“Digitization reduces the carbon footprint"

Jan Brecht, Chief Information Officer of Daimler and Mercedes-Benz, wants to make the digital transformation sustainable. The core element of this is the continuous reduction of CO₂. A conversation about green IT, the digital workplace and the power of password appeals.

Mr. Brecht, today - the day of this interview and every year on the first Thursday in May - is World Password Day: How many different passwords does the IT boss have?

(Laughs.) Too many. I can tell you that. But not at Daimler. In fact, we now have single sign-on for almost all applications, so that I can use everything after logging on once. But in the family and privately, quite a lot comes together.

The sequence of numbers from one to six is still one of the most commonly used passwords in Germany. The appeals of cybersecurity specialists don't seem to be getting through. How do you perceive security awareness among Daimler employees?

It is improving. We've done a lot in terms of education and training, and we've also communicated a lot to make people aware of how important secure passwords are. People have internalized that. There is also a lot of technical support now. For technical reasons alone, we can't use passwords with a sequence of numbers.

In addition to responsibility for data, there is also a growing need to make the use of IT environmentally friendly and resource-friendly. You want to green IT. What's that all about?

In a large corporation like Daimler, IT has significant energy consumption. In our case, that's over 100 gigawatt hours per year. That's roughly equivalent to the electricity consumption of a city with 30,000 inhabitants. Our declared goal is to significantly reduce this energy consumption and, above all, the associated CO₂ emissions.

You want to make IT CO₂-neutral by 2025. How is that to be achieved?

The lion's share of energy consumption comes from our data centers. They need energy for computing power. But we need much more energy to cool the computers. That's why we're transforming our data centers. On the one hand, this means that we are merging data centers, because large, modern data centers have significantly better energy efficiency than small ones that are spread all over the place. We are doing this together with our partner Infosys. We are also relocating our high-performance computing cluster to the far north of Europe. For one thing, it's cold there, which means we don't have to cool as much. For another, the energy we need there is really green, whether from wind or water power. In four years, we want to be climate-neutral.

So there really won't be any CO₂ left then?

We are massively reducing our energy consumption through the consolidation and relocation measures I mentioned; we are assuming up to 60%. The energy we will then still need will be provided by green electricity. We assume that with these two measures we will achieve more than 80 percent, probably even more than 85 percent of the reduction. We will then offset the unavoidable remainder with high-quality CO₂ reduction certificates.

The digital workplace can also contribute to greater sustainability. For employees in the administrative areas, the pandemic has made it more commonplace than they had expected. Has this exceptional situation given us a boost?

Absolutely. There are several facets to it. On the one hand, it gave us a technical boost. But it happened very quickly. Within three days, we had connected 120,000 employees technically. What took much longer was the adjustment to digital working. It took more time for people to get used to it. But we can see that productivity and decision-making speed have increased. Not having to travel to work has also done its bit - not least in terms of carbon footprint.

And the home office has also given new impetus to the idea of the paperless office?

Yes, it has! For years, there have been efforts to reduce paper consumption in printing. The home office has helped, because people tend to print much less at home and realize that you can actually get by with much fewer printouts. But small things like actually turning off the computer in the evening also help, of course. Not necessarily significantly with the individual computer, but we have about 230,000 PCs in this company. If you extrapolate the energy consumption here, it does make a difference.

So in that respect, it's a win-win situation for us?

Yes and no. A company also has a social function. And I'm very much looking forward to meeting more colleagues again.

We have set out to become a tech company. What impact will increasing digitization have on our carbon footprint as a company?

Overall, it will reduce the carbon footprint, although there are of course countervailing effects. I have already mentioned the increased energy consumption in data centers. So, on the one hand, energy consumption will rise as a result of increasing digitization. On the other hand, however, it is also being dramatically reduced because resources are being conserved. This can be achieved by no longer flying around the globe, but instead sitting down in a video conference. Or, for example, by no longer having to build prototypes for simulations in development - which require a lot of resources - but by being able to simulate the whole thing digitally. So there are both effects: Reduction, but also, in the opposite direction, higher power consumption. However, the reduction in the carbon footprint far outweighs this.

Please complete...

I use paper...
"…to sketch on it in pencil, that still feels good.."

The IT of the future will...
"...contribute significantly to conserving resources."

Most recently, I took an intensive approach to sustainability when...
"…I built a fine dust sensor with my sons."

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