Can Technology Ever be Sustainable?

“As leaders, I think we need to ensure that our teams are on board with doing the right thing”. These executive technology leaders shared their thoughts on sustainability.


Organisations across the globe have different definitions of sustainable technology and how this can be applied to their strategies. Sustainable technology is more commonly seen as a set of digital solutions that further the ESG presence within a company. In this roundtable debate, the speakers discuss the different ways their IT teams are engaging with sustainability in the organisation in addition to many other topics. 


With Bridgid Nzekwu moderating, the speakers of this roundtable debate include:




IT teams and sustainability

Setting the debate in motion, moderator Bridgid Nzekwu asked the speakers how team and leadership demands are now changing the way IT teams engage with sustainability.


CDIO at London Business School, Danny Attias, argued that there is sustainability in IT as well as the more obvious aspects such as data centres, laptops and mobile phones. On the other hand, he pointed out that there is also the bigger sustainability topic focused on the business as a whole. “I think we are probably more engaged in the bigger picture… rather than the micro element”, he said.


Danny stated that it is critical for sustainability to form a part of your organisation’s strategy, technology strategy, innovation strategy as well as the hiring strategy. While this is the main aim, Danny noted that it can be difficult and overwhelming to engage technology leaders in this. “Especially given the amount of digital transformation that’s going on in every organisation”, he added. This is about trying to get technologists to think more about their work around data collection, smart buildings, and the cloud. All in all, he explained that it’s key to get this conversation started. This will enable technologists to recognise the sustainability impact in the tasks they carry out within their teams.


Sustainable technology and culture

Head of IT, CISO and CIO at Getaround, Mel Reyes, agreed with the idea that there needs to be a change in culture in order to bring sustainability into the everyday thinking of IT teams. 


“We’re seeing this with ESG efforts globally”, he said. He stated that requirements have come down from governments as well as mandates to encourage CEOs and CIOs to reduce their footprint. Moving forward with this, Mel explained that depending on the market, “the ESG conversation becomes a very big play”. When looking at sustainability and IT, Mel argued that the shift to the cloud is one of the biggest benefits to bare metal, waste and “massive data centres”. 


When looking at all of these aspects, he argued that technologists need to make a connection between the environmental, social and governance. To help the speakers visualise this, he posed the question: “Where do all those old laptops go?”. Mel asked them whether they believed that they end up being recycled, repurposed or donated to different programs to “help elevate and educate”. When referring to the governance aspect, he spoke about mandates such as net zero and the Paris Agreement. In an example, he stated: “In the container transport industry they are actually trying to target leveraging technology innovations in order to reduce the waste”. Mel finally commented that sustainable technology is an “incredible topic” that will, at some point, end up on the agenda of the majority of major corporations. 


Remote working models and sustainability

“I think this new hybrid and work-remotely capability that we’ve executed in the face of a pandemic has now produced a very pivotal point in our business life”, said Robert. The majority of tasks and operations carried out in the technology functions, in his view, can be performed remotely. He explained that robotics and automation are going to continue to be necessary and carry out services for businesses and consumers. Robert argued that the move to the cloud and the new hybrid work model has given technologists the “opportunity to fuel the sustainability engine”. This in turn will enable them to reduce their carbon footprint. 


When asked how seriously sustainability is viewed in organisations, Robert responded by stating that it’s balanced. “The regulations are going to make us pay attention and prioritise what we need to do to achieve compliance”, he explained. Moving away from regulations, he argued that technologists view this as an “opportunity to do the right thing”. Sustainability isn’t something that can be overlooked. “As leaders, I think we need to ensure that our teams are on board with doing the right thing”, he said.


Incentivising companies

“Are companies going to just do the right thing? No, because they’re there to make purpose they’re there for a profit”, Danny commented. Taking on a different perspective, Danny believes that organisations aren’t focusing enough on sustainability nowadays. “They’re thinking about what’s going to bite them today, not what’s going to bite them tomorrow”, he explained. Danny argued that sustainability issues need to be addressed preemptively. When it comes to incentivising organisations to focus on sustainability, he pointed out that they are hearing a lot about ESG, especially the governance aspect. He pointed out that smarter and more forward-facing organisations can keep up with sustainability mandates, despite the ISO 270001 and information security, quality and standards they need to get past. “If you’re ahead of the curve with your business model, ESG requirements come along”, Danny explained.


This roundtable was recorded at The Studio and made in partnership with Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

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