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Supporting the net zero agenda as technology leaders 

Supporting the net zero agenda as technology leaders  41

By Paul Frost, Chief Architect, Wholesale Banking Technology, HSBC

As COP26 gets into full swing, I’ve started reflecting on what we as technology leaders can do to support the sustainability and the net-zero agenda. Since the turn of the 21st century we as a society have become more and more dependent on technology both in our personal lives and at work, and the push to digitise continues at pace, especially in the financial sector.

Let’s start by saying from a carbon footprint perspective this is a good thing, for almost all processes in a digitised journey will always be more carbon-efficient than the equivalent manual process. Using paper and visiting a branch by example are evidently more carbon-intensive. Having said that we must also recognise that for us at HSBC and other banks, technology is a sizeable part of our carbon footprint. So what are the levers we have to influence the size of this footprint?

There are a number of choices we can make that have a positive impact — from large decisions around hosting, through to how we manage our day-to-day activities across technology. One of the most impactful things we can do is to use the cloud. Whilst we are moving to more sustainable internal data centres, cloud providers are generally ahead of this curve as they have had to drive a high degree of efficiency to support their hyperscale demands. That, and their advances in use of green energy, puts them ahead in the goals of net-zero carbon. But cloud isn’t the only answer — we need to think about how we use the technology more broadly. Here are just some of the things we as technology leaders should consider:

  • Are we rightsizing our applications? – Typically utilization figures of servers are low, so would efficient use of containers and virtualization help?
  • We often “gold plate” solutions – does the solution warrant the size of infrastructure deployed to meet this business need?
  • Do systems need to be up and running 100% of the time? We typically leave infrastructure running when not in use. Do those development and test environments need to be running 100% of the time? Can we scale on demand rather than pre-provision to meet spikes in capacity demand? This is another area where cloud helps.
  • What about data? It too has a carbon footprint. Do we always consider the data lifecycle and have efficient processes for data archiving and deletion, or do we keep the data around – just in case?
  • Duplication – do we have duplicate solutions that meet a business need? Do we really need this, or would consolidation help reduce the carbon footprint?
  • The desktop – are we thinking about carbon footprint in our desktop? There is significant variation across desktop devices that needs to be considered. Are we considering the whole life of a device through manufacture, transport, use, and eventually decommission?

These are just some of the things we need to consider, and I am sure many people are already aware and doing this. There are more options out there, but the most important thing we can do is start thinking about the various options we have at hand, make sure we are having these conversations and challenge the carbon efficiency of our technology use. At HSBC, we are committed to achieving net zero in our own operations and supply chain by 2030 or sooner – read more here.

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