Transforming the way we work
Shifting what work looks like could bring huge benefits to our wellbeing and our planet
Home » Transforming the way we work
Published: 16 September 2020
This Article was Written by: Justin Sutton-Parker - Computer Science PhD Researcher MBA, Sustainability and Leadership
This article first appeared in our I.T. special issue of of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 16 September 2020. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
2020 is the year the entire world stopped.
A global pandemic brought manmade disruptions to a halt, allowing the planet’s cycles to return to their natural rhythm.
We were able to hear the outdoors clearer and louder than ever. We saw dolphins and other marine life in Venetian canals. While we quarantined indoors, feral goats ventured down mountains and sat on city walls.
2020 was the year wildlife reclaimed the lands we had slowly taken away.
A cleaner, quieter life
As wildlife got a break from human impact, some cities cut their pollution in half. In the northern Indian state of Punjab, residents saw the Himalayan mountains for the first time in decades. Residents of overly polluted cities experienced clearer skies and were able to breathe clean air.
As the air and water became cleaner, the Earth also got quieter. A study by Imperial College London revealed that between March and May 2020, global levels of seismic activity dropped by an average of 50%. This resulted in the longest and most pronounced quiet period of seismic noise in recorded history.
Humans and climate change
Global lockdown revealed how human activity impacts global warming and drives climate change.
Increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs)cause global warming. When these molecules trap heat and radiate warmth back to the Earth’s surface, the heat no longer dissipates back into space as it would under normal conditions. This trapped heat then creates climate change via rising temperatures.
Research shows that human interference has already caused 1.0°C global warming above pre-industrial levels. Today, human activity creates 53.5 billion tonnes of CO2 annually.
As we continue to expand and grow, scientists suggests the increase will reach 1.5°C by 2052 and 2°C by the end of the century.
This will lead to a 59% loss of coral reefs by 2060 and by 2080 we will see global flooding and drought.
If we don’t act fast, sea levels will rise 0.77m by 2100 as polar ice melts and oceans experience thermal expansion. Rising seas will submerge substantial landmass in low-lying areas, meaning hundreds of coastal cities will be vulnerable to flooding.
Threats to biodiversity
Terrestrial biodiversity and ecosystems will also be damaged, causing species loss and the extinction of an average of 6% of insects, plants and vertebrates.
According to the United Nations, around one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades. That’s more than ever before in human history.
As we have seen in recent headlines, nature is declining at an unprecedented rate. These extinctions will have grave impacts on people around the globe. ‘The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture’, said Sir Robert Watson, IPBES chair. ‘The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.’
Aquatic marine life is also under threat. The acidification of aquatic ecosystems will disrupt marine catches by 1.5 million tonnes due to the depletion of fish populations.
Humans will also see an increase of heat-related morbidity and mortality in addition to seeing an increase in pandemics such as Covid-19.
Emissions from I.T.
Human activity, the primary source of global warming, includes electricity, heat production and other energy (35%); agriculture, forestry and other land uses (24%); industry (21%); transportation (14%) and buildings (6%).
Information technology (I.T.) is a major energy consumer, using over 10% of all business electricity, while employee commute is responsible for 27% of miles travelled. Combined, it’s estimated that I.T. and commuting contribute to over 5% of global carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane emissions.
Electricity in I.T. – driven by devices, networking and data centres – contributes to 2.3% of global emissions. Commuting accounts for 2.8% of global emissions, producing 2.7 billion tonnes of annual global greenhouse pollution – equivalent to 573 million vehicles.
Removing that pollution from our atmosphere would require 3.2 billion acres of forest – an area roughly the size of Canada and Greenland combined.
Supporting the SDGs
We must act now. The I.T. sector is being urged to adopt sustainable strategies to reduce environmental impact with technology that enables business innovation while at the same time reducing the impact of work on the world.
For software company Citrix, this is a priority that represents an opportunity to drive momentum by aligning to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Citrix believes that it supports nine of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by reducing pollution and supporting work-life balance; improving productivity and extending product lifespan; reducing car commuting and energy consumption; reducing information and communication technology’s impact on the Earth’s ecosystems and partnering with customers and alliances to build solutions to help reduce I.T.’s impact on the environment.
‘The effective use of digital technology is a core capability at the heart of the defence and we are seeing an exponential rise in our ability to manage and exploit data in all parts of our military and business operations. This means we are continually upgrading and modernising our technology base and we are increasingly doing this in a way that is sensitive to our carbon footprint. For example, during the pandemic we have expanded our remote working capability enabling defence personnel to work safely and productively from home and helped to reduce emissions from travel; we estimate we have saved 3.5m kg CO2 emissions per month, the equivalent of charging half a billion smartphones.’
GENERAL TOM COPINGER-SYMES
Director of military digitisation, Ministry of Defence
Solutions for business
What if there were solutions that didn’t just focus on the wellbeing of the employee, but also began to look at strategies and solutions that can mitigate climate change?
In his PhD research, Justin Sutton-Parker of Citrix has outlined four strategies that organisations can adopt to help reduce their annual global greenhouse emissions to a level that would be equal to planting 67 million acres of forest.
These solutions allow organisations to enable the use of low-energy devices, reduce employee commuting by enabling remote working, reduce global greenhouse emissions from data centres by moving to the cloud and extend the lifecycle of electronic devices.
While organisations can procure low-energy devices such as Chrome books, users can launch virtual desktop solutions with the same look and feel of a locally installed desktop. Selecting a vendor that offers cloud choice, holistic security and digital workspace allows organisations to encourage the use of low-energy devices without risking security or employee experience.
End-user devices contribute to 35% of I.T.’s total global greenhouse emissions, of which 80% are created during the end-use phase. This is due to the electricity consumed during the device’s lifetime. Allowing the selection of devices with low total energy consumption is vital to lowering organisational carbon footprints and achieving sustainability goals.
To help an organisation enable low-energy devices, Citrix offers solutions such as virtual apps and desktops, providing high performance irrespective of the endpoint device. This means low-energy devices can be selected regardless of their operating system, and organisations can reduce end-user computing device emissions by 90% annually.
Remote work is a critical part of sustainability; transportation is responsible for 14% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, with cars contributing 72% of this total.
Commuting is at the heart of the transport pollution issue. By reducing the frequency of employees’ commutes, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by 40%.
Adopting a truly flexible workstyle policy would enable employees to work from home, or walk or cycle to an alternative local environment, such as a coffee shop. This flexibility without restriction empowers organisations to create a truly sustainable workstyle policy designed to reduce employee commuting and lower environmental impact. As well as helping to reduce the impact on the environment, this approach could bring huge benefits to employees’ work-life balance.
Carbon Trust reports that 66% of people feel positive about an organisation that can demonstrate it is reducing its carbon footprint. Organisations can improve engagement by enabling employees to choose the device that suits their environmental values. Enabling free device choice and flexible or remote working also improves employee retention by improving their experience and work-life balance.
Reducing data centre emissions and moving to cloud services is one way an organisation can reduce its carbon footprint. 3% of global electricity is consumed by the world’s 8 million data centres, which produce over 290m tCO2e emissions annually. Adopting data centre solutions with zero carbon impact is an essential element of achieving sustainability.
Citrix technologies transform how people work, and represent the future of work. The combination of Citrix workspace, networking and analytics allows employees to work securely and effectively from any location.
Citrix offers cloud services that simplify the delivery and management of Citrix technologies, enabling the extension of existing on-premises locations or moving 100% to the cloud.
Lastly, extending the device lifecycle can reduce electronic waste and allow an organisation to create a truly sustainable model in I.T.
50 million tonnes of electronic waste (‘e-waste’) are produced annually, yet only 20% is recycled through formal channels. Extending the lifespan of a device tackles the issue of e-waste by spreading the environmental impact across five years (instead of three years), as procurement, recycling and re-purposing processes are ‘pushed out’ by two years.
Through virtualisation, devices can enjoy a longer useful lifespan as they continue to offer the user a great experience and help create truly sustainable procurement policies.
I.T. can play a major role in enabling organisations to become more sustainable through solutions such as the use of low end-point devices, remote work policies, moving to the cloud and extending the lifecycle of our devices.
This will help to improve not only the future of how people work but also the wellbeing of our planet.
Innovation at work
Imagine what the world could look like by 2050 if we tap into technologies that enable sustainable strategies. Imagine what the world could look like if we made lifestyle changes that focused on the wellbeing of the planet. Imagine how revolutionary we can be as we shift what work looks like – what a work-life balance looks like.
Imagine creating truly circular economies, allowing not just nature but also humanity to thrive. Imagine being able to work in green spaces, no longer sitting in rush hour for two to three hours.
Imagine being able to step into your garden during the day. Imagine breaking early in the day to go for a swim in waters that are clear and clean, or if you’re in the city being able to breathe in clean air and sift through urban sounds without the constant distraction of vehicle horns.
Imagine what 2050 would look like if we make sustainability a top priority in all that we do.
The future of our existence relies on our need to be innovative and flexible. This year taught us all to pause and focus on what truly matters.