IT Sustainability Think Tank: How CIOs can measure their carbon emissions and energy use

In today’s rapidly changing world, CIOs increasingly recognise the significance of sustainability and environmental responsibility. As part of these efforts, measuring greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has emerged as a crucial step toward effective carbon management.

By quantifying emissions, CIOs and IT directors can gain valuable insights that can drive decision-making, promote sustainability, and contribute to a greener future.

By understanding the emissions associated with different activities and processes, organisations can evaluate the environmental impact of potential choices. This knowledge enables them to choose sustainable alternatives, adopt cleaner technologies, and implement eco-friendly practices.

With ICT estates set to expand with ongoing digitalisation and the rapid growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), it will be vital to understand, monitor and reduce the environmental impacts of ICT.

This will enable organisations to contain energy spending, reduce the ecological footprint of often complex global networks of devices, servers and users.

What to measure

A carbon footprint is the measurement of your business’s total emissions from all sources, which are sub-divided into three internationally recognised categories, known as scopes:

  • Scope 1:  Direct emissions from operations that are owned or controlled by your company, such as fuel combustion from facilities and vehicles that your company owns or controls.This includes emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels, on-site fuel combustion, and process emissions. Calculating Scope 1 emissions provides insights into the immediate impact of an organisation’s activities on GHG emissions.
  • Scope 2:  Indirect emissions from the generation of purchased or acquired electricity, steam, heating or cooling consumed. Calculating Scope 2 emissions helps CIOs understand the environmental impact of their energy consumption and informs decisions on sourcing renewable or low-carbon energy alternatives.
  • Scope 3:  All indirect emissions (not included in Scope 2) that occur in the value chain, including both upstream and downstream emissions. Examples include purchased raw goods, employee commuting and business travel. Scope 3 is the largest contributor towards a company’s total GHG emissions. Calculating Scope 3 emissions provides a holistic view of the ICT carbon footprint, including emissions associated with suppliers, customers, and product lifecycle. It enables teams to identify opportunities for emissions reductions beyond their immediate operations.

You can use the following steps to calculate your business’s ICT footprint. While these need not be in the order shown below, many feed into each other:

  • Understand and gather available data and identify gaps
  • Define key performance indicators (KPIs) and aligning these to the corporate net-zero vision and strategy
  • Define KPI calculations
  • Gather requirements for reporting mechanism
  • Build reporting mechanism and calculate footprint
  • Engage and train stakeholders on outputs
  • Analyse data and drive action


Many large organisations already report their carbon footprints according to international standards and requirements, such as the Science Based Target Initiative. However, organisations have different ways of reporting their GHG emissions depending on their function (i.e. what’s in scope for reporting) and the purpose of the reports. Emissions can be reported at three levels, in accordance with Scopes 1, 2 and 3.

The direct environmental impacts of an ICT estate can derive from the following components for example:

  • Laptops, PCs, mobile phones and tables
  • Networks, such as LAN, WLAN
  • Phones and telecoms infrastructure, such as switchboards
  • Printers and paper used
  • Datacentres
  • Data, storage, CPU, and disk
  • Servers
  • Other devices, such as TVs, projectors, augmented reality or virtual reality headsets
  • E-waste
  • ICT-related travel, from employees in the ICT function, or engineers providing support (optional depending on the size of the impact and how organisations report on travel and other aspects of their carbon footprint).

Carbon emissions from energy consumption are the largest environmental impact of using ICT devices. Ideally, your energy footprint should report the consumption of primary energy sources and cover the complete supply chain of goods and services.

Several tools can help to quantify and reduce the emissions of your ICT estate. For example, CGI’s digital twin platform streams real-time data, and measures and predicts energy consumption. Offerings like this can provide carbon accounting insights to its users, enabling CIOs and IT directors to understand and reduce the carbon footprint of their hosting platform.

Embodied carbon emissions refer to the greenhouse gas emissions generated during the production and transportation of goods, from the extraction of raw materials to the manufacturing process and final delivery to the consumer. Therefore, CIOs need to consider who they do business with, and whether these suppliers use renewable energy and other sustainability standards (e.g. electric vehicles) during the production and transportation of goods.

In summary, understanding and managing GHG emissions is crucial for organisations and leaders committed to sustainable practices. An effective way to reduce emissions is via the use of tools that can report, monitor and predict energy use of devices. By measuring and comprehending emissions, CIOs and IT directors can drive meaningful change, set reduction targets, and make informed decisions to improve their environmental impact.

This will enable them to enhance sustainability performance, comply with regulations, and build a reputation as responsible corporate citizens.


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