22 August 2023
As the global focus on sustainability intensifies, organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of integrating the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) framework into their business practices. While sustainability efforts have traditionally been associated with areas such as energy consumption and waste management, the significance of sustainable IT infrastructure and data processing is now gaining prominence. This translates into a need to take the ESG framework into account when contracting IT infrastructure services and data driven services.
IT infrastructure, including data centers, networks, and devices, has a significant environmental impact. The energy consumption required to power and cool data centers, the production and disposal of electronic equipment, and the carbon footprint of digital services are all critical considerations within the ESG framework. Closely related to the sustainability of IT infrastructure is the processing of (personal) data that takes place on these IT infrastructures. The more data is being processed, the greater the demand on IT infrastructures, resulting in the expansion of data centers and increased power consumption. Whereas the GDPR provides frameworks on how personal data should be processed, especially highlighted from the perspective of the rights and freedoms of data subjects, the GDPR does not provide concrete frameworks on how to process (personal) data in a more sustainable manner.
One of the primary objectives of sustainable IT infrastructure is to optimize energy consumption. Data centers, which are major energy consumers, can implement various energy-efficient measures such as virtualization, server consolidation, and advanced cooling technologies. These practices reduce electricity usage, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and contribute to a more sustainable energy footprint. One specific measure that can be taken in the area of energy efficiency is the transitioning to renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, for powering IT infrastructure. By embracing renewable energy procurement strategies and investing in on-site renewable energy generation, organizations can significantly reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to the decarbonization of the energy sector.
From a data processing perspective, principles from the GDPR may well also have an impact to boost the sustainability of IT infrastructure. In this context, the most notable principles are storage limitation and data minimization. Reasoned with these principles in mind, organizations could take concrete steps to reduce the amount of (personal) data processed and stored to what is strictly necessary and thereby reduce the impact on the IT infrastructure, as well as promote GDPR compliance.
Social impact on data processing
Besides the impact that sustainable IT infrastructure have on society from an energy efficiency perspective, supporting social responsibility goals within the ESG framework, the aforementioned principles from the GDPR also have a social effect, namely with respect to protecting individuals' privacy rights. By collecting and retaining only the minimum amount of personal data necessary, organizations can reduce the risk of data breaches and unauthorized access. This helps build trust with customers and stakeholders, but also with employees, demonstrating a commitment to responsible data stewardship. Responsible data handling fosters transparency, respect for privacy, and ethical decision-making.
Closely intertwined with the social impact of sustainable IT infrastructure, are the necessary governance practices that have to be implemented as part of the ESG framework.
Zooming in on governance from a data privacy and security perspective, there are numerous steps that can be taken in the form of concrete policy drafting. Especially since adherence to regulatory requirements and risk management practices is a crucial aspect of ESG governance. In this context, examples include amongst others IT and data related policies and procedures that address data privacy laws, cybersecurity threats, and potential operational risks, policies that enhance the energy efficiency of the overall IT infrastructure. Implementing appropriate controls, conducting regular audits, and fostering a culture of compliance strengthen governance practices within IT infrastructure and data protection.
Sustainability within the IT infrastructure and a proper overall data protection policy are no longer an afterthought but an integral component of ESG. As ESG becomes a critical driver of corporate decision-making, incorporating sustainability principles within IT infrastructure and data processing is vital for organizations seeking to demonstrate their commitment to long-term environmental responsibility and a solid protection of (personal) data.