Investing in the right tools, understanding supply chain ecosystems and prioritizing transparency can help, members of Protocol's Braintrust say.
Good afternoon! In today's braintrust we asked the experts to analyze the relationship between sustainability goals and digital transformations and identify the strategies that could advance a company's progress in both. Questions or comments? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
President of Sustainability Business at Schneider Electric
An effective climate change program must be an enterprise-wide effort. This means that at the outset, digital and central data management systems must be united — and all stakeholder goals incorporated.
However, some immediate sustainability areas those tasked with driving digital transformation should consider include:
Supply chain ecosystem: Net zero ambitions require businesses to address Scope 3 through reducing supply chain emissions. Engaging hundreds or thousands of suppliers in decarbonization would be inefficient and ineffective without a digitized, holistic view of an entire supply chain ecosystem.
Reducing energy usage: The rapid development of neural machine-learning techniques allows companies to pinpoint to minutia areas of excessive energy load or opportunities to lower overall consumption. With SEC reporting guidelines on the horizon, all public enterprises will want to show they are taking all practical steps to reduce this metric.
Which leads to a final critical element: consistently communicating progress. An increasingly climate-aware world requires greater transparency from companies, while upcoming legislation will enforce it. Being transparent with progress and hurdles — and open to change based on ever-updating best practices — will not only move your business forward, it will ensure the entire market aligns to responsible goals.
Global vice chair of Sustainability at EY
Sustainability represents the biggest economic transformation of our time. There is incredible opportunity here: to invest in innovation, new technologies, new methods of financing and to create a new generation of jobs in the green transition.
It’s down to each company to find how it can create competitive advantage from becoming more sustainable. Digital transformation and data-driven insights will be critical for businesses as they find new and innovative ways to become more sustainable in a way that’s value-led.
With a seemingly insatiable appetite for companies to disclose more information about ESG issues, technology and data will be key for measuring and tracking a company’s sustainability ambition. This is critical not only to navigate the ever-evolving standards and regulation around ESG, but also to meet the demands of investors, employees and customers.
Effective digital transformation will enable companies to move from pledges and promises to real progress and performance, enabling them to create value from sustainability and build trust with stakeholders. Businesses must embed sustainability at the heart of their digital transformation strategies so it’s core to everything they do.
Global sustainability services lead and chief responsibility officer at Accenture
Our estimates, made with the World Economic Forum, show that by 2050, digital technologies can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 20% — particularly across the energy, mobility and materials sectors.
The opportunity to align technology and sustainability is twofold: Companies must not only make technology itself more sustainable (sustainability in technology) but also use technology to become more sustainable (sustainability by technology). Digital innovations are critical to helping companies accelerate their climate and energy transitions. For example, migration to the public cloud could cut nearly 60 million tons of CO2 annually — the equivalent of taking 22 million cars off the road. Digitization is also a key lever in driving energy efficiency gains: for example, in buildings and industries where there are billions of smart devices and sensors which generate data that can be leveraged to drive down energy consumption.
The key is taking advantage of the benefits of digital technologies and business models — i.e., transparency, efficiency and circularity — while also contributing to a culture of shared learning and action. Real-time data is imperative to ensuring companies can track progress against their sustainability commitments and to enabling sustainable decision-making.
While sustainable technology and digital transformation look different from industry to industry, collaboration within the business and across industries will be critical as companies rapidly adopt new technologies while meeting their net zero ambitions and climate goals faster.
Chief sustainability officer at Qualcomm
Mapping out a plan from the start, regularly monitoring progress toward goals and evaluating their own sustainability efforts is the best way for companies to ensure their digital transformation strategies align with climate goals. To do this, companies will need to ensure that connectivity technology is implemented throughout the company and its supply chain. 5G is the gold standard for connectivity, and is a core part of the infrastructure that will enable companies to ensure everyone and everything can be intelligently connected. Its speed, ultra-low latency and extreme reliability brings new forms of services, including everything from monitoring water usage in real time to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to efficiently monitoring a company’s operations. With 5G, issues can be identified immediately so that they can be solved as soon as they are detected. For example, smart water systems can provide up-to-the-minute data so consumers and water distributors can be alerted about a problem or over-consumption right away. Or manufacturers can use 5G-enabled technologies to improve inventory management systems, which can save on warehouse energy usage. Real-time insight into operations will enable for the most accurate monitoring and progress toward climate goals and identify and solve any issues that might come up quickly.
Senior director of Sustainability & ESG at Equinix
Organizations must consider sustainability needs at the start of any digital transformation project or risk missing their climate goals. For example, for many organizations, there is an optimal hybrid of data on-premises and in the cloud — and each of these strategies carries a different environmental impact. An imbalance of data in one place can make a substantial difference in achieving climate goals.
If considered at the onset, digital-first and sustainability strategies can be complementary. Digital transformation initiatives can reduce emissions by streamlining operations and providing insights into processes, even allowing companies access renewable energy and lower carbon digital services. Technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things and cloud computing are already driving sustainability. For example, artificial intelligence with contextual awareness is helping smart cities make renewable energy more affordable while machine learning is boosting efficiency by forecasting energy needs. And data center operators are increasingly using renewable energy sources to sustainably power digitalization.
As businesses increasingly outsource their digital needs, leaders need to consider whether their vendors and partners align with their climate goals. To help decision-makers determine the right partner for them, they should start by answering questions like how your partners can help you achieve or advance your sustainability goals, whether they publish an annual sustainability report, what reporting frameworks they use and how are they innovating for sustainable growth.
Becoming a digital-first organization means making business and technology strategies indistinguishable from each other, and sustainability must be at the center of it all.
Chief sustainability officer at Sustain.Life
Climate programs are pushing to the front of corporate agendas. But for companies to execute, digital transformation is critical for the widespread adoption and scale necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
For two decades, sustainability and climate programs have existed on a myriad of manual spreadsheets. Tracking progress was slow, onerous and prone to human error. Now that companies — and markets — recognize the value in climate disclosure, it’s natural that carbon accounting has seen a digital transformation, following similar trajectories as other business-critical functions like accounting and HR. But to align digital transformation with climate goals, a few steps are paramount:
1. Identify critical criteria. Before leaning on technology to support climate goals, first identify what topics are material to your business. For example: carbon emissions, habitat preservation, water, air quality, etc.
2. Find the right tools. Identify where you need support. Is it translating your business activities into carbon emissions? (I certainly won’t be the last one to employ Peter Drucker’s legendary adage, “What gets measured gets managed” here.) Or tools to help guide your programs, reduce emissions, set targets, forecast future scenarios and simulate cost? Or reporting and aligning with third-party standards, calculation methodologies and frameworks.
3. Play the field. Once you understand your needs, evaluate technology partners. Do you need a tool designed to support enterprise scale operations, mid-size or small businesses? Are you looking for third-party-aligned tools, or more flexible applications?
Global head of ESG at Workiva
As conversations on ESG continue to ramp up, organizations need to be forward-looking when developing their strategic climate and energy-reduction plans. Technology and digital transformation can enable three opportunities for companies: First, access to detailed, built-in controls that allow executives to derive accurate data, insights and decisions from original validated sources. Second, risk and reduction of errors or misinformation across reports to various stakeholders through streamlined collaboration in a cloud-based environment. And third, engage in real-time data automation for various ESG metrics that can improve the oversight and development of forward-looking KPIs and goals. Transparently reporting climate goals through more detailed disclosures will help company leaders be more accountable to their stakeholders who are looking to fully understand where a company has been, its current progress and its planned future actions. Effective ESG leaders and executives understand how digital transformation can unlock long-term strategic planning and business value.
CFO at Mars Incorporated
Digital teams are focused on driving insights against our most vexing business challenges, one of which is climate change and delivering on net zero. The best way to ensure alignment of our digital transformation and sustainability goals is to build agile teams that use those insights to evoke change in the organization. For example, our digital teams are working to crack the code on mapping the impact of the items we manufacture on our carbon footprint using powerful tools and techniques. Ultimately, access to these critical insights will empower us to account for sustainability, ensuring we are having the right business discussions and making the best decisions to deliver on our climate commitments.
Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is a Research Editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.
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