Empowering IT to Support ESG Strategy

Empowering IT to Support the ESG Mission


“It's not just a core pillar of our strategy, it's actually what our strategy is all about.” Delve into the transformative role of IT in driving sustainable practices and ESG strategy.


An overview: ESG strategy

It is up to technology leaders to encourage and direct the whole function in supporting and championing a company-wide ESG mission. How can that be prioritised and momentum maintained?


In the journey to corporate environmental responsibility, technology leaders play a pivotal role in steering their teams towards supporting a company-wide ESG mission. 


In this insightful Studio roundtable debate, senior technology leaders shared insights into their ESG strategies and emphasised the crucial role of IT in implementing green business initiatives. From defining ESG in varied organisational contexts to exploring the impact of technology on carbon footprints, the discussion delves into practical approaches for achieving sustainability goals


ESG strategy: meet the panellists

With HotTopics’ Head of Strategy, Doug Drinkwater, moderating this roundtable debate, the speakers included:


  • Dominic Howson, CTO, Viridor
  • Jon Townsend, CIO & Director of Technology & Information Security, National Trust
  • Danny Attias, CDIO, London Business School
  • Rubi Kaur, Chief Enterprise Architect, Lloyds Banking Group
  • Jacqui Lipinski, CIO and Director of Digital and Technical Services, Royal College of Art
  • Colin Seward, Chief Sustainability Office Technology & Data Lead, Cisco


Watch the roundtable highlights for Empowering IT to Support the ESG Mission



Key takeaways: ESG strategy

  1. Sustainability and the ESG mission
  2. Green IT and the ESG strategy


Sustainability and the ESG mission 

Kicking off the debate, Doug asked the panellists what ESG means to them and what strategies they are implementing in this area. 


Commenting that as the largest conservation charity in Europe, National Trust’s CIO Jon Townsend said that ESG is hugely important for the organisation.


“It's not just a core pillar of our strategy, it's actually what our strategy is all about.” Echoing the purpose of the National Trust, Jon argued that their main aim is to protect nature, beauty and history for everyone.


When discussing ESG initiatives, Jon argued that people tend to get diverted to conversations around carbon emissions–he hopes to broaden this view and address the challenges around biodiversity loss and threats to nature.


Jacqui Lipinski hates acronyms, but why? “I think we need to stop saying ESG because a lot of people don't know what that means and therefore aren't addressing things.” 


Looking at this from two perspectives, Jacqui argued that technology leaders need to consider how the business is thinking about sustainability—making sure that all aspects of the business meet that ethical standard and partnering with the right organisations.


The second perspective she outlined was around how organisations such as RCA are changing the way they are doing their research and teaching. 


In 2021, the Royal College of Art launched an initiative with King Charles and Sir Johnny Ives, allowing students to work with different organisations to create solutions—such as “inventing a mask for a cow that gets rid of all the methane gas in the world.”


Also in the education sector, as London Business School’s CDIO, Danny Attias explained that it is important to look at your business consumption as a whole, such as “what we do in our dining rooms, our flight and our travel.”


The biggest impact for change occurs through education for Danny: “We have thousands of students coming through our doors each year and by and large they go on to become leaders of the world's businesses, almost guaranteed.”


By incorporating sustainability into modules taught to students and “[making] it part of what we live and breathe” this increases the overall ethical impact.


Green IT and the ESG strategy

“ESG for us as an emitter is one part of our business, carbon is a big part of our ESG story.” Dominic Howson, CTO at Viridor, explained that the company has based their ESG strategy on a house. 


The two core elements of Viridor’s ESG House are a decarbonisation strategy for the energy business and a “circular plastic strategy” for the plastics business. 


When going back to the role of IT in propelling these ESG initiatives, Dominic said: “You can do an awful lot with tech[nology] to make that happen and come alive which is really exciting.”   


Speaking on the evolution of green initiatives and programs in the industry, Rubi Kaur recalled that back when she worked at HMRC, each department had been “slapped” with a 10 percent reduction target for their carbon emissions.


What they deduced was that IT is a “huge” carbon emissions emitter, due to the myriad of PCs and data centres absorbing this carbon. The process for reducing this began with the question: What is your carbon footprint in the IT estate?


“We found out we'd got about 76,000 tonnes. We developed something called a green IT model.”


Further on into the discussion, Doug pointed out that the impact of IT on an organisation’s carbon footprint may not be as front and centre as the day-to-day when it comes to different sectors like logistics.


Offering his views on this, Cisco’s IT Director Colin Seward agreed with Doug, arguing that a company’s carbon footprint will vary by industry. 


“And I think one of the challenges then for the IT organisation is in a particular industry, they may be just a small part of the overall footprint for that company.”


Colin contended that green IT isn't a “new thing”; instead, the novelty lies in the carbon accounting associated with it, such as scope one, two and three—which he argued a lot of people still do not understand.


His advice for technology leaders? “They've got to get their own estate into focus, green IT, look at what you're doing in your data centre and so forth, but then try to work out what impact you can have across the rest of the business.”

This roundtable discussion was created in partnership with Cisco.


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