server utilization is often less than 50% and sometimes as low as 20%.

Software efficiency

While software is not a direct consumer of energy, it directs and influences the operation of computer hardware, which indirectly impacts the hardware’s energy consumption and hence carbon emissions.

John Mennel (JM):

Additionally, another approach is cloud migration. Companies that move from on-site data centers to the cloud report energy savings of 80%. Moving to the cloud, picking a provider that is committed to 24-7 renewable energy and a zero-carbon footprint, and adopting efficient migration approaches can be critical for CIOs to consider in meeting environmental sustainability goals.


Cloud seems to be the answer for many companies. However, don’t the servers where the clouds live consume energy? Can you explain how cloud can be considered “green IT”?

Cloud providers can offer an edge over the measures adopted by traditional and private data centers by following efficient design and operating principles that help companies when they move to cloud. Some ways in which hyperscalers can help enterprises reduce their carbon footprint include:
  • Consuming less energy by ensuring higher utilization rates from fewer servers
  • Achieving improved Power Usage Effectiveness (PUEs) by scale and efficient design
  • Building data centers that take advantage of natural environmental conditions to reduce the need for unsustainable power generation
  • Enabling cost guarantees by partnering with green energy suppliers
E-waste is a growing concern globally.  
Do you have any tips for companies to help minimize their e-waste?

You’re right. E-waste is a huge and growing problem. As the demand for data collection and computation grows, millions of servers will reach end-of-life every year, generating an additional 967 tons of e-waste–and only approximately 20% of that will be recycled. An astounding 84% of companies surveyed by Deloitte believe they lack an effective IT Asset Management strategy for their organization.


Many large companies already have IT asset disposition processes and/or partners in place to ensure company data is properly erased when hardware is decommissioned. Baselining sustainability and e-waste metrics and setting targets to improve is a good first step that many companies can take. Circular business models are also an important way that companies are addressing E-waste. Some major hardware OEMs provide discounts and credits when their customers return old equipment.


What metrics or KPIs does Deloitte recommend organizations use to measure and report on their IT sustainability performance?

IT sustainability is nuanced, but measuring performance does not have to be. Deloitte frequently utilizes a crawl, walk, run approach to ensure that KPIs grow and evolve as your organization grows in its IT sustainability journey. An example of an IT sustainability journey may look like this:

PIs focus on stakeholder engagement by creating a baseline, accurate measurement of carbon, energy and water consumed; setting goals and identifying your IT sustainability champions


KPIs build from the baseline to focus on measuring performance over time against your goals, identifying areas for optimization and reporting the data on a frequent basis to keep stakeholders engaged and sustainability top of mind


KPIs transform to support innovation. Typically, they support trying to “get the last squeeze” from optimization. The measurements and data are trusted and reliable, allowing for unit economics calculations such as “carbon spend per transaction” or “carbon spend per customer served.”

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Sustainability requires an understanding of how carbon, waste and water “flow through” your operations, supply chain, distribution and customer base. That data needs to have three properties. It must be:
  1. High quality and well governed, the same as your financial data.
  2. Granular, down to the product and facility level.
  3. Timely–down to a useful business planning interval like monthly or weekly, or even more frequent.
Organizations will find that once you get started, access to this data will present all kinds of opportunities to manage the business better and more efficiently and develop new products and services. Although the effort may start with compliance, the value is in improving the business, and the CIO is an indispensable partner in achieving that value.

What emerging technologies or innovations do you see as game-changers for enhancing sustainability in IT operations?


It’s crucial to acknowledge that the integration of sustainability and climate technologies is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s important to focus on what’s critical to the business. That said, there are several critical emerging technologies such as connected IoT and sensors that help gather data on the physical world; AI and generative AI, which are proving to be critical in many areas including cleansing data and improving product and process design; and blockchain and related technologies that are helping with chain of custody for applications like digital carbon passport.


What are the biggest challenges or barriers companies face in achieving IT sustainability, and how can companies overcome them?


Two issues stand out:

  1. Data availability and data quality. Many businesses just don’t have good data on environmental factors and the systems are not mature.
  2. Actionable analytics for economic planning. The technologies and economics are changing so fast that businesses need to continually update and optimize plans in order to ensure they are deploying capital effectively, maximizing returns and minimizing risks.

Sustainability performance solutions are critical tools to address these challenges because it provides leaders with a clear picture of their roadmap to achieve net-zero targets and gain the insights they need to make informed investment decisions.

Brett McCoy
Deloitte Consulting
Brett McCoy is the Cloud Banking leader with Deloitte Consulting, having deep experience with helping banking and payment organizations scale their cloud strategy. Brett also leads Cloud Suitability within Deloitte Engineering group.
John Mennel
John Mennel is the Data and Assets Leader in Deloitte’s Sustainability, Climate & Equity practice. He leads a cross-business team, which is developing technology- and analytics-enabled tools to help companies and investors set and implement decarbonization plans, commercialize abatements and understand climate-related risks.
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