More businesses are investing in sustainability every year, motivated by new global norms that establish sustainable practices as a responsibility to stay competitive. For example, Microsoft has pledged to be carbon negative by 2030 and to remove all of its emissions by 2050. Global retailer IKEA has aims by 2030 to become climate positive and regenerate resources while growing its business. And Accenture has set its own industry-leading net-zero, waste and water goals to achieve by 2025.
This is because Accenture—and a growing number of other companies—view sustainability as a business opportunity. And CIOs are in a unique position to leverage that opportunity on behalf of their organizations.
The Quarterly CIO Outlook—Innovation is the core of business revival in 2021, an Accenture survey of 3,200 executives found that over 80% of CIOs and CTOs believe sustainability can impact growth strategy, cost optimization, organizational design and a host of other critical areas of business development.
In fact, new Accenture research shows that 48% of companies say technology-led sustainability initiatives lead to increased revenues from better products and enhanced customer experience, and by attracting top talent.
Clearly, there is a business case for sustainability. By incorporating it into every aspect of strategy and operations, for example, by using newer technologies such as cloud, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and blockchain, enterprises can drive real change.
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Driving sustainable change, the CIO way
The key to a sustainability transformation is looking at the foundation of how the enterprise works. Moving CIOs and CTOs to the front of the C-suite can help drive the adoption of greener practices and embed sustainability at the core of business. At Accenture, we believe there are two distinct, but interrelated (and often overlapping), paths to a more sustainable business.
1. Make energy-efficient software choices
Many emerging technologies require a lot of energy. For instance, data centers account for 1% of global electricity demand. In the next decade, this figure is expected to go up 3–8%, making green software development an important priority.
Throughout the software development cycle, it is possible to make decisions that save energy and reduce emissions. That can extend from selecting platforms, programming languages and designing software architecture to the digital experience. The latter involves pivoting users toward sustainable device usage through an accessible interface, easier navigation and readable content, for example. Greater accessibility cuts screen time, resulting in a direct reduction of carbon emissions. Of course, with limited resources, companies need to prioritize applications that deliver the biggest carbon benefits.
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CIOs are in a unique position to leverage sustainability on behalf of their organizations.
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2. Move to a public cloud
Migration to the public cloud can achieve significant carbon reduction in the form of a 5.9% decrease in total IT emissions or nearly 60 million tons of CO2 globally, which is the equivalent to taking 22 million cars off the road.
However, cloud migration can come with new sustainability challenges. For example, moving large quantities of data to and from cloud requires a lot of energy. That is where energy-efficient software models like “edge AI” can help an organization realize the green benefits of cloud migration.
Rallying the partner ecosystem to scale sustainability
No company can take on the challenge of sustainability on their own. CIOs may implement sustainable strategies in their businesses, but they need to partner with peers to enable greater impact.
Partnership and collaboration are essential for tackling global problems that are particularly difficult to solve and require urgent attention to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Many of these challenges, like those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, and peace and justice, are interconnected and require an ecosystem approach to solve them.
Technology will also be a key enabler in addressing the SDGs. But while digital technologies can align an entire ecosystem to find innovative and scalable solutions to intractable development problems, success will depend on everyone working together, with the private and public sectors joining forces.
Industry leaders have already realized this and have started developing inspiring solutions. Accenture, Microsoft and others recently launched the Green Software Foundation. The project aims to help the software industry contribute to the Information and Communications Technology sector’s broader targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.
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Embracing the green agenda
With the emergence of new energy-intensive technologies, rapid degradation of the climate and widespread corporate greenwashing, it has never been more important for CIOs to focus on sustainability. Wielding their influence wisely, they can roll out initiatives to measure and manage the environmental impact of technologies and improve sustainability across the enterprise. The opportunities are limitless. CIOs take the lead. Drive your organization’s sustainability agenda.
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