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Sustainable Data Storage Strategy: How to Stay Aligned with Consumer Expectations

Sustainable Data Storage Strategy

Solutions Review’s Contributed Content Series is a collection of contributed articles written by thought leaders in enterprise technology. In this feature, Veritas Technology’s Chief Sustainability Officer Rags Srinivasan offers commentary on how to develop a sustainable data storage strategy.

Too many organizations approach environmental sustainability with a checkbox mindset: 

“Include environmental sustainability in our corporate responsibility charter—check!” 

“Encourage and facilitate employees to reduce, reuse and recycle—check!” 

“Implement high-efficiency lighting, HVAC and plumbing—check!” 

While these and other common steps toward enterprise sustainability are admirable, the checkbox mindset that often drives them is limiting—sustainability is not about checking the boxes. Instead, organizations must shift to a more encompassing sustainability mindset where the environment is a consideration in everything they do. Only then can they become a true force for good. 

A sustainability mindset will expand an organization’s thinking beyond the obvious steps toward achieving carbon neutrality. For example, you might learn that the world is on track to create 120 zettabytes of new data in 2023 (for perspective, estimates suggest that we only produced 5 exabytes—1/200th of a single zettabyte—of data between the dawn of civilization through the year 2003). And then you may realize that the mostly fossil fuel-powered data centers where this data is stored are a significant source of CO2. In fact, data centers currently account for about the same amount of global carbon emissions as the entire airline industry 

A Sustainability mindset that leads to this type of thinking will not only impact the environment but also the bottom line as consumers become increasingly aware and critical of sustainability claims. In fact, a recent Veritas survey polled 13,000 global consumers to assess their attitudes toward corporate sustainability related to data storage practices. Here are three key takeaways, along with insights into how business leaders can improve their IT practices to navigate consumer sustainability expectations.

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Sustainable Data Storage Strategy

Consumers care about unsustainable business practices, including in the IT department

While many consumers are not aware of the impact data storage has on the environment, when presented with the facts, they are concerned with the implications. In fact, nearly half (46 percent) were concerned that 2 percent of global energy-related pollution emissions are caused by datacenters, and 59 percent would like to see more focus from organizations on controlling the negative impact of online data storage on the environment.

Furthermore, more than half (51 percent) expressed concern that online data storage wastes energy and produces environmental pollution when, on average, only 15 percent of data is business-critical. The rest is dark or redundant, obsolete and trivial (ROT) data, which unnecessarily increases an organization’s data footprint, leading to higher storage costs, increased carbon emissions, and negative consumer sentiment. Organizations should implement advanced data deduplication strategies to minimize dark and ROT data.   

Consumers vote with their wallets when it comes to sustainability

Almost half (47 percent) of consumers said they would stop buying from a company if they knew it was willfully causing environmental damage by failing to control how much unnecessary or unwanted data it is storing. This illustrates consumers’ commitment to sustainability and that they will respond to companies that do not align with their expectations by hitting them where it hurts. Organizations should proactively address consumers’ concerns by being transparent with their data management practices and the steps they are taking to mitigate the environmental impact of data storage. Most organizations publish ESG data and commitments, but few get into the granular details of their IT sustainability, which can have a massive impact.

If an organization has not prioritized techniques to reduce unnecessary storage in the cloud, now is the time to start. By optimizing cloud data storage, businesses can reduce their carbon footprint all while lowering ballooning cloud storage costs.  

Consumers put the data management onus on companies

Roughly half (49 percent) of consumers believe organizations that store their information are responsible for deleting it when it is no longer needed. However, there undoubtedly is a shared responsibility on this matter—consumers also need to play a more active role by deleting their own obsolete data such as redundant file backups and unused accounts. Nonetheless, companies should be transparent with consumers about their data storage practices and make it easy for them to make informed decisions about their own data.  

Connecting the dots between expectations and execution

As sustainability continues to be a high priority for consumers and businesses alike, organizations must shift to a sustainability mindset that leads to examining their data storage practices and evaluating what data is business critical and what can be deleted. Given consumers are more willing to support companies with strong enterprise sustainability policies, taking a transparent approach to data storage processes delivers business advantage, while also benefiting the environment.  

 It is essential for business leaders to implement streamlined, sustainable data management practices as part of their organizations’ broader sustainability commitment that will help maximize impact across their operations and meet customer expectations.  

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