Compute responsibly: Yet another IT industry sustainability drive

From greener datacenters to data transparency and 'conscious code', IBM, Dell, others push for better IT ops

IBM and Dell are the founding members of a new initiative to promote sustainable development in IT by providing a framework of responsible corporate policies for organizations to follow.

Responsible Computing is described as a membership consortium for technology organizations that aims to get members to sign up to responsible values in key areas relating to infrastructure, code development, and social impact. The program is also operating under the oversight of the Object Management Group.

According to Object Management Group CEO Bill Hoffman, also the CEO of Responsible Computing, the new initiative aims to "shift thinking and, ultimately behavior" within the IT industry and therefore "bring about real change", based around a manifesto that lays out six domains the program has identified for responsible computing.

"We've made our manifesto and framework freely available, and we've asked every RC member to implement RC principles. Our goal is that someday every IT professional will adhere to RC principles," Hoffman said in a statement.

One of those six domains naturally concerns datacenters, and states that these should be designed and operated with a focus on efficiency and sustainability. This includes using green energy and improving the handling and disposal of chemicals, toxic materials, and rare metals.

The organization also calls for efficient use of available and future technology, which seems to be a little repetitive, while inclusive systems is a pledge to address bias and discrimination by driving equality for all, giving as an example the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for transparency, which may raise an eyebrow among those familiar with the issues of bias that repeatedly creep into such models.

One of the other domain areas focuses on "conscious code choices" to emphasize environmental, social, and economic impacts, which sounds laudable but may be difficult to implement unless there are metrics which developers can work towards.

The other areas focus on data, or the safe use of it to drive transparency, fairness, and privacy; and finally technologies and innovations to deliver a positive impact on society at large, such as building to improve human conditions and mitigate social risk.

According to the Responsible Computing website, organizations signing up to the manifesto will be taking "a leadership position as a responsible pacesetter", and will gain a seat at the table alongside advocates and experts for implementing sustainable development goals for the whole planet.

By signing up, organizations will be publicly committing themselves to the principles of responsible computing, and their progress toward these commitments will be tracked by the Responsible Computing organization, which will provide support including the framework, guidance, and resources for each of the six domains.

As a founding member, IBM said it hopes to help other companies to establish new ways to transform their business operations.

"Now is the time for companies to adopt a holistic approach that places sustainability strategy at the center of their business," said the global lead for IBM Consulting Sustainability Services, Sheri Hinish. Meanwhile, Dell hinted that organizations may actually profit by signing up for Responsible Computing.

"In addition to being socially and environmentally responsible, we also expect that RC members will see improved go-to-market solutions, strategies and bottom-line results by following RC principles," said Dell Technologies CTO for EMEA, Marc O'Regan.

As highlighted by the US Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week, carbon dioxide is now more than 50 percent higher than pre-industrial levels. NOAA said levels observed at its Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory peaked for 2022 at 421 parts per million in May, "pushing the atmosphere further into territory not seen for millions of years."


However, getting organizations to sign up may not be easy: Amazon investors recently voted down a raft of proposals that sought to address sustainability and improved working conditions for employees, among other issues.

Then there is the question of whether signing up for Responsible Computing may simply be a box-ticking exercise for companies seeking to improve their public image.

It is still early days for the Responsible Computing program, and even industry analysts are waiting to see how things may develop.

"This is a topic that is still like the Wild West, as the standards for defining and measuring it are still evolving," said Roy Illsley, chief analyst at Omdia, "To me this sounds like an approach by two large tech vendors to get some momentum behind the issue."

So far, Responsible Computing only comprises a handful of members. Apart from IBM and Dell, the website lists the UK's Chartered Institute for IT (BCS), the University of Edinburgh, Purdue University in the US, Slingshot Simulations, and research outfit Transforma Insights.

The BCS itself issued rsearch last year that called on tech companies to slow the cadence of product release cycles and called on legislators to make it easier for users and corporations to repair the technology they own. ®

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