As business leaders feel the pressure to meet increasingly ambitious sustainability goals, they must take a thorough approach to reviewing and measuring areas for improvement. A silent obstacle to these goals lies in organizations’ data management strategies.
While IT may not be top of mind for leaders managing sustainability initiatives, they must consider the environmental impact of their IT and other technology practices. The volume of data stored in the cloud is growing exponentially and it directly contributes to massive carbon emissions and increasingly the size of corporate carbon footprints.
To combat this, business leaders must make sustainability-minded data management strategies a priority by combining innovation with education and addressing Scope 3 reductions throughout the value chain.
Mindful Data Management Makes an Impact
The amount of data stored by an organization has direct ties to carbon emissions due to the energy produced by data centers. Companies harbor large amounts of redundant and outdated information.
The first step to reducing emissions related to this data, therefore, is to implement data minimization policies to reduce the amount of unnecessary data. This can include narrower data collection and better data visibility combined with deletion, archiving, and deduplication processes.
Deleting duplicate and unneeded data simultaneously reduces the company’s attack surface and its data-related energy consumption, making it a win-win for the security team and the sustainability goals.
Companies should consider moving more data to the cloud where they can divide and conquer sustainability efforts with a cloud service provider. Moving data to a cloud provider with strong sustainability initiatives in place for their data centers relieves the need for the host organization to manage data-related sustainability on its own. This also frees companies from managing hardware lifecycle management and data center security, allowing them to focus solely on internal data management and protection.
Education Is Essential to Innovation
To ensure all departments within a company are aligned with sustainability goals and their relationship with data management, it is essential to educate employees on best practices to reduce unnecessary data. Employees must take ownership of correctly storing their day-to-day documents, and corporate policies should outline rules for archiving and deleting outdated information. To ensure the workforce is on the same page, hold regular trainings and share communications that explain good data hygiene practices and how these actions can directly impact sustainability efforts.
Organizations should also leverage AI for classifying data. AI works in tandem with IT employees to streamline data identification and classification. This is particularly important for dark data, or data that is unused and unknown across an organization and is therefore being stored and generating carbon emission without providing any business value.
Once properly classified, the data can be properly stored, deleted or achieved, depending on its value. AI can also support the deduplication of data to minimize redundant information and reduce the carbon output of an organization’s data storage.
Evaluate and Create Targets for Scope 3 Emissions Reduction
When organizations consider their carbon footprint, it is important to also take ownership of Scope 3 emissions, emissions that are not directly created by the company itself but by those the organization is indirectly responsible for up and down its value chain. In the context of data management, Scope 3 emissions include the carbon impact of the data centers where an organization stores its data.
Managing data internally with environmental impact in mind is just one part of the sustainability equation. Companies must evaluate the environmental practices of their partners and vendors to get an accurate assessment of their own environmental impact, align on sustainability goals, identify areas for improvement, and create and track targets.
Sustainable IT Practices Make Major Environmental Waves
Environmental goals must be ambitious to align with consumers’ sustainability values and prevent the reputational damage of greenwashing accusations. With the growing influence of AI, data is more important than ever to business success and the volume of data that companies use and manage will continue to grow exponentially.
This is a crucial moment for data management and sustainability. By establishing the right data management processes now and working with partners to reduce the carbon impact of data, organizations move a step closer to achieving ambitious sustainability goals and achieve lasting positive environmental impact.
Rags Srinivasan is Chief Sustainability Officer at Veritas Technologies.