We polled thousands of IT pros – and sustainability just ain't a priority right now

The planet can wait, pal, we've got other problems

Survey results While Big Tech wrings its hands about things like greenhouse gas emissions, IT teams out in the trenches aren't nearly as concerned about the eco-sustainability of their infrastructure.

In fact, just 16.7 percent of the 2,869 IT professionals surveyed around the world this season by The Register considered sustainability a top issue, and only 38.7 percent considered it a priority at all. That said, the sentiment on environmental friendliness varies by region.

An El Reg survey found US IT organizations cared the least about the sustainability of their infrastructure

The survey found that US enterprises cared the least about the environmental impact of their IT infrastructure with less than a third rating it as a priority. Meanwhile sustainability ranked slightly higher in EMEA and APAC. This is possibly due to generally higher operating and power costs in these regions, which focus the mind on doing more with less.

In fact, it shouldn't come as a surprise that, of those organizations investing in sustainable IT practices and infrastructure, most were doing so out of economic convenience rather than out of concern for Mother Nature.

It seems that most enterprises investing in IT sustainability are doing so in a bid to cut costs

More than half of respondents (53.9 percent) cited reducing operating expenses as their primary motivator, followed by curbing their environmental footprint and minimizing energy consumption in second and third place.

Just over a third cited regulatory requirements and improving customer perception as motivating factors. We don't imagine many enterprises have datacenters capable of consuming so much water or power that they feel the need to distract customers, let alone regulators, with massive solar or wind projects. It seems that greenwashing is still a game for the biggest IT infrastructure providers.

The majority of respondents said they were opting for a combination of energy efficient hardware and virtualization to curb energy use

As for how IT teams are actually tackling sustainability issues, over half said they were prioritizing energy-efficient hardware and software and using virtualization and other datacenter consolidation techniques to reduce their footprints.

Rack consolidation, through a combination of higher core count CPUs and virtualization or container technologies, has become a major talking point among chipmakers in recent years. During its 4th-gen Epyc launch, AMD boasted that just five, dual-socket Epyc 4 systems could take the place of 15 Intel Ice Lake systems. Since then, chip vendors including Ampere and Intel have made similar consolidation claims.

While more efficient hardware can replace multiple legacy systems, it's also bound to generate more waste, to Register readers' minds.

Worryingly, roughly a quarter of respondents said they didn't have a formal process for managing e-waste

Asked about how they're handling e-waste, 45.9 percent of respondents said they were donating or repurposing aging equipment, while 39.8 percent said they were giving their systems a second lease on life through refurbishment. Between 30.2 and 38.8 percent said they either handled some form of recycling program or were partnered with an e-waste management firm.

Worryingly, roughly a quarter of respondents said they didn't have a plan for managing their e-waste at all, something that in 2024 you'd think folks would have figured out. It's not 1999. You can't just drag that ancient laser printer out back and take your revenge on it Office Space-style any more, and you certainly shouldn't leave its corpse to leach heavy metals into the soil.

However, more efficient gear is only one way to reduce the carbon footprint of your infrastructure. A little over a third of respondents said they were implementing power management policies and utilizing renewable energy sources.

While the latter can be rather tricky to predict, since green energy sources often depend on environmental factors like whether the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, power management features are something industry experts have been arguing in support of for years.

Schneider Electric has previously encouraged operators to embrace a variety of management systems, including ones related to electrical power, amid the surge in demand for AI compute capacity.

Meanwhile, at the platform level, most CPU vendors have put some kind of power management system in their latest generation of chips to help reduce idle power. However, fears over application instability or performance losses mean these features often end up getting disabled.

As for how environmental impact factors into purchasing decisions, it's kind of a mixed bag.

Generally speaking, larger enterprises are more likely to factor sustainability into their purchasing decisions

As you might suspect, as enterprises grow larger, sustainability does appear to factor in who they do business with - at least to some extent. The main outlier observed was among the smallest businesses, which appear to be prioritized green gear at the second highest rate.

The survey found that the biggest consideration, when it came to sustainable suppliers, whether they were actively trying to reduce their environmental impact through things like renewable energy use or green datacenters.

While respondents don't seem worried about public perception, it seems their suppliers ought to.

Other considerations included whether vendors had committed to ethical and fair labor practices, had documented sustainability policies like ISO 14001 or B Corp certifications, or releasing things like annual environmental, social, and governance reports.

So while respondents aren't all that worried about public perception, their suppliers ought to be. ®

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