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Environmental Label for Digital Resources

Environmental Label for Digital Resources

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Our objective is to define the goals of an Ecolabel for digital resources and create a first catalogue of criteria that will be used to evaluate cloud infrastructure providers.
IT Sustainability is emerging as a strategic topic across large organisations around the world. Yet many struggle with getting the information they need to generate reports and identify focus areas. Procurement can play a key role by demanding transparent environmental impact data from IT suppliers - be it cloud infrastructure, hosting, software & services - as well as setting clear criteria on digital resources themselves. The SDIAโ€™s Type I Sustainability Certification for digital resources supports procurement teams get the right information and sustainably-made resources from suppliers.

Background

Cloud infrastructure today is the most efficient way to generate and allocate digital resources to software applications. Cloud infrastructure consist of IT equipment (servers, routers, switches, storage systems, etc) that is placed in a data center building (the facility) and administered by an organisation (the provider). Itโ€™s worth pointing out that many traditional web- and server-hosting providers also have evolved to offer cloud infrastructure offerings, therefore this label is widely applicable.
In order to ensure that digital resources are generated in an environmentally & socially sustainable way and are allocated efficiently by cloud infrastructure providers, requirements are set on:
  1. The hardware being used;
  1. The building being used;
  1. The organisation behind the digital resource; and,
  1. The operating principles.
The first two categories are already extensively regulated i.e. through the EU Ecodesign regulation on servers and data storage products (Regulation (EU) 2019/424) and the EU standards relevant for data centres (EN 50600). Further, for each there are existing Ecolabels that can be built upon - from TCO Certified for server equipment to CEEDA and the Blue Angel.
However, there is an absence of clear requirements when it comes to the organization responsible for generating the digital resources and their operating principles.

Why a Label?

As more organizations are moving away from generating their own digital resources from on-premise IT infrastructure to procuring digital resources from external suppliers, ensuring environmental & social standards are met becomes important. With the emergence of sustainability reporting and supply chain responsibility regulation, ensuring that suppliers not only meet requirements but submit transparent information on their impacts is another priority.
With a label both of these priorities can be addressed, both setting clear sustainability requirements for digital resource producers, their organizations and their operational practices, respecting existing environmental & social regulations and best practice as well as requiringย  standards-based reporting across all digital resource suppliers, getting the supply chain data required by both IT, procurment & sustainability teams.
The label further enables the SDIA & TCO Development to set the standard for what is considered leading sustainability performance amongst suppliers. The goal is to create a sustainability certification with requirements that only the leading suppliers are able to meet, creating a clear distinction for procurement.
Another aspect that we believe as important is the independence of the organizations governing the development of the criteria. Both TCO Development and the SDIA have a track-record, organizational and funding structure that ensures true vendor-independence, enabling the development of criteria which are driven by environmental & social challenges. As the SDIA will lead the criteria development, itโ€™s also important to highlight the inclusive approach of the SDIA community - bringing in stakeholders from across the value chain, as well as academia, civil society and governments.

Objectives

By creating a label based on criteria for sustainable cloud infrastructure (CSC label), it would become possible to assign an environmental impact to each generated digital resource generated by the cloud infrastructure owned and operated by the provider. This will make it easier for procurers, authorities, buyers, and users to evaluate the sustainability of the digital resources and the underlying cloud infrastructure . The label will require that each digital resource has the environmental impact information available as well as information on the overall environmental & social performance of the cloud infrastructure itself. . In general terms, the label will reflect:
  • Improve the utilization of material resources & energy in the value-creation chain,
  • reduce the amount of waste (both digital and physical) that is generated, and
  • reduce the environmental & social impact of each generated resource.

Who is the Label for?

Many actors can benefit from the development of the sustainability certification, its criteria and the availability of transparent data regarding the cloud infrastructureโ€™s sustainability in general. Among which are:
  • National and international governments (for procurement and fact-based regulation),
  • Both large commercial enterprises and SMEs (for procurement and reporting),
  • Software developers and IT leaders (for reporting and improvement),
  • Nonprofit and civil society organizations (for ensuring their values are met in their IT infrastructure)
  • Cloud infrastructure providers (for differentiation), and
  • Consumers (for choice of digital products powered by more sustainable resources).
Firstly, from a procurement standpoint, there has been an increase in demand for sustainable options for digital resources - be it from existing IT infrastructure providers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) or emerging cloud providers - in conjunction with demands for transparency on environmental & social impacts. Both national and international governments as well as large commercial enterprises are driving this demand. Government authorities can utilize the certification to set an example for their sustainability transition plans. Similarly, large enterprises could be interested in linking their purchasing of certified digital resourcesย  to their climate strategy and ESG reporting.
Secondly, the use of a label could empower software developers and IT professionals to procure more sustainable digital resources for running their applications. With transparent information on the environmental impact, they can assess the environmental & social footprint of their digital product, application or service. Further, they could gain a commercial advantage by being able to assure their consumers that they only utilize digital resources which are generated by sustainable IT or cloud infrastructure to deliverย  their software.
Thirdly, the certification would equip large-scale cloud infrastructure providers with the means to be transparent about the environmental & social impact of the resources they are offering to customers. Regional, small and medium actors further benefit from a means to differentiate themselves from others by showcasing their sustainability in the entire value chain. Itโ€™s an opportunity to compete on environmental & social performance. Additionally, certificationย  of the digital resources they generate would allow them to demonstrate their commitment to operational transparency, allowing for independent authorities to review their data and internal operations.
Finally, consumers would be the ultimate indirect beneficiaries of the certification, since it would allow them to make well informed decisions when choosing a digital product that is reliant on IT or cloud infrastructure. With the insertion of the label, they are informed on the efficiency and sustainability of digital resources consumed by the software,ย  digital product, orย  service they are dependent upon in their daily lives.

What are the Criteria and how would they be developed?

Theย  criteria are currently still under development. The process behind the materialisation of the certificate and its criteria is led by the SDIA community together with contributing experts and stakeholders that form the various working groups that identify sustainable challenges, potential solutions, and derive criteria that can be independently verified.
The SDIA will serve as an independent platform for academia, technical experts and suppliers to come together and advance a set of ambitious criteria that should qualify a cloud or IT infrastructure provider to receive a label for a digital resource product. After ensuring that the proposed criteria meet the values and roadmap of the SDIA, TCO Development will be the qualified certifier to develop the implementation with suppliers.
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Development of the final criteria is at present an ongoing process.To ensure that the criteria align with the earlier mentioned objectives, five target areas have been identified to guide the formulation process of the criteria:
  1. Transparency
  1. Sustainable business & operating model
  1. Embracing circularity
  1. Improve digital resource utilisation
  1. Renewable energy, supply and reuse of heat
Presently, a list of potential criteria has been drafted which is based on the identified sustainability challenges that surround the above mentioned target areas. The following are among the proposed criteria:
  • Energy and Resource Efficiency of Data Center
  • Hardware reuse and refurbishment
  • Server utilization & efficient operation
  • Transparency towards customer
This preliminary list can be found in the following table:
CSC Criteria Development

Certification Process

The plan is that SDIAโ€™s type I certification will be implemented by TCO Certified, a world renowned sustainability certifier for IT products.
Our intention is to use the existing certification system in TCO Certified to implement the certification for cloud resources. The certification system includes the following steps that will be adapted for the cloud resource certification where possible.
  • To qualify for a certificate, the suppliers are required to comply with all the criteria set out on data center facility as well as product level. This will be verified beforehand by independent experts.
  • After application and receivement of the Type I certification, TCO Certified will request follow up verification at relevant intervals following its approval. This ensures that those who have received the certification continuously uphold the high standards that come with the label.
  • Additionally, if suppliers are found to not meet the requirements they will have to develop a corrective action plan and get the corrections confirmed by an independent expert.
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TCO Certified, Verification of compliance, See https://tcocertified.com/verification-of-compliance-in-tco-certified/
It will be investigated whether the sustainable certification proposed by SDIA and TCO Development can be applied to a single digital resource product or an entire region/availability zone that produces digital resource. In the scenario of an availability zone, a digital resource product is uniquely identified with its instance name and the name of the location of production (region & availability zone). Therefore, if an entire availability zone were to be certified, then all the digital resources generated by it would become implicitly sustainable digital resources.

Benefits of Certification

Certification can be considered as giving an added value free of charge to the digital resources which cloud & IT infrastructure providers have to offer to procurers. For providers of such a certified digital resource product it will demonstrate their commitment to ensure the sustainability of its product by undergoing a voluntary and independent verification procedure. For procurers of such products, they are informed on the environmental impact of the digital resources they are purchasing and in turn the independent certifier would save them costly time and money to verify compliance with the relevant criteria from their suppliers.
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How you can help: To ensure the continued development of the SDIA Ecolabel, the SDIA requires support and expressions of interest from procurers. To show your support, find the link to our pledge form: https://sdia.io/csc-pledge

Further info and Resources

For further information regarding TCO Certified and what the Certification process means for suppliers and procurers see:
๐Ÿ—’๏ธInformation for Steering Group Participants | CSC