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During the 2017 Smithsonian Institute Earth Optimism Summit, an Accenture team battled its way to the top of the eco-friendly ladder, winning a hackathon event with the digital solutions they provided for their chosen conservation challenge topic of overfishing. Francesca Fernandez, Environment Strategy Senior Analyst, shared her thoughts on the event, as well as Accenture’s commitment to the environment.
Why are the Earth Optimism Summit and its mission important, and how does it tie into Accenture’s eco/corporate citizenship initiatives?
Accenture’s overall Corporate Citizenship strategy has focused on an environmental journey for a long time now. Throughout the past 10 years, we’ve almost halved the amount of carbon it takes for each person who works for Accenture to go about his or her job. We’re bringing our suppliers along with us, through our supply chain engagement efforts. And we’re constantly breaking new ground in terms of helping our clients realize their own sustainability goals. Driving sustainable economic growth demonstrates that there can be a win-win, which is exactly the message that I believe the Earth Optimism Summit is trying to drive home.
What most appealed to you about participating in the hackathon?
I thought it would be great to participate because, although we as a company have been striving toward reducing our environment footprint for some time now, we have only just scratched the surface of how our new and booming capabilities in Digital can have an even greater impact beyond our own walls and across the wider ecosystem (pun intended).
What initiatives took your team to the top?
We had a working prototype and a high-scalable concept. Through the solution we developed to tackle the issue of sustainability and overfishing, we aspire to provide consumers with dock-to-dish traceability through the integration of emerging technologies such as blockchain, DNA barcoding, crowdsourcing and restaurant validation. We also see a way for machine learning to improve our algorithm through computer linguistics and predictive analytics.
The fact that within 48 hours, we had produced recommendations based on actual, real-world data demonstrated the imminent feasibility of the solution. Meanwhile, the range of ways in which it can be applied and expanded upon, and therefore make an impact, is vast, e.g., across geographies, food types, measures of sustainability.
What did you learn from this particular event that you could take back to your daily life and/or work with clients?
Perfect is the enemy of done. As a team, one of the challenges we encountered was the temptation to get really accurate about certain parts of the prototype that we felt hadn’t been thought through 100 percent. Luckily, one of us kept stepping back and putting into perspective how much detail we would realistically actually be asked to go into, given that our pitches and judging rounds were in increments of 2-5 minutes. This brought us out of the weeds and freed us up to complete other parts of the presentation, which ultimately enabled us to submit a more rounded solution.
Bringing this back into my daily life, I think one of the things I’ll definitely keep top-of-mind going forward is the question, “How likely is it that we’re going to reach this level of detail?”
How does Accenture foster an environment where you can participate and succeed in events like this?
I think there is a well-ingrained “open door” culture within Accenture that makes it very easy for people who have never worked together before to reach out to one another and quickly establish an effective working relationship, as was the case for my team. Also, the ubiquity of virtual working across the company means that even though we were coming to the project as “strangers,” we were all able to connect and collaborate from the get-go, even though we were spread across three different time zones and four different states. It made it very easy for us to support one another and share the workload.
As a member of Accenture's Eco Engagement team, what other types of initiatives do you think are important for the company to participate in?
One of the things that I think will be very fruitful for us going forward, and which we’re exploring more and more, is partnering with clients and industry peers to drive systemic environmental change. We did this in a big way around COP21 and the Paris Agreement.
What’s next for Accenture’s eco initiatives?
We’re at an exciting time now where we as a company are looking to re-envision what our environment commitment means going forward, and we are open to all potential shapes that may take.
We’ve even organized a way for people to roll up their sleeves and get hands-on, for example, through digital micro volunteering. We’ve partnered with an organization called Zooniverse, which enables people to volunteer for the environment from anywhere that they have a laptop and an internet connection, in as little as two minutes.
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