Sustainability and the Metaverse: 5 Considerations to Prepare for the Next Big Tech Paradigm Shift

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Climate concerns have put sustainability at the forefront of corporate strategy. Organizations have had to think not only about how to conduct their business, but also how to do it in the way that has the least impact on our climate. And while sustainable business models aren’t new, they’re evolving to keep pace with innovation and adapt to new ways of working.

The prospect of moving physical work, life, and online play into the metaverse is exciting. However, this process will inevitably create a large demand for data storage. As companies prepare for Web 3.0 and consider how to do business at the convergence of emerging technologies, they may find themselves with massive online footprints that will generate an incredible need for data storage, which could lead to more products and more waste if this is not done thoughtfully. .

Therein lies the problem: according to a United Nations estimate, less than a quarter of all US e-waste is recycled, and the rest ends up in landfills, posing a serious risk to the environment. As companies figure out how to conduct business in the metaverse, the increased demand for data has the potential to exacerbate the e-waste problem. Additionally, as the metaverse becomes more integrated with the real world, businesses will face a challenge: to prepare for the next stage of digitization, with its associated storage requirements, while prioritizing sustainability.

How can businesses prepare for the metaverse without contributing to environmental waste? This presents an opportunity to examine the sustainability of advanced electronics manufacturing, from the perspective of a data storage vendor.

5 sustainability lessons to prepare for the next paradigm shift in technology

Step 1: Set climate goals

Building a culture of trust and transparency that accelerates progress related to sustainability has never been more important. The massive amount of data storage required to grow the metaverse could undermine sustainability goals, based on the rapid growth required. The high consumption of non-renewable energy, the production of waste and CO2 emissions are all real obstacles to sustainable augmented or virtual reality. Therefore, companies must commit to sustainable initiatives and agreements that hold their operations accountable and ensure that they operate responsibly. For example, the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) is an alliance between the non-profit CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, the World Resources Institute and the World Wide Fund for Nature. The participants in this initiative are committed to combating climate change in accordance with the latest scientific knowledge on climate. Companies wishing to reduce their carbon footprint can set SBTi-approved reduction targets.

Step 2: Rethink your physical facilities

Participating in the metaverse can mean generating massive volumes of data, which raises the critical question of where that data will be stored. While high data volumes could lead to more energy-intensive data centers being built, more on-premises data centers can move their data to the cloud, minimizing the number of physical data centers. Additionally, major cloud service providers have invested heavily in sustainable energy sources. For example, Google aims to run data centers on completely carbon-free power by 2030, and Microsoft has pledged to do so by 2025.

IT-related services, including cloud services, are expected to account for around 3.5% of global emissions by 2020. All of this is leading to a hyper-awareness of companies about the sustainability of their manufacturing practices.

Additionally, in recent years, solar power has evolved from cutting-edge technology to a cost-effective solution for businesses. By investing in solar installations, businesses can generate their own electricity on site using a renewable energy source, drawing less traditional power from the grid and reducing their carbon footprint. In efforts to be more sustainable, companies like Apple and Amazon have retrofitted several facilities with solar power, and when combined with other renewable energy purchases, these locations are now running at 100% energy. renewable energy.

Step 3: Review the products and how they are made

Many companies develop product life cycle assessments to assess the overall environmental impact caused by a system of production, use, and disposal processes. The goal is to track the timeline of a product (production, distribution, use and end-of-life phases) and ensure full accountability and transparency. Each part of a product’s life cycle – extraction of materials from the environment, the production of the product, the use phase and what happens to the product after it is no longer used – can have an impact on the environment uniquely.

Gradually, the storage industry has evolved from traditional local disk storage to include cloud data storage as well. As more businesses migrate to the cloud, the data center industry has an opportunity to become more climate-conscious. Cloud computing leads to lower costs per gigabyte and greater data redundancy, so there are good technical reasons for cloud expansion. As companies strive to advance both innovation and accountability, product-level lifecycle impact assessments can inform strategies to effectively balance sustainability with the technology benefits of the cloud.

Step 4: Create a circular economy

Unfortunately, large amounts of e-waste end up in landfills and contaminate soil and groundwater, putting food supply systems and water sources at risk. Proper product disposal can be addressed by implementing recycling programs or by offering consumers the opportunity to recycle their old products. By adopting product take-back programs to help customers recycle old data storage devices, companies can mitigate the risks associated with handling hazardous materials and foster a stronger customer relationship. For example, some companies have recycling programs that allow customers to return old products to the company for free or drop them off at local consignment stores for easy and environmentally friendly disposal, with programs successful ways of diverting many tons of waste from landfills. .

Step 5: Educate and empower your supplier network

Annual sustainability reports also provide an opportunity to be transparent about your company’s sustainability progress, which promotes accountability (“what gets measured…”). Modern supply chains can be complex and substantial, and a sustainability strategy focused solely on internal operations can miss out on very important upstream impacts. This is why supplier engagement on sustainability issues is essential to an effective sustainability program. Offering e-learning programs that offer training in sustainable business practices – in coordination with organizations like the Responsible Business Alliance, for example – and participating in joint sustainability initiatives can strengthen relationships and amplify progress in matter of sustainable development at the same time.

Look forward

The links between data storage, e-waste and emissions will continue to impact the market as regulators increasingly turn their attention to companies’ environmental footprints. Corporate America is at an inflection point where companies need to be mindful of how they do business or risk long-term headwinds. So, as companies think about how to do business in a world that demands more data, more storage and generates more waste, we must constantly make sustainability a priority in the next big technological revolution. Because the metaverse may be virtual, but if we don’t find ways to reduce our collective footprint, its environmental impacts could be very real.

Joshua Parker is Senior Director of Corporate Sustainability and Assistant General Counsel at Western Digital.

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