Taking responsibility for sustainable computing
The computing industry is like a teenager – it’s got to grow up and it’s got to become responsible, claims Bill Hoffman, chairman and CEO of ethical and sustainable computing consortium Responsible Computing.
“That’s what we’re all about, and we believe we can impact from both individual levels, where people can turn off their machine at night, to major corporations, who can follow policies based on what we’re providing as a resource,” he enthuses.
Responsible Computing is a membership consortium that hopes to provide a framework to the industry in order to guide firms to become more responsible, sustainable, inclusive and ethical.
Just a year old, and co-founded by rivals IBM and Dell, the consortium works on guiding firms primarily in sustainability, but also on inclusivity and ethical issues within the tech world.
In 2021, Object Management Group were called in to manage IBM and Dell’s Responsible Computing ‘council’ in which people volunteered. From then on OMG’s COO Hoffman has taken on the organisation on behalf of IBM and Dell – taking the initiative to become a formalised organisation last year.
“It’s starting to gain traction,” he tells TI, “but it’s a slower road than we expected.” Still, Responsible Computing is more passionate than ever and is releasing more objectives, frameworks and advice to help its members become more sustainable.
For example, it’s hoping to provide an alternative measurement of sustainability in businesses to the current one, ESG – in which brands can advertise themselves as “Responsible.”
“It turns out it’s not just the company itself that cares, it’s also the employees,” Hoffman explains. “They want to work for a company that cares,” and the customers and investors want to also work with a company that proves itself as responsible too.
It has also very recently released a dark data white paper, which it hopes can provide a framework to companies on how to handle their stagnate data that is only taking up space in data centres, using up power, and thus affecting the environment.
“There’s no good common practices out there,” with dark data. And “there’s no real use cases out there yet,” on how other companies have managed theirs, he adds.
“All these companies are storing terabytes of data, and it’s not getting smaller, it just continues to grow.”
Within the white paper, Responsible Computing details what dark data is, and how companies can handle it.
For example, it suggests adding a shelf life for data, which can then be updated as and when in order to keep on top of old and expired data. It also recommended labelling data so that companies actually know what data they’re harvesting anyway.
Hoffman admits he is as guilty as everyone else for not looking at how he can help make his workplaces more sustainable.
Companies have been hoarding excessive amounts of data for decades, he adds, but up until the last few years, nobody cared about power consumption, and nobody cared about carbon footprint.
In the white paper, Responsible Computing enthuses that “dark data is often a treasure trove of information related to an organisation, and in the wrong hands can pose serious risks to the organisation.”
“Thus it’s crucial to discover whether there is dark data and then find ways to manage it, unlock its full value, and support the organisation in growing its business.”
Not only will it help organisations with their sustainability goals, but it’s also worth it for keeping data organisations data up-to-date and accurate.
“The first step is making people realise they have a problem,” says Hoffman. “I’m convinced some people don’t see it as a big issue,” and so Responsible Computing simply just wants to make companies more aware.
The issue that Responsible Computing is tackling with dark data, is a great example of what the consortium is about, says Hoffman, but it’s not only just sustainability the consortium hopes to tackle, it’s also inclusivity.
Such as “people with disabilities, how do you get them integrated in the workforce?” questions Michael Linehan, program director of Responsible Computing.
For example, “97% of websites are not suitable for people who are colour blind,” Linehan expands. “Even those small things, and looking at ways you can make tech more ethical.”
Combined, for Responsible Computing, with ethical issues and sustainability, it’s not just about lofty ESG goals, but looking at the small things such as turning your machine off at night, or if a software developer could write better code which would also mean less power consumption.
These things “chip away at the problem,” says Hoffman, “and that’s kind of the fun part is to find the small things,” that can help reach bigger goals.
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