Sustainable IT: A Pathway to a Greener Future


In this whitepaper, we delve into the critical intersection of technology and sustainability, driven by the urgent need for organizations to adopt sustainable IT practices. At the heart of our exploration lies the introduction of our comprehensive framework for sustainable IT. This framework encompasses ten essential topics that guide responsible practices aimed at reducing environmental footprints, fostering social equity, and enhancing overall sustainability efforts. We will help you to reflect on your current situation, covering the challenge of balancing key considerations, the inevitable integration of AI, the legal landscape your company will face, and levers to raise awareness among your employees.

The urgency of addressing climate change is more pressing than ever. Our planet is undergoing unprecedented transformations, with rising temperatures, extreme weather events, and shrinking natural resources. On the other hand, the global digital divide is on the rise creating a growing gap between the tech-savvy and those who have limited or no access to technology, exacerbating social inequality. Often overlooked, the IT sector contributes significantly to these changes, both environmentally and socially

Data centres, for instance, consume vast amounts of water, with some large facilities using millions of gallons per day, impacting local populations and ecosystems. Additionally, the extraction of raw materials for electronics manufacturing also has severe human and ecological consequences. For example, cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been linked to child labour and dangerous working conditions, while rare earth metal extraction often leads to soil and water contamination, threatening biodiversity. 

Socially speaking, the digital divide is evident. In Belgium, 46% of the population is not fully autonomous in using digital technologies. This gap underscores significant disparities in digital literacy and access, affecting the ability of many to participate in the increasingly digital world. These disparities can exacerbate social inequalities, limiting opportunities for education, employment, and social inclusion for those who are digitally excluded. Addressing this digital divide is critical to ensuring that the benefits of technology are equitably distributed and that all individuals have the opportunity to engage fully in the digital economy

Sustainable IT: an essential component of the solution

What is Sustainable IT?

Sustainable IT is structured around four main pillars: Green IT, IT for Green, Human IT, and IT for Human. Each pillar addresses different facets of responsible IT practices, aiming to reduce environmental impact, promote social responsibility, and enhance overall sustainability.

  • Green IT focuses on minimizing the environmental footprint of IT operations, such as reducing energy consumption and waste.
  • IT for Green leverages technology to support environmental sustainability efforts, like using IT solutions to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.
  • Human IT ensures that digital technologies are accessible and equitable, promoting digital inclusion and well-being.
  • IT for Human emphasizes the human-centric applications of technology, aiming to save lives or improve our general quality of life.

Our comprehensive framework to structure your approach

Based on the above four pillars we have developed our own framework to guide organizations in their sustainable transition. We identified various action axes for a more responsible digital approach. In these axes, actions can be taken at company or individual level:

  • Data centres: Data centres are major consumers of energy and water. Transitioning to energy-efficient data centres involves using renewable energy sources, optimizing cooling systems, and implementing energy management practices.
  • Digital services, Business apps and Software: Optimizing digital services, apps and software can reduce energy consumption. This includes incorporating eco-design principles, optimizing code, and using cloud services that prioritize sustainability. Actions can also include building more accessible and inclusive websites and applications.
  • Governance: Establishing strong governance frameworks is essential for driving sustainable IT practices. This includes defining a clear strategy, implementing a team, setting measurable goals, ensuring compliance with regulations, and regularly reviewing sustainability policies.
  • Lifespan & end-of-life of equipment: Managing the lifespan and end-of-life of IT equipment involves planning for reuse, recycling, and proper disposal. Partnering with certified e-waste recyclers or donating your equipment to good wills for refurbishment are actions companies or individuals can take. 
  • Responsible purchasing: Selecting IT equipment and services based on their environmental and social impacts is crucial. This includes choosing products with certifications and ensuring suppliers adhere to ethical labour practices.
  • Digital well-being: Promoting digital well-being involves implementing policies that encourage healthy digital habits, such as the right to disconnect outside office hours, limiting screen time, and supporting mental health resources.
  • Printing: Reducing the environmental impact of printing involves adopting paperless solutions, using recycled paper, and selecting energy-efficient printers. Encouraging double-sided printing, setting default low-resolution print settings, and monitoring print usage can also contribute to more sustainable printing practices.
  • Data usage: Efficient data usage involves minimizing unnecessary data storage and transmission. Implementing data management policies, conducting regular audits, and utilizing edge computing can optimize data usage.
  • Equipment usage: Maximizing equipment usage involves extending the life of IT devices through regular maintenance and upgrades, encouraging shared use of resources, and optimizing device settings for energy efficiency. Encouraging employees to use equipment responsibly and providing training on best practices can also contribute to more sustainable equipment usage.

How to get started in your organization?

You can’t solve what you don’t measure 

One of the initial steps for a company is to measure its digital impact to identify areas for improvement. This involves calculating the environmental footprint across the four stages of the lifecycle: extraction and manufacturing, transport and distribution, usage, and end-of-life. 

However, this task is often challenging due to the lack of comprehensive data on the global digital carbon footprint, the complexity of (cloud) data management and quickly outdated methodologies. Additionally, a strong interdependence between supplier and user data complexifies the full calculation: the supplier needs data from the user such as time of use, device on which software is used, energy mix at usage location, and so on. On the other hand, the user needs supplier’s data for his calculation, such as software building principles.

Tools like carbon calculators, sustainability assessment frameworks, and collaboration with external experts can help overcome these challenges by providing more accurate and up-to-date measurements.

Balancing key dimensions

Companies need to remain pragmatic and realistic, balancing four key dimensions: sustainability, business functionality, cost optimization and cybersecurity.

Prioritizing decisions that favour all four dimensions is essential for sustainable growth, involving growth while respecting both environmental and society. For instance, keeping unused data stored means increased risks for your cybersecurity (the safest data is the one you don’t have), also means additional storage costs and of course the associate environmental impact of data storage. On the other hand, these 4 dimensions sometimes go in different directions: cybersecurity technologies have a cost, have an environmental impact, and may constraint the business functionalities you hoped for; however, it is sometimes a necessary choice for your business.

Establishing cross-functional teams to evaluate and make such decisions ensures that no dimension is overlooked, fostering a holistic approach to sustainable IT.

Addressing the elephant in the room: staying ahead with AI

Given its significant energy consumption and potential environmental impact, AI's growing presence in companies cannot be ignored. The energy required for training and deploying AI models is substantial, with some large-scale models consuming as much energy as hundreds of households.

Integrating best practices during both the development and use of AI is essential for sustainable IT practices. For those developing AI, this includes setting standards for energy-efficient model training and deployment, encouraging the use of pre-trained models when possible, and promoting the development of lighter, more efficient algorithms. Best practices for AI development should also be promoted, such as optimizing code for efficiency and selecting appropriate hardware that balances performance with energy consumption.

All companies must establish clear guidelines for AI use. Employees and stakeholders should be educated about the environmental impact of AI technologies, helping to foster a culture of sustainability. This can be achieved through training sessions, workshops, and internal communications that highlight the importance of relevant and efficient AI practices. Additionally, establishing a robust security framework is essential. Employees using AI without proper guidelines risk disclosing sensitive data to the algorithms that power AI, potentially leading to data breaches and privacy violations. Ensuring that all AI usage complies with strict data governance policies can mitigate these risks.

Effective data and architecture management from the outset can optimize resource consumption and reduce the carbon footprint. This involves designing data architectures that minimize redundancy and improve data processing efficiency. Implementing strategies such as data compression, efficient storage solutions, and regular data audits can significantly lower energy usage. Additionally, leveraging cloud services that prioritize sustainability, such as those powered by renewable energy sources, can further reduce the environmental impact of AI operations. Moreover, robust data governance is crucial in this context. Ensuring data quality, accuracy, and accessibility not only enhances decision-making but also streamlines operations, reducing unnecessary computational workload. Data governance frameworks can help manage the lifecycle of data, ensuring that only relevant and high-quality data are processed and stored, thereby conserving energy and resources.

Anticipating the legal landscape

Legislation is increasingly pushing companies to integrate sustainable practices into their IT operations. Regulations such as the European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESPR), which require companies to disclose their environmental and social impacts, or the Accessibility Act, which mandates digital accessibility for all, are making it clear that sustainable IT is not just a choice but a necessity. The upcoming AI Act, which will set new standards for the development and deployment of AI technologies, further underscores the need for responsible and sustainable IT practices. These legislative measures should drive companies to take action.

Start small, act fast

Every department within a company plays a role in fostering sustainable IT. For instance, marketing teams can optimize the use of data or audiovisual content to enhance visibility, purchasing departments should handle tenders with sustainability in mind, and HR teams are in the role to act on digital well-being. Employees awareness and guidance on sustainable IT practices are essential, necessitating robust change management to effectively integrate these best practices.

Concrete actions that companies can take include participating in Digital CleanUp Week (DCUW), which provides an excellent opportunity to raise awareness and implement long-term best practices among employees. Hosting inspirational awareness sessions during DCUW can ignite a culture of sustainability and encourage new habits.

Furthermore, initiatives like collecting and recycling old hardware can significantly reduce electronic waste. Implementing policies such as mandatory power-saving settings on devices, reducing unnecessary printing, and promoting the use of energy-efficient equipment are practical steps that further sustainable IT initiatives.


Sustainable IT is not just a necessity but a responsibility in our digital society. As technologies continue to drive innovation, it's crucial to embrace these advancements consciously and responsibly. Integrating sustainable IT practices into your business strategy must become ingrained in the DNA of your organization—a new way of operating that considers both environmental impact and social responsibility.

Involving and continuously training your employees is essential. They play a pivotal role in implementing and maintaining sustainable IT practices. Don’t wait for regulations to catch up; start now by reviewing your hardware inventory and assessing the architecture of your software systems. 

By committing to sustainable IT, companies not only mitigate their impact on the environment but also position themselves as leaders in responsible innovation. This approach benefits the planet but also enhances brand reputation and attracts socially conscious customers and employees. Let's move forward together towards a future where technology and sustainability go hand in hand for the greater good.

About the authors

We make you rapidly aware of the Sustainability topics and the business value it brings for you and your company. 
We translate this towards a concrete strategy, roadmap and action plan, in accordance to your level of ambition. And, last but not least, we assist you to make it land within your organisation with the right project and change management.

​Want to find out more? Let’s talk ! 
Reach out & contact Amandine or Lisa 

Amandine Lange, Lisa Legrand 25 June 2024
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