Organizations worldwide must ready themselves to help meet the goals of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26),  if we as a global community are to successfully achieve net zero by mid-century.  

For these ambitious emissions reduction plans to become reality, sustainability needs to go hand-in-hand with digital transformation, embracing technological advancements to better record, report, and reduce emissions. Deep data analyses and a systems-level approach are necessary, as is a commitment to working together in the name of the planet, its inhabitants, and our collective futures.  

Sustainability traverses environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues, making it a topic that does, in fact, bring people together. Recently it brought me together with colleague Olivia Neal, Worldwide Director of Microsoft’s Public Sector Center of Expertise, to discuss reducing environmental impacts through partnerships, and government’s role in preserving natural capital.  

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In our conversation, Olivia highlighted Microsoft’s dedication to a net zero carbon economy, sharing that Microsoft is now carbon neutral and in 2020 set a new goal to become carbon negative by 2030. This, coupled with Accenture’s Promise to embed sustainability in everything we do, and with everyone we work with, will help create both business value and sustainable impact that is truly 360 degrees. Lessons learned along the way have led to things like the Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability—able to track an organization’s carbon footprint across the entire operation and improve visibility throughout the supply chain. Working with common data models such as this will bring greater visibility to the urgent work of meeting emissions reductions goals. And it comes at a time of renewed citizen, consumer, and business buy-in, with increased expectations for organizations to walk the sustainability talk. As we say at Accenture, sustainability is the new digital – and digital transformations are what will get us there. 

Governments will play a key role

The scope of how governments think about environmental sustainability is growing, as are the opportunities for technological transformation through partnerships across the public and private sectors. Governments are seeing the need for sustainability in how they protect life and property; prepare for and respond to crises; and develop policies and regulations. Data use is key, and as Olivia notes, we cannot manage what we are not measuring. All elements of the public sector have a responsibility to address the changing climate and certainly we are seeing interest in this, from defense and intelligence agencies to education institutions, and beyond.  

Transported by cloud, AI, and data

Following the pledges made at COP 26, we are going to see an even bigger push on energy transition, electric mobility, and decarbonizing public infrastructure and the built environment. The response must span city-regional administrations, builders and developers, and transportation companies. A great example of helping to drive this transformation is the Accenture/Microsoft “Transport Platform” we recently launched at the Smart City Expo in Barcelona. With capabilities like proactive incident response management, it is primed to set the foundation to tackle today’s transportation challenges around safety, sustainability, and convenience. The time is now to build in this critical resiliency. 

AI to protect natural capital and biodiversity

Sustainability in the broader sense is a blueprint for progress and development. For example, one of the UK’s largest energy providers was not satisfied with just a plan to invest heavily in wind farms, they also partnered with Microsoft and Accenture to better understand the impact of their actions on local ecosystems. With AI in place, the organization is now able to better monitor the area puffin population while generating renewable energy. It is such long-range thinking that will help leave a positive legacy for future generations. To that end, we are seeing more efforts to assess the inherent costs of a program or project on the environment and natural capital, as well as cost-benefit analyses that include carbon sinks. 

Leading voices in public service

Common data models and greater data visibility will help public sector organizations focus on ways to reduce carbon emissions. In the push to meet sustainability targets, we are moving from the “why” to the “how.” We need a common language to align to the same goals and to be transparent on progress. The pledges of COP26 are just the beginning. Sustainability must be underpinned by AI, data, and cloud-based platforms if we are to reach net zero. As a whole, we are making an important step in the “twin transition” to green digital tech, while also using technology to help the public sector achieve more sustainable outcomes. More work is needed, to support governments in recording, reporting, and reducing emissions. The reward though, is undeniably significant, making sustainability partnerships some of the best ways to serve the public. 

Learn more about how we at Accenture,Avanadeand Microsoft bring people and technology together to accelerate meaningful action, especially in the public sector.   

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Gaurav Gujral

Managing Director – Strategy and Consulting, Public Service, Europe