New research reveals a sustainability action gap at edge computing sites

Organizations of all shapes and sizes are facing a sustainability conundrum: As they attempt to reduce their carbon footprint, companies are adding edge computing technology to distributed environments that can inevitably increase power consumption.

Currently, organizations are deploying equipment and solutions in places such as server rooms and micro data centers at a fast pace to store, analyze and transmit data to the core. These deployments increase power use. A new special report[1] by 451 Research, a part of S&P Market Intelligence, commissioned by Schneider Electric, estimates that edge environments used 140 terawatt hours in 2021. Furthermore, projections from Schneider Electric estimate that by 2040, data center energy consumption will soar to 2,700 terawatt hours, with 60% coming from distributed sites. The primary contributors to the increase are IoT and 5G applications.

Just about every company surveyed for the report agrees that their IT infrastructure needs to become more sustainable. That’s why companies have or are planning to have sustainability programs within a year, both for their core data centers and for edge and distributed sites.

The sustainability action gap

But despite the good intentions, the study found a gap between reality and perception when implementing sustainability programs. “Nearly half of respondents think or hope they are more advanced with their sustainability programs than they are,” says another report from 451 Research commissioned by Schneider Electric entitled “Sustainability at the Edge.”[i] Yet, in reality, more than 50% of organizations were just starting their sustainability programs or had limited initiatives in place.

Companies’ most significant issue is optimizing energy use, according to 40% of the respondents. Another key challenge is collecting consistent data and metrics. Since you can’t change what you can’t measure, software is essential to gathering and analyzing data that can support metrics, the report says. Companies may need data center infrastructure management (DCIM) solutions as well as environmental, social, and governance (ESG)/environmental sustainability management (ESM) software to get the job done.

Another top-cited issue is the lack of skilled talent with the knowledge to address sustainability goals. This is particularly true of smaller companies that have less staff already and may not have the resources to address sustainability goals fully.

Key sustainability report findings at a glance

The study polled IT decision-makers at more than 1,150 medium-sized and large organizations in China, France, Germany, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, the U.K., and the U.S. Respondents represented more than 20 verticals, including retail, healthcare, IT, education, financial services, and industrial manufacturing.

So, what is driving sustainability efforts among these IT decision-makers? One of the top drivers raised was business value, cited by 40% of respondents. This finding makes sense as sustainability efforts often translate into cost savings and improved efficiencies. The second-ranked reason was “overall sustainability concern and social responsibility,” followed by “long-term operational resiliency.”

Generally speaking, larger organizations are further along with sustainability programs than smaller counterparts and are still adding to the programs, particularly around energy use, waste, and embodied carbon.

Respondents cited IT equipment the most often among the factors that impact sustainability at the edge and distributed locations. Physical infrastructure and energy sources were second and third. This means that sustainability efforts should include selecting IT infrastructure solutions that will help reduce energy usage and emissions.

When asked how they select equipment and solutions for their distributed IT sites, respondents prioritized reliability, energy efficiency, and safety. Survey participants were also asked what they considered important for vendors to offer. Solutions to improve operational efficiency came first, followed by product environmental data and tools to monitor and manage the product’s energy consumption.

The report highlights that vendors and service providers can help companies of all sizes with their sustainability journeys by providing the necessary tools and solutions. “Many of them need help to close the gap, particularly smaller firms that do not have specialized sustainability staff and are lacking the tools and solutions.”

Access the “Sustainability at the Edge” report and resources

Organizations are looking to ramp up their sustainability efforts as IT infrastructure continues to grow, particularly at edge computing sites. But they don’t have to go it alone. Schneider Electric offers a toolbox of resources for companies, from monitoring and management softwareGreen PremiumTM IT products to partner programs that help IT solution providers offer sustainable solutions.

To learn more about what IT decision-makers are saying about sustainability challenges and plans, access the entire “Sustainability at the Edge” report. You will discover critical takeaways and approaches to help your organization close its own sustainability action gap.

[1]  Special Report, “Sustainability at the Edge – The Gap Between Enterprise Plans and Sustainability Programs for Core and Distributed IT,” 451 Research, part ofS&P Global Market Intelligence, August 2022.

[i] Sustainability at the Edge, 451 Research, a part of S&P Market Intelligence, commissioned by Schneider Electric