Customers, consumers, and employees increasingly demand that organizations grow, innovate and operate in a responsible manner. IT has a role in achieving sustainability goals by making operations sustainable, but IT itself should become more environmentally friendly as well. “You have to focus on both aspects to maximize the benefit for the planet,” according to the two-time CIO of the Year Aloys Kregting.
In a way, IT is comparable to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, says Eric Onderdelinden, Deloitte’s Director of Enterprise Architecture, at the start of the fourth broadcast of CIO TV’s summer series in collaboration with infrastructure and digital services specialist Equinix.
“Without these gases, our planet is unlivable for humans, but if you have too much of them, you run into other problems. Our current lifestyle is impossible without IT, but IT contributes to the problem in terms of carbon footprint and the use of raw materials. They are two sides of the same coin that cannot be seen in isolation.
According to Onderdelinden, IT can help to combat climate change at four levels: maximizing the energy efficiency of IT itself – for example in the cloud, using artificial intelligence and predictive algorithms to improve sustainable processes and change behavior, innovation, and data sharing on alternative forms of energy within ecosystems, and finally the so-called telecommuting for remote working. “So in addition to making IT more sustainable, IT can also help make business operations greener.”
“As humans, we have too much impact on the planet,” states Aloys Kregting. “We need to become more sustainable. Take, for example, production or shipping, those have many more residual costs. Think of the pollution of the oceans, global warming, or soil pollution. We are mortgaging the future with all the things we do.”
According to the two-time CIO of the Year, it is the responsibility of digital and global leaders to face this issue right now and set sustainability goals. “It should be part of the higher strategic objectives. ‘How can you be successful in a world that fails?,’ one of my former CEOs once said. That is a very powerful statement.”
“Sustainability goals should be part of the higher strategic objectives”
This is being addressed in two ways at Dell Technologies, says Vice President and General Manager Isabel Moll. “First of all, we have our own goals for 2030. That translates into the way we produce, operate, collaborate, and act within the ecosystem of customers and partners. Our customers increasingly expect this from us – we can’t do business if we don’t simultaneously contribute to making their IT environment more sustainable.”
Jeroen Louman, Partner at Deloitte: “In terms of digital strategies and transformations, the focus is currently mainly on growth and cost optimization, but we are running towards a barrier.” Apart from a growing awareness, legislation will force companies and their leaders to take responsibility. “We also have a moral obligation, in which we as the Netherlands can lead.”
“It is important to get this on the agenda,” says Michiel Eielts, Managing Director of Equinix in the Benelux. “As IT, we are an integral part of every solution in our everyday lives. As a sector, we must work together on innovation that minimizes our ecological footprint.”
“Many organizations have the intrinsic motivation for sustainable development”
Equinix builds and operates data centers that often have a life cycle of 20 to 25 years. “So we must always apply the most efficient technology and use it as sustainably as possible – for example, through the application of green energy and other things.”
IT contracts with suppliers increasingly contain sustainability clauses, with conditions and targets in the field of energy saving or greenhouse gas emissions. This applies to data centers, for example, but also to the purchase of hardware. In fact, sustainability is more and more part of the selection process.
Isabel Moll has seen this a lot and in her eyes, it is a completely logical and meaningful development. Steps are made by offering products as a service, paying only for what the customer needs. “In this way, we help companies achieve exactly the right scale needed to be successful and we also prevent wasting resources. In addition, artificial intelligence can help to operate more efficiently and effectively.”
According to Deloitte’s Jeroen Louman, the benefits are quite clear. After all, the lower the energy consumption, the lower the costs. It also has advantages in terms of commerce and attracting talent to be known as a sustainable organization. “In addition, there is the moral benefit – for us and for our children. The question is: do we wait for legislation to force us to do so? Or do we take this moral decision ourselves and lead the way?”
Michiel Eielts says, “Looking at the ecosystem of customers and partners, of which Equinix is a part, I see that many organizations have the intrinsic motivation to achieve sustainable development goals.” He sees business ecosystems slowly transforming into sustainable ecosystems. Mutual trust is required for all this to work.
Connected and transparent
In the digital world, everything is connected: people, information, devices, and companies. This makes everything much more transparent so that it becomes too great a risk for companies not to be sustainable. Moreover, its connected nature makes IT an integral part of the business and therefore part of the solution.
“Companies have the responsibility to also report on sustainability goals”
“In addition to financial reporting, with the help of IT, you should also report on sustainability goals, as an integral part of your responsibilities as a company,” says two-time CIO of the Year, Aloys Kregting. “It’s not just about profit, but also about planet and people.”
“Setting goals is nothing else than reporting and steering on them,” adds Michiel Eielts. “We create reports, our partners create reports and together we make the ecosystem of sustainability work. Although we can still take a lot of steps in this area, because the further you go with reporting, the better you understand the total impact.”
Watch the full episode with some additional remarks and recommendations for technology leaders.