As New Zealand’s largest IT services company, Datacom doesn’t face the same challenges as an airline or steel mill might in reaching net carbon zero.

We deliver low-carbon, knowledge economy-type services, such as software and consulting, but that hasn’t changed the complexity of the process involved in getting to zero by the end of 2030 – a point where the carbon dioxide (CO2) we’re releasing into the atmosphere from our activities will be balanced by an equal amount being removed.

We completed a materiality assessment in 2021 where measuring and reporting our carbon emissions footprint came top of the list. We asked Toitū Envirocare, the country’s largest independent carbon certification company, to audit our business and calculate our emissions footprint, based on our 2020 operations just before Covid arrived.

That proved to be essential in giving us a solid baseline from which to work. But it also revealed gaps in the data on which we intended to base our decision-making. For instance, we operate a number of large data centres in New Zealand that are temperature controlled. We had to get a handle on the extent to which material leakage from the air-conditioning units was adding to our emissions tally.

To figure out the full scope of emissions we were responsible for, we had to go through our entire supply chain with a fine toothcomb, particularly in Australia where we distribute hardware products to customers from over 200 suppliers and where renewable energy makes up a smaller percentage of the electricity powering the data centres we use.

Net zero is good for business

For years we have been on a drive to become more efficient, reducing our office footprint and looking for ways to lower electricity usage in our data centres.

But two things have given our sustainability efforts real momentum in the past year. Both our customers and Datacom staff are demanding more of us in this space. Businesses are looking at us as a supplier and asking for data about our emissions profile. Increasingly, they will choose to work with IT partners that reflect their own sustainability goals.

Among our nearly 7,000 staff across New Zealand and Australia, we have many who are passionate about sustainability. They see the government’s Net Zero 2050 goal and the evidence from climate scientists highlighting the need to act to significantly reduce emissions this decade. Walking the talk on sustainability will increasingly be an aspect of the effort to recruit and retain talent.

These drivers convinced our senior leadership team to put a stake in the ground and aim for net carbon zero in a relatively short time span.

We have already received Toitū ‘carbonreduce certification’, which recognises that we have put in place strategies to manage and reduce our emissions footprint.

Getting to net carbon zero will involve improving the energy efficiency of our data centres, particularly in Australia, where we partner with infrastructure providers who are on their own emissions reduction journey.

We are investigating ways to reduce emissions from shipping hardware around the region by capturing better data from our freight providers in our hardware business. This will help us improve our supply chain logistics. The same goes for how we deal with waste.

We aim to reduce air travel across Datacom by 40% and will capture all travel data to help keep us on track. Shifting from taxis to rideshares and centralising data collection will help us lower emissions from transport.

Supporting hybrid and remote working, which were normalised during the pandemic, has allowed us to make more efficient use of the space we have across our 24 office locations, saving electricity and travel-related emissions in the process.

Looking back on what inspired me to help drive Datacom’s net carbon zero journey, it was hearing first-hand from experts at a climate conference about both how much climate change will disrupt of way of life and how reliant we are on technology to support our transition to a net zero world and mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. I came back from that conference knowing that Datacom had a key role in helping our customers both current and future to a net zero future.

A data-driven approach

The key to all of this is assembling all of the relevant data in one place. We are using the Salesforce Net Zero Cloud to track our sustainability metrics and will continue to draw on Toitū’s expertise to give us an honest assessment of our progress, which we will make public in our annual reports. It’s not just about tracking environmental sustainability metrics but also the ‘S’ and ‘G’ indicators in our ESG (Environment, Governance, Social) strategy.

Getting to net carbon zero will require investment in permanent emission reduction projects across our business and we recognise purchasing carbon credits will be a necessary part of our journey, with the focus on selecting offsets from well-established and credible programmes.

Our major partners such as Salesforce, Microsoft, Google and AWS, offer inspiration here with each of them involved in everything from solar energy schemes to large scale tree planting and wetland restoration.

Deloitte’s latest CFO Sustainability Report found that companies’ progress on sustainability goals has “remained relatively stagnant” over the last year. The key barriers to progress, according to Deloitte, are “lack of resources/capability and difficulty in measuring return on investment.

Datacom has to do its bit to reduce its own impact on the environment. But we are also in a powerful position to help our customers do the same. We are already doing this by helping them leverage the efficiencies of cloud platforms to run their applications and working with a number of customers in helping them determine their supply chain emissions from services we provide to them.

We have undertaken projects with Sealord using artificial intelligence to improve the efficiency of their fishing fleets. With the Cawthron Institute, we have helped create a data platform that is fundamentally changing how the esteemed scientific institute undertakes its research.

By mapping our own net carbon zero journey, we can help demystify the process, making it easier for organisations large and small to use technology and data to cut emissions in their own operations.

That’s the journey we are on. We have learnt so much already and it is knowledge we are happy to share as we work towards achieving the carbon neutral economy we all need.

Learn more about Datacom's sustainability journey.

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