Sustainability In Tech: How Sustainable Tech Practices Are Shaping The Industry

Trees growing by large office blocks to represent the topic of sustainability in tech

The Glasgow Climate Pact was signed by 200 countries at COP26 in 2021. In this pact, the UK agreed to a target of reducing all gas emissions by at least 68% by 2030. Key players in the UK economy are under pressure to support this movement, and the IT industry acknowledges the part sustainability in tech has to play in this.

Tech development is a wonderful thing that can drive forward progress, positively impacting every individual in their normal lives. However, the relationship between the development of the tech ecosystem and sustainability has become increasingly tricky to navigate in recent years, as new tech developments struggle to limit their negative environmental impact.

With challenges around energy and water consumption, and e-waste directly associated with our tech ecosystem, recent innovations within the industry reflect the growing importance of sustainability in tech. The pursuit of innovative solutions to reduce the tech sector’s impact on the environment and mitigate the issues it has already caused is of the utmost importance to many stakeholders, as our connected world becomes increasingly dependent on technology.

What does sustainability in tech mean?

Sustainable tech is a range of innovative solutions and practices to reduce the negative environmental impact that is caused by the tech industry. Sustainable tech can work in two different ways. Eco-friendly technology can be created with the purpose of offsetting or eradicating the carbon footprint of an existing practice or entity. The term also covers products that have been manufactured using sustainable materials or processes. The purpose of sustainable technology solutions is to reduce or eliminate industrial emissions that are causing climate change.

The relationship between the technology sector and sustainability

The tech sector has rarely put sustainability at the core of product creation. As explored by Nick Voulvolis, professor of Environmental Technology at Imperial College London, “Tech innovation has been happening at an unprecedented rate and scale … it has historically been driven by commercial objectives, without really targeting the broader sustainability challenges we face.”

However, the tide is now turning in society with increasing pressure on businesses to make a more positive impact on their communities and the environment. As is being reflected through the use of the “green pound”, more than 1/3 of people would take a company’s social and environmental sustainability into consideration when choosing whether to buy products.

As public reaction to the growing climate crisis intensifies and governments tighten company regulations, businesses are more pressured to invest in sustainability. A business choosing to make environmental commitments is no longer simply a PR move, but a smart and essential decision. This is mirrored in a study by Gartner, which found that there has been a 292% increase in CEOs citing sustainability in tech as a strategic business priority.

Why is sustainability in tech important?

It is estimated that by 2030, core applications, devices and activities associated with Information Technology will account for 10% of the world’s electricity consumption. Additionally, collectively they will be responsible for 6% of global carbon emissions. Shockingly, this percentage of global carbon emissions is comparable to the aviation industry.

With projections forecasting IT related emissions to grow by 30% annually, current efforts to address these issues are simply not enough. Much more needs to be done to make the tech sector sustainable.

Issues facing sustainability in tech

For the tech industry to become more sustainable, there are a number of areas that need rapid improvement to ensure the industry lessens its impact on the environment.

The main environmental waste produced by the tech industry include:

  • E-waste

This refers to discarded electronic appliances that are toxic to the environment and non-biodegradable. Without the recycling or reuse of these appliances, they can create significant harm to the environment. Interestingly, just 17% of E-waste is currently recycled.

  • Energy consumption

Vast levels of energy are needed to power technology on a daily basis. In fact, approximately 1% of global energy usage is spent on day-to-day Internet infrastructure operations alone. Additionally, due to the high reliance on fossil fuels for large proportions of our energy, the tech industry has a large carbon footprint.

  • Water consumption

The manufacturing of electronic devices and the cooling of data centres, leads to the consumption of large quantities of water every day. Data centres with thousands of servers use up to 19 million litres of water per day. This can lead to shortages and have severe consequences for ecosystems and the local community.

Technology innovators must grapple with these obstacles, for tech to be more eco-friendly. Below are some of the innovative sustainable tech practices that are playing a part in addressing the high environmental impact of tech.

Some of the ways sustainable tech practices are shaping the future

All is not lost. Companies within the tech industry are using revolutionary and innovative ways to lessen their environmental impact and their overreliance on fossil fuels and natural resources. These steps should significantly reduce emissions from the industry that are causing such severe environmental issues. Although, this would be reliant on large scale adoption from the industry.

The most important sustainable tech practices that are combatting the increasing climate crisis include:

  • Using renewable energy

One of the biggest components in improving the levels of sustainability in tech includes the tech sector becoming increasingly reliant on renewable energy. With such a high reliance on fossil fuels, this could be revolutionary. Using clean and renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, wind turbines, and hydropower allows companies to continue to use the latest technology without the high environmental impact.

Whilst the UK government is planning for 30-45% of the UK energy to be from renewable sources by 2030, implementing renewable measures is one way businesses can improve their carbon footprint sooner.

  • Adopting a circular model

For many companies the circular model will be a large part of their sustainable tech solution. This model encourages material technology that can be reused, repaired, recycled, or refurbished. This will decrease the demand for raw materials. Whilst, nowadays, we often think of tech in terms of the non-physical internet, AI and other entities you cannot touch, fast-developing tech has meant new products such as laptops, phones, hardware, and devices keep being made and then discarded to catch up with advancements in tech. This creates a strain on materials, such as metal and plastic.

Additionally, by reusing, repairing, and recycling, companies can “take back” physical devices and reuse their material for new products.

  • Creating green data centres

The demand for data centres has risen quickly in recent years, due to the surge in companies looking to digitalisation to keep up with the modern inter-connected world. Data centres use large amounts of water to cool hardware, as well as consuming significant amounts of power and producing substantial quantities of electronic waste while they upgrade or replace old hardware.

Green data centres are a sustainable tech solution which involve the use of renewable energy, the recycling of electronic waste, and optimisation of the water cooling process. Green data centres are a good option to explore for companies wanting to increase their sustainability in the tech they use and limit their carbon emissions across their operations and tech suppliers.


There will need to be a significant push by the industry to support sustainability in tech over the next few years and decades, to adequately combat the issues that are created by technology. However, with a heightened focus on environmental issues by the government, consumers and industry leaders, let’s hope enough changes will be made.


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