Sustainability and the Metaverse: 5 Considerations to Prepare for the Next Major Technology Paradigm Shift

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Climate issues have made sustainability a priority in corporate strategy. Organizations had to think not only about how to do business, but also how to do it in a way that has the least impact on our climate. And while sustainable business models are nothing new, they evolve to keep up with the pace of innovation and adapt to the new ways we work.

The prospect of moving physical work, life and play to the metaverse online is exciting. However, that process will inevitably lead to significant demand for data storage. As companies prepare for Web 3.0 and consider how to do business at the convergence of emerging technologies, they could end up with huge online footprints that will generate an incredible need for data storage, which could lead to more products and more waste if not thought through. is being done .

Herein lies the problem: According to a United Nations estimate, less than a quarter of all electronic waste in the US is recycled and the rest ends up in landfills, posing a serious risk to the environment. As companies figure out how to do business in the metaverse, the increase in data demand could increase the e-waste problem. Moreover, as the metaverse becomes more integrated with the real world, business enterprises will face a challenge: preparing for the next phase of digitization, with its associated storage requirements, while prioritizing sustainability.

How can companies prepare for the metaverse without contributing to environmental waste? This provides an opportunity to explore the sustainability of advanced electronics manufacturing from the perspective of a data storage provider.

5 sustainability lessons to prepare for the next technology paradigm shift

Step 1: Set climate goals

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

Step 2: Rethink Your Physical Facilities

Joining the metaverse could mean generating huge amounts of data, raising the critical question of where this data will be stored. While high data volumes can lead to the construction of more energy-consuming data centers, more local data centers can move their data to the cloud, minimizing the number of physical data centers. In addition, large cloud service providers are investing heavily in renewable energy sources. For example, Google aims to have data centers running completely carbon-free energy by 2030, and Microsoft has committed to do that by 2025.

IT-related services, including cloud services, are expected to account for approximately 3.5% of global emissions by 2020. All this leads to hyper-awareness among companies about the sustainability of their production practices.

In addition, solar energy has progressed from a groundbreaking technology to a cost-effective solution for enterprises in recent years. By investing in solar installations, companies can generate their own power using a renewable energy source, taking less traditional energy from the grid and reducing their carbon footprint. In their efforts to be more sustainable, companies like Apple and Amazon have retrofitted multiple facilities with solar power, and combined with other renewable energy sourcing, these locations are now running on 100% renewable energy.

Step 3: Review products and how they are manufactured

Many companies develop product life cycle assessments to evaluate the overall environmental impact caused by a system of production, use and disposal processes. The goal is to follow the timeline of a product (production, distribution, use and end-of-life phases) and ensure full accountability and transparency. Every part of a product’s life cycle – the 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 impact the environment in unique ways.

Gradually, the storage industry has evolved from traditional local disk storage to cloud storage. As more companies migrate to the cloud, the data center industry has an opportunity to become more climate-conscious. Cloud computing brings a lower cost per gigabyte and higher data redundancy, so there are good technical reasons for expanding the cloud. As enterprises work to advance both innovation and responsibility, product-level life-cycle impact assessments can provide information on strategies to effectively balance sustainability with the technology benefits of the cloud.

Step 4: Create a circular economy

Unfortunately, large amounts of electronic waste end up in landfills and contaminate soil and groundwater, endangering food supply systems and water resources. Correct disposal of products can be solved by implementing recycling programs or by providing consumers with the option to recycle their old products. By implementing product take-back programs to help customers recycle old data storage devices, companies can reduce the risk associated with handling hazardous materials and foster stronger customer relationships. For example, certain companies have recycling programs that allow customers to return old products to the company for free or drop them off at local shipping stores for convenient, eco-friendly disposal, with successful programs diverting tons of waste from landfills.

Step 5: Train your supplier network and hold them accountable

Annual sustainability reports also provide the opportunity to be transparent about your company’s sustainability progress, which promotes accountability (“what is measured…”). Modern supply chains can be complex and substantial, and a sustainability strategy focused solely on internal operations can miss highly significant upstream impacts. Therefore, supplier involvement in sustainability issues is essential for an effective sustainability program. Offering e-learning programs that provide training on sustainable business practices – in partnership with organizations such as the Responsible Business Alliance, for example – and participating in joint sustainability initiatives can strengthen relationships while increasing progress on sustainability.

Looking forward

The connections between data storage, electronic waste and emissions will continue to influence the market as regulators increasingly focus on the environmental footprint of companies. Corporate America is at a turning point where companies must be aware 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 great technology revolution. Because the metaverse may be virtual, but if we don’t find ways to reduce our collective footprint, the environmental ramifications could be all too real.

Joshua Parker is senior director of corporate sustainability and assistant general counsel at Western Digital.

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