As organisations around the world commit to UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), IT leaders have a significant role to play in delivering on them; the IT industry alone is responsible for 2-4% of global greenhouse emissions.

A single laptop can result in a carbon footprint of around 300 kgCO2 emissions over it’s lifespan (calculated by Boavizta data), during which energy required to process and perform those operations is generated mostly by fossil fuels. The emissions produced during the manufacturing of the device make up a significant proportion of the total footprint, which can be reduced by up to 98% by using a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

(For more insights on Sustainability in Cybersecurity – read our article)

A VDI is a server-based computing arrangement that allows end users to access a computer-generated desktop or applications from a remote location or device. This means that laptops already belonging to employees can be utilised rather than continuously procuring new hardware. If your business is looking to reduce its environmental impact by lowering its carbon footprint and minimising digital waste, desktop virtualisation may be a viable solution.

Below we outlined the conclusions drawn from Wavestone calculations based on Ademe data to assess the environmental impact of usage of VDI’s compared to a typical HP laptop. To do so, we approximated CO2 emissions from the manufacturing and energy use of these devices, based on an organisation of 1000 employees over the period of 1 year.

Device per Employee per Year Energy Consumption (kWh) Manufacturing Emissions (KgCO2) PC Usage Emissions (KgCO2) Network Emissions (KgCO2) Data Center Emissions (KgCO2) Total CO2 Emissions (KgCO2) Total CO2 Emissions per 1000 Employees (KgCO2)
HP Laptop 20 58 9.14 20 0 79.14 79,140
VDI 20 0 9.1 20 8.5 37.6 37,600
Approx Emissions Saving per 1000 Employees per Year (kgCO2) Approx Emissions Saving per 1000 Employees per Year (Tonnes) Approx Emissions Saving per 1000 Employees per Year
41,540 41.54 47.5%

The figure above compares our emissions savings figure to some more conventional equivalents (data derived from

VDI vs Traditional Computing

By using a VDI rather than a physical PC or laptop, organisations can experience significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and electronic waste, as well as lowering costs, increasing efficiency / scalability, and improving security. Obviously, this is dependent on factors such as implementation and the use case of the VDI, by optimising the VDI configurations to reduce energy consumption, the associated carbon footprint can be reduced. The number of virtual desktops being used, the hardware, and software can all impact the reduction in emissions achieved using a VDI. Configurations such as RAM, graphics memory, storage and availability can all affect greenhouse gas emissions indirectly, caused by the energy consumption of the underlying hardware infrastructure. Higher specifications would require more energy to power and cool the servers running the VDI, potentially leading to higher greenhouse gas emissions from the data centre. Availability requirements can also impact energy consumption if they necessitate higher levels of redundancy and resources, which could increase energy use and emissions produced. Emission savings may also be subject to change depending on the geographical region of deployment depending on the local carbon intensity figure.

The benefit of a VDI is that it separates the fundamental operating system, applications and hardware from an end user’s device and moves these components into one centralised server, from which many desktops can be hosted, allowing businesses to significantly reduce their number of physical laptops. This not only helps to reduce the amount of energy required to power these devices, but also significantly reduces the amount of hardware needing to be manufactured, transported, and disposed of (see table above). Once deployed, desktop virtualisation solutions provide more efficient management and maintenance capabilities and allow easy rollouts of new software and patches remotely. VDI’s hardware can be remotely customised to accommodate these patches whereas traditional PC upgrades and repairs require more transportation and resources. A single VDI’s usage can typically span 8-10 years compared to the 3-4 years of a conventional PC, prolonging the cycle of e-waste from manufacturing through to disposal. Laptops typically weigh about 3 kilograms and are disposed of in landfills at the end of their lifecycle. Desktop virtualisation devices such as thin clients can weigh as little as 150 grams. Do the maths on this – over 90% waste reduction!

Overall, calculations suggest that the use of VDI’s can help a 1000 employee business to reduce their digital carbon footprint by approximately 41.5 Tonnes of CO2 every year and minimise the environmental impact of their operations. By optimising energy consumption, reducing hardware requirements, and improving the management and maintenance of IT systems, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure can help contribute to a more sustainable future.

Wavestone is committed to working towards this greener future alongside its clients, supporting them across a host of sustainable capabilities, such as sourcing, technology architecture, change delivery, and operating models, all whilst ensuring security, reliability, scalability, and reduced emissions.

If you wish to learn more about how the figures in the table above were derived, please reach out to us.

Disclaimer / Assumptions

The figures above were derived using the following assumptions. Actual figures can vary depending on data sources used, calculation methods and environment.

  1. The VM used comprised of 2 virtual CPU’s and 8GB of dedicated RAM.
  2. The total yearly emissions included the manufacturing and usage of the server hosting the VDI + the manufacturing and usage of the PC hosting the VDI + the network usage and manufacturing of the VDI. All of which were derived from ADEME and Boavizta data.
  3. The UK electricity mix (KgCO2e/KWh) was assumed to be 45.
  4. Network impact (KGCO2e) was calculated using an estimate from Ademe with the assumption that the impact of the transporting 1GB of data via a fixed network was 024538 and the data exchanged on a daily basis was 816 GB, assuming 1 hour of idle time, 3 hours of MS Office, 2 hours of web browsing and 3 hours of MS Teams meetings). This network impact was applied to both the PC and the VDI.
  5. Manufacturing emissions for the VDI were assumed to be 0 as the VDI would be assumed to be running on an existing laptop.

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