As we’re going deeper into 2021, cautious optimism is building around returning to some semblances of the ‘old normal’. Vaccines are being rolled out at pace across the UK, alongside lockdown restrictions being eased as we move into the (hopefully!) warmer months.
Government-imposed lockdowns and resulting home-working have not only impacted businesses and their individual personnel, it’s also played a major factor in an overall reduction of our carbon emissions across the country. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) recently published its provisional figures for UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, revealing carbon emissions fell by over 10 percent in 2020 compared to 2019 levels, while total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have fallen by almost 9 percent.
This is amid the UK government agreeing to maintain its Climate Change Committee recommendations and cut carbon emissions by 78 percent by 2035 compared to 1990 levels today.
The sixth Carbon Budget limits the volume of greenhouse gases emitted over a 5-year period from 2033 to 2037, taking the UK more than three-quarters of the way to reaching net zero by 2050.
The budget is planned to ensure Britain remains on track to end its contribution to climate change while remaining consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goal to limit global warming to well below 2°C and pursue efforts towards 1.5°C.
As we start to move away from home-working as the default, we must ensure this progress doesn’t stop – and that will involve collaboration across different departmental lines of business. IT must partner with operations, for example, to revaluate their office-spaces and tech infrastructure to ensure they are fit for purpose for hybrid working. Offices are changing, and with employees on the cusp of returning, so too are their requirements. Today, connectivity is needed for a broader range of devices than ever before – yet, without efficient infrastructure, this could be at a detriment to the environment, especially as workers return in numbers.
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Changing office requirements
These changing demands have accelerated the consideration and deployment of new technologies to transform operations, whether employee or customer-facing. Technologies such as IoT are performing both practical day-to-day use-cases – like smart lighting or energy meters – to more strategic, long-term deployments that are integrated within broader operations/IT. Whichever end of the spectrum, organizations are just discovering the benefits the technology can provide, both in terms of increased efficiency and improved employee, customer and end-user experiences.
Industry analysts IDC estimate there will be over 41 billion connected IoT devices, or "things," generating nearly 80 zettabytes (ZB) of data in 2025 – and deploying such technology in buildings will alter the demands placed on your network. Different network architectures will be required in buildings, for example, in order to meet this new requirement – but they must be built in a way that considers the impact on the environment.
Efficient power and sustainable processes
Deploying thousands of connected ‘things’ that consume data requires strong and consistent connectivity, of course, but thought must also be put in as to how to power those devices. Numerous devices now depend upon Power over Ethernet (PoE), and progressively at higher power levels. Older, legacy cabling may not support this, so IT and operations must work to ensure that the wired connectivity is suitably up-to-date. More recent approaches such as single-pair Ethernet may also ease the process of installation and management for IoT devices in the future.
It is then critical to ensure those connected devices are deployed in order to deliver the most efficient workplaces – so the likes of intelligent sensors are connected with heating and lighting, for example, to ensure the right amount of light and air conditioning or heating is provided based on daylighting conditions and changing occupancy respectively.
While the above conditions are managed in real-time, data can also be collected from the lighting system to enable historical analysis of how often employees use workspaces. Managers can then decide how to allocate space based on usage and establish the appropriate efficient energy management policies to follow.
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Alongside the efficient deployment and use of technology is the production of those materials themselves. Where possible, IT and ops should review their supply-chains to ensure the products manufactured also continue to reduce our environmental footprint by, for example, designing using post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics rather than virgin materials. Ensuring suppliers can demonstrate their commitment to reducing – or even eliminating – single use plastics (SUPs) from as many stages of the manufacturing process can also have a profoundly positive impact.
Leaders must also consider the lifecycle of such products as well. Can the use-case of technology be extended beyond typical agreements? Maximising the life cycle of our materials can form a core part of an organization’s circular economy drive.
Learning from the past
We are moving to a new way of living and working, and one that will demand flexibility in our workspaces, along with the technologies that enable them. So when it comes to planning for offices and working environments - as many employers embrace a hybrid model - ensuring the office workplace is setup to deliver this, while being considerate towards the environment, is key.
We will no longer need to commute to offices on a daily basis to do work that could be done at home. Equally, there are gains from office-based cultures that many will feel have been lost throughout home working during the pandemic. Whatever tomorrow’s exact working model will look like as it morphs and evolves is still an unknown to everyone. Yet this is an opportunity to benefit from the reset over the past 18 or so months, building office architectures and technology that embrace a new and more sustainable working culture of the future.
Doing so will mean the likes of IT and operations teaming up to underpin their organization’s digital and workplace transformation – and that teamwork has the potential to deliver broader benefits for employees, the organization and the planet alike.
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Lewis White, vice president of Enterprise Infrastructure for Europe, CommScope (opens in new tab)