The CIO’s Guide to Decarbonisation

Posted in on Apr 18 2024,by Barbara McCarthy Barbara McCarthy
The CIO’s Guide to Decarbonisation

Barbara McCarthy

Barbara McCarthy

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The CIO's Guide to Enterprise Decarbonisation

It is obvious that the push for enterprise decarbonisation has never been more urgent from the perspective of healing our planet and making life here on Earth sustainable for future generations. Here are some of the headlines you may have seen:

But meeting global climate goals and adhering to sustainable practices are not just environmental necessities - they are now critical business strategies that companies across the globe are striving to achieve. We are edging closer to a time when the majority of consumers will not buy from companies that are engaged in activities that are detrimental to our planet.

When we think of the large changes that companies need to make, we sometimes assume this responsibility will lie with the Chief Sustainability Officer. However,  as a CIO, I truly believe that Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and IT leadership at large multinational companies are at the forefront of driving this meaningful and necessary change.

As a CIO or IT leader, your unique position enables you to leverage innovation, existing technology, and data not only to enhance operational efficiency (and thus save money) but also to spearhead initiatives that have a significant, positive environmental impact.

In this article, you will find practical strategies for integrating sustainability and carbon/emissions reduction into the fabric of your IT operations.

The Crucial Role of IT Leadership in Corporate Decarbonisation

As a CIO, you occupy a strategic vantage point because your remit is wide. You can use your expertise and leadership to weave sustainability into the fabric of your organisation's IT strategies and operations. But the biggest gains can’t be achieved unless this is very intentional.  

In order to integrate sustainability into your IT strategy, you will need to create a comprehensive decarbonisation roadmap which should incorporate topics such as:

  • infrastructure optimisation,
  • data management,
  • human change management,
  • supplier sustainability

In each of these areas you should think about the adoption of green technologies (technology whose use is intended to mitigate or reverse the effects of human activity on the environment). This involves setting a precedent within your organisation for sustainable practices and will have the advantage that the impact will extend beyond the IT department (as all functions rely on technology).

(See our post about 'Developing an IT-Led Decarbonisation Roadmap' to learn how to go about creating your decarbonisation roadmap)

Infrastructure Optimisation

After you have implemented a policy around the adoption of green technologies, an easy next step is to advocate for the procurement of energy-efficient hardware and consider the environmental benefits of migrating to cloud services. These often boast a smaller carbon footprint compared to traditional on-prem/data centres.

(If like myself, you have the scars of working on Cloud migrations, I’m not necessarily saying they are easy to do, but they are easy to add to your IT strategy and will achieve decarbonisation wins!).

Next, championing initiatives like server virtualisation and the utilisation of renewable energy within IT infrastructure can significantly mitigate your company's environmental impact.

Data Management

Do you have a centralised data management system or data lake where all up-to-date and historical data is securely stored for your organisation and readily available to access? This is one of the things we find is most lacking in some organisations - the ready access to data on their processes, systems and business information.

If there are gaps here, it will be very difficult to measure your baseline in relation to your emissions and sustainability practices. This in turn makes it difficult to agree your (net zero) goals and plan/track your efforts in moving to achieve your goals.

So you should add to your IT strategy a project that will help you get closer to having the visibility you need. Remember the old adage “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”!

Human Change Management

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new” -Socrates

Your influence as a CIO goes beyond making (or proposing) operational/technical changes. It's about fostering a culture of sustainability across all levels of the organisation. The human element of change is sometimes the more challenging piece.

So there needs to be a very intentional ‘human change management’ initiative within your IT organisation that starts with the education and training of employees. In my experience, if your team understands the rationale behind things, it will be way easier to implement the change that is needed.

Supplier Sustainability

As a CIO, ensuring that your supply chain partners are aligned with your environmental values and practices is key. This involves conducting sustainability assessments of suppliers, prioritising those who demonstrate a strong commitment to reducing their carbon footprint, and adopting technologies to monitor and manage the environmental impact of the supply chain. Such strategic alignment amplifies your company's decarbonisation efforts and promotes a wider adoption of sustainable practices across your company.

Decarbonising IT Operations: Tools and Technologies

Your journey towards reducing the carbon footprint of your operations is supported by a range of innovative tools and technologies.

The selection available—from cloud computing solutions that reduce the need for physical infrastructure to energy-efficient hardware and software solutions that lessen overall energy consumption—is vast and varied.

The challenge and opportunity lie in choosing technologies that align with your decarbonisation goals without compromising on business needs but there has never been a better time as the technologies are readily available to lessen your energy consumption.

The selection and implementation of these must form part of your technology strategy, with the final selection only including those that are more efficient and importantly meet your business objectives.

CoolPlanet: Leading the Charge in Carbon Reducing Technologies

When you say you work for a company that help other companies with their decarbonisation efforts, other leaders are always curious as to what the ‘secret sauce’ is i.e. what is the ‘one’ thing that helps companies reduce their carbon emissions? I’m sorry to say that there is no ‘one’ thing.

Decarbonisation strategies involve many different elements that need a strategic, co-ordinated, and operationalised approach. At CoolPlanet we work with large energy-intensive companies (typically multi-site manufacturers) worldwide, providing comprehensive decarbonisation solutions for our customers through a combination of software, consulting expertise, and engineering projects.

However, at the heart of CoolPlanet's mission is a dedication to harnessing data and efficient technologies that improve energy use, create environmental benefits and lower energy costs for our clients.

In one of our previous masterclasses, ‘Harnessing Data for Energy Efficiency’ we share our proven insights and techniques that we use with our customers to leverage their organisation's data to help them achieve demonstrable energy efficiency.

Our bespoke decarbonisation platform, CoolPlanetOS, processes operational data from individual data sources to entire facilities across numerous sites and thousands of metering points worldwide.

It then compares site and source performance side-by-side and pinpoints areas for improvement in each site, allowing senior leaders to make informed decisions and develop strategies that significantly lower your company's carbon emissions.

We then engage with our clients to put these improvements into action (using dedicated Engineering expertise), unlocking the potential for carbon and energy savings. Having the insights is useful but having the engineering expertise to implement solutions is crucial.  

Initiatives can range from enhancing refrigeration systems and investing in solar power to transitioning to commercial LED lighting and optimising compressed air systems, among many others.

After achieving, maintaining, and refining these savings, we assist our clients in establishing these successful practices as standards across all their locations, enabling them to amplify their benefits, but also avoid operational drift.

IT-Led Decarbonisation Success Stories

  • Taking 17% off a refrigeration plant’s energy consumption was made possible by building a full digital twin of the plant, optimising cooling loads, and implementing enhanced controls and analytics (through CoolPlanetOS).

This highlighted the opportunity to deliver substantial energy savings without capital expenditure for a meat processing facility. The facility achieved 16% savings over 12 months. This approach not only saved approximately $500k/yr but also automated system responses to ambient conditions and production data, providing a model for data-driven decision-making in decarbonisation.

  • CoolPlanet is assisting Bulmers in targeting a 42% reduction in Scope 1 emissions, showcasing an ambitious decarbonisation strategy in the beverage industry.

Through the use of CoolPlanetOS, opportunities were identified to significantly decarbonise Bulmers’ Clonmel site, including the installation of Ireland's largest rooftop solar farm and an innovative high-pressure and temperature heat pump for thermal energy recycling. This project shows how deep insights into site processes can lead to effective carbon reduction solutions, reinforcing the importance of strategic partnerships in achieving sustainability goals.

These case studies show the impact of creating a digital twin of each facility, and the significant role data plays in identifying and driving successful decarbonisation efforts in industrial settings and serve as inspiration and a template for what can be accomplished in your organisation.


With the right strategy, the right tools and a commitment to continuous improvement, IT Leaders and their departments have the power to lead their organisations in making a significant impact on environmental sustainability.

As a next step, I encourage you to read our demystifying decarbonisation report, which outlines the scale of the climate change problem, how you can make a sizeable contribution to solving 50% of that problem, and the solutions that are ready and waiting for you to tackle it.

Additional Resources