By Brendan Walsh
It has become increasingly clear in the IT channel that sustainability is everyone’s responsibility. A pillar of the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals of many companies, sustainable IT can have a significant impact on the planet. For instance, research firm IDC recently estimated cloud computing could eliminate a billion metric tons of CO2 by the end of 2024. And with more VARs helping customers move infrastructure and applications to the cloud, their role in achieving lower global emissions is unmistakable.
Ultimately, experts at IDC expect sustainability efforts to permeate IT spending in the coming years, as CIOs rely more on the channel to meet ESG goals. In fact, IDC predicts that by 2024, 75 percent of digital infrastructure RFPs from Global 2000 companies will require vendors to prove progress on sustainability. Therefore, if they haven’t already, VARs should be making sustainability an integral component of their go-to-market strategy.
How VARs Can Help Customers Meet Sustainability Goals
Helping companies achieve their sustainability goals is a major business opportunity. So is understanding how the emissions of other companies affect your own and your customers’ emissions.
VARs, because of their unique, central position in the IT value chain, can significantly affect sustainability both upstream and downstream. In other words, VARs can commit to running their own businesses sustainably; influence sustainability among their suppliers; and help customers—many of which have already committed to net zero or reduced emissions—run their IT infrastructures more sustainably.
VARs can position themselves as customer partners in achieving greater sustainability in three main ways:
- Offer sustainable technology solutions
- Offer sustainability and ESG consulting services
- Offer sustainability and ESG data and analytics
As we know, IT itself is an energy consumer. Designing new systems or building data centers requires a conscious effort by VARs to reduce the energy used and the emissions released. Certainly, moving applications and infrastructure to the cloud and reducing the need for energy-consuming technology on premises is a good start, assuming the cloud provider is running sustainably.
But hardware isn’t going away completely. Offering a catalog of environmentally friendly products, such as those that are Energy Star, EPEAT, or TCO Certified, is now assumed for VARs. And when it comes to sustainable data center technology, many now know to think in terms of efficient cooling systems, such as liquid cooling; server virtualization and software-defined infrastructure, for improving utilization and minimizing the need for more physical systems; and even emerging models of high-performance computing, which can drastically reduce the time it takes to perform large-scale computing tasks and therefore reduce the overall energy required.
How to Be a Trusted Partner on the Journey to Sustainable IT
In addition to selling sustainable technology solutions, VARs are well positioned to consult with customers about their ESG goals, either through their own experts or a third-party partner. Start by understanding a customer’s current sustainability posture. What reports have they issued? What commitments have they made? What risks and opportunities exist? Who at the customer oversees ESG, and do they report directly to the C-suite or the board of directors?
Wherever a customer is on its ESG maturity journey, VARs can establish a baseline carbon footprint for IT systems, think through a net-zero target and how it might affect IT services, and help with any climate-related disclosure reports that the customer’s industry may require. Ultimately, a VAR’s customers have customers, so helping companies communicate their sustainability commitments—in this case sustainable IT operations—to a public interested in sustainable brands can be incredibly valuable.
Of course, proof is key. The sustainability movement is riddled with complaints about greenwashing—basically, companies misleading the public about their environmental records. But technology can fix this.
VARs know as well as anyone the potential of new Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, artificial intelligence (AI), and other technologies capable of generating real-world data about everything from a specific enterprise application’s energy consumption to waste in a supply chain. Supporting IT solution sales with ESG data and analysis not only helps customers run more sustainably, but also helps prove it. To this end, VARs should consider the solution offered at World Wide Technology: building a lab not only for testing and evaluating the capabilities of various technology solutions, but for benchmarking their environmental performance.
How to Expand Sustainability Efforts Up and Down the Chain
Beyond providing sustainable solutions and services, VARs must adopt and disclose their own ESG commitments, such as Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) reports or their own annual ESG statements, detailing everything from the carbon footprint of their facilities to the sustainability of their packing materials. As they position themselves as sustainable technology providers, VARs must operate sustainably themselves.
And critically, it’s important that VARs understand and influence the sustainability of their suppliers. As noted earlier, moving applications to the cloud can be a win for sustainability, provided the cloud itself runs sustainably. That’s no easy determination, and symptomatic of challenges VARs face when going to market with a sustainability message. Sure, the VAR may be a good steward of the environment and sell “green” certified solutions, but what do we know about the ESG commitments of its suppliers?
Other supply chains, such as food or fashion, face these same challenges. Supply chains are often complex, opaque, multinational entities, and gaining visibility into sustainability throughout a supply chain can be an equally complex—and relatively novel—endeavor. But technology providers, including VARs, should begin the process of documenting the ESG performance of their suppliers. This could include detailing the so-called “scope 3” emissions in their supply chains.
Scope 1 and 2 emissions are typically in direct control of the VAR—either emissions from their own facilities or emissions from the services used to run those facilities, like heating, cooling, and electricity. A VAR’s scope 3 emissions, sometimes called value-chain emissions, are basically the scope 1 and 2 emissions of their supply chain partners.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers detailed guidance for getting a handle on scope 3 emissions, and major tech companies, such as Microsoft and Salesforce, have zeroed in on scope 3 emissions as a key factor in their overall sustainability commitments. From their prominent position in the chain, these companies are able to work with their suppliers to set targets for reducing emissions and then pass along the value of that effort to their environmentally conscious customers. VARs should do similarly.
Sustainability Is a Business Imperative
After all, with each new flood and forest fire, we know the situation is serious. Earlier this year, Deloitte put a price tag on the deleterious costs of climate change, as well as the possible economic gains from doing everything we can to reduce emissions. Both were in the trillions of dollars.
For VARs, this isn’t just a business opportunity; it’s a business imperative. Committing to sustainable IT solutions can drive demand for green IT at a time when digital transformation remains at the forefront of most business strategies. And operating sustainably can promote positive change and environmental transparency throughout an all-important value chain.
When VARs lead with sustainability, everyone benefits.
Brendan Walsh is currently principal – ESG, for World Wide Technology (WWT), a global technology services provider with 8,000 employees. In this role he has responsibility for developing WWT’s ESG Offering, which includes sustainable technology solutions, ESG consulting services, and ESG Data and AI solutions (Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) – Services – WWT). For two years before joining WWT, he was managing partner of ESG Risk Guard, a consultancy he founded focused on providing ESG strategy and ESG risk management services to corporates. Prior to that he served as executive vice president for American Express in the United States.