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Sustainability Technologies in A Net-Zero Economy

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed rule changes that would require climate-related disclosures and periodic reports -- including risks that are likely to have a material impact on a corporation. Business technologies might be a key component of responding to new SEC requirements.

Cloud service sustainability, carbon footprint measurement, and advanced energy grid management software are three environmental technologies that could reach early mainstream adoption within one to three years.

"Environmental sustainability cannot be the responsibility of just a few industries -- if our climate is to be protected, sustainable business must be a global priority," said Annette Zimmermann, vice president at Gartner.

Sustainability Technology Market Development

According to the Gartner assessment, the transition to a net-zero economy will be as disruptive as the industrial revolution or the digital revolution -- requiring new technologies, business models, leadership strategies, and innovative operational processes.

The path to a net-zero future will create new opportunities for technology and service providers to develop foundational solutions to enable sustainable business. Gartner has identified three emerging technologies that will have the most immediate impact on environmental sustainability.

Cloud sustainability is the use of services to achieve sustainability benefits within economic, environmental, and social systems. It consists of the sustainable operation and delivery of cloud services by a public cloud provider, as well as the sustainable consumption and use of those services.

"Public cloud services offer great sustainability potential with their ability to centralize IT operations and operate at scale using a shared service model, resulting in greater computing efficiency," said Zimmermann.

Public cloud providers also have a unique ability to invest in sustainability capabilities, such as moving cloud data centers to be physically located near renewable energy sources.

Soon, cloud service providers will come under increasing pressure to have a transparent climate strategy and a clear sustainability roadmap. Gartner predicts that by 2025, the carbon emissions of hyperscale cloud service providers will be a top-three criterion in public cloud procurement decisions.

Carbon footprint is defined as the quantity of emissions generated by human activity. The carbon footprint of a given technology product or service encompasses three emission scopes:

  • Scope 1: Direct emissions from owned or controlled sources.
  • Scope 2: Indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy.
  • Scope 3: All indirect emissions (not included in Scope 2) that occur in the value chain of the reporting company, including both upstream and downstream emissions.

Furthermore, Gartner analysts believe that scope three emissions are the most challenging to measure, yet in some companies, they can account for over 95 percent of total carbon emissions.

Outlook for Sustainability Technology Applications Growth

Gartner expects carbon footprint measurement technologies to see significant adoption as organizations broaden their focus to all three emission types and increase reporting transparency.

The growth of such measurement tools will be supported by the proliferation of the Internet of Things enabled environmental sensors that increase the quantity, quality, and timeliness of data collection.

"Ultimately, every organization will have to invest in carbon accounting tools," said Zimmermann.

That said, I anticipate flexible working policies for a distributed workforce will gain new momentum as more organizations adopt ways to reduce their employee's commute-related carbon footprint. Avoiding unnecessary trips to and from an employee's home, and a corporate office location will be required for compliance.

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