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Tech + Sustainability = Leadership

5-minute read

April 12, 2021

Business leaders have increased the scope of their sustainability commitments. And in turn we’re seeing companies like Arabesque asset management, combining big data and environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance into investment decision-making—combining economic value creation with sustainability goals.

Blackrock CEO Larry Fink called on all companies "to disclose a plan for how their business model will be compatible with a net-zero economy" as a defining factor for their long-term prospects. And Accenture CEO Julie Sweet believes that "as industries reimagine and rebuild from the pandemic, they have the opportunity to embed sustainability by design to drive their customer agenda."

The benefits of driving value creation for all stakeholders and helping meet the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) go beyond good corporate citizenship. A recent Accenture study shows that tomorrow’s strongest-performing businesses are likely to be the “Twin Transformers”—companies that find new value at the intersection of digital technologies and sustainability. Powered by these twin engines of growth, they’re 2.5x more likely to outperform their peers.

That resonates with our Accenture Technology Vision 2021. Each of its five trends offer a unique perspective on how experts at change build sustainability into their business and technology strategies:

1. Stack Strategically—Architecting a better future

Business and technology strategies are becoming indistinguishable. And sustainability is central to their convergence. Architecting for sustainability begins with migration to cloud: average on-premise-to-cloud migrations can result in 84% carbon reduction.

This is driven by efficiencies in cooling, hardware optimization and compute utilization, as well as the increasing use of renewable energy by public cloud providers. Sustainable software engineering practices—like choices related to coding language and AI accuracy—can add to these carbon savings.

Data centers are projected to consume 8% of electricity worldwide by 2030. That’s up from 2% today. Moving to cloud and embracing Green IT and software can help create more energy-efficient, inclusive digital systems.

An example? Tools like the Microsoft Sustainability Calculator that provides insights into a company’s carbon emissions linked to cloud services and finds ways to reduce their carbon footprint.

The opportunities don’t stop there. Technologies used to meet CEOs’ net-zero commitments give enterprises a way to rethink their business models. A pioneer in this area is Engie, a French energy company that’s transforming itself and helping its customers transition to a zero-carbon future.

The challenge they faced was understanding customer preferences across 70 countries and 24 business units. That was essential for them to be able to recommend relevant renewable or zero-carbon energy solutions.

In partnership with Accenture, Salesforce and Vlocity, they’re developing a unified global CRM platform to provide a 360-degree customer view. This will allow Engie to make personalized recommendations and solutions—and reinvent its business model and processes with industry-specific cloud and mobile solutions.

2. Mirrored World—The power of massive, intelligent, digital twins

Digital twins are virtual, mirrored worlds of factories, machines, processes, products and more, built on real-time, historical, and sometimes simulated data. They provide companies with the opportunity to run massive and limitless simulations for embedding responsible supply chains, product design and circular economy into the core of their business.

Digital twins bring data and intelligence together at incredible scale. Porsche, for example, worked with its materials suppliers and Circularise, a blockchain provider, to create digital twins of materials and build a digital thread across its entire supply chain.

As well as providing material traceability, this enables the company to track sustainability metrics, like carbon footprint or water savings. It’s an important step toward mapping ESG performance as well as sustainability measurement and disclosure.

3. I, Technologist—The democratization of technology

Today’s employees want the power to act and create sustainable solutions themselves. Natural language processing, low-code platforms and robotic process automation are all democratizing technology, putting powerful capabilities into people’s hands of people so they can create sustainable solutions without specialist skills and capabilities.

This provides a tremendous opportunity to make sustainability part of the organizational fabric, with each employee empowered to use technology to solve micro-problems and contribute to broader enterprise sustainability goals.

Look at Dutch company Betty Blocks. They’ve developed a no-code platform to help create mobile and web apps easily using a drag-and-drop interface. One app created on this platform is MySepp, a worker-developed tool for reporting dangerous workplace situations quickly and intuitively via smartphone.

Every time a report is entered into the app, it sends a text message to the supervisor, who can make sure the issue is quickly addressed. While democratized tools are making it technically possible for people of all skill levels to build technology solutions, truly empowering them in this way also requires investment in a company’s overall technology literacy.

4. Anywhere, Everywhere—Bring your own environment (BYOE)

The pandemic has forced the biggest workforce transformation in living memory. The world over, organizations shifted their people, practically overnight, to remote working. To keep things going, companies have had to pivot rapidly and double-down on technology solutions.

Based on this crisis-driven experience, the fourth trend, “Anywhere, everywhere”, reimagines the future in the shape of BYOE. The benefits are vast, even delivering on sustainability goals by right-sizing company office spaces and cutting down on polluting, energy-consuming employee commutes.

Take Fujitsu’s new "Work Life Shift" program, for example, which allows employees to work remotely and adopt flexible work hours. The result? The company is looking to boost innovation, enable it’s employees to achieve a greater work life-balance and to reduce its total office space in Japan by half.

Moving from a pandemic strategy to a permanent strategy is no small task, however. Enterprises rushed during the pandemic to make sure BYOE work was technically possible. Now they need to make sure it can be done seamlessly and securely.

The first step is to gain new visibility into the employee experience and understand how employees’ environments are impacting their work. Microsoft used its own Workplace Analytics solution to understand how remote working impacted collaboration and work patterns. What did they find? Its people were working different hours, had increased social meetings, and were having more manager one-on-ones.

As companies learn more about the impact of remote working on workforce culture, they’ll find opportunities to improve the employee experience long term. Twitter, for example, announced permanent remote working to increase the scope of diversity in hiring, unhindered by location.

The company is also attempting to reduce meeting fatigue and imagining new ways to create water-cooler moments online to increase social engagement. They’re also rethinking performance review systems to eliminate potential bias against remote workers.

5. From Me to We—A multiparty system’s path through chaos

One of the biggest lessons for enterprises from COVID-19 is that they need a more resilient, adaptable, and trusted foundation for partnerships. Multiparty systems are transforming the possibilities for building partnerships and ecosystems to promote sustainability and navigate uncertainties—without compromising privacy and efficiency.

AB InBev, one of the largest global buyers of barley, is partnering with SettleMint to create a blockchain-based technology platform that will help growers improve their barley yields and environmental footprint.

The platform will benchmark data across stakeholders and help farmers boost their yields, improve soil health, and enhance the efficiency of their water and energy use. The multiparty system would enable AB InBev to not only assess the company’s climate risk exposure, but also design solutions to mitigate it. The result? A more responsible and resilient supply chain.

Another example of building a responsible supply chain is the pilot being run by a group of companies using blockchain to track and prevent the use of child labor across the supply chain in cobalt mining or in cocoa production.

As companies look to rearchitect their foundations in the wake of changes forced by COVID-19, they can become Twin Transformers at the same time—powering immense growth for the company while keeping sustainability at the core of their vision.

Right now, there’s an unprecedented window of opportunity. Companies that take advantage and move forward with purpose will be able to define a new future for their business, their industry, and the planet.

(Authors would like to thank Giju Mathew for his contribution)


Sanjay Podder

Managing Director and Global Lead, Technology Sustainability Innovation