November 04, 2021
November 04, 2021
Contributor: Ashutosh Gupta
Deciding where and how to apply digital to your sustainability strategy will be key to meeting your organization’s ESG goals.
“If the internet were a country, its electricity use would be the third largest in the world, behind China and the U.S.,” Aapo Markkanen, Senior Director Analyst, reminded a group of executives during a recent Gartner webinar. What, then, is the role of digital in sustainability?
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The degree to which you deploy technology for good will depend on your sustainable-business strategy, according to Markkanen and co-presenters Kristin Moyer, Distinguished VP Analyst, and Bettina Tratz-Ryan, VP Analyst.
Clearly, digital infrastructure and services can have a hugely negative impact on sustainability (the internet accounts for 3.7% of total global greenhouse gas emissions), but digital can also be an engine of sustainability — if it’s positioned effectively and at the center of your strategy.
Consider two simple examples:
Deciding where and how to use technology to solve a problem or to amplify an existing solution is key to a successful sustainable business strategy. So where do you start?
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First, it’s important to assess what is material to your strategy. The list is long — from climate change and biodiversity to human rights, health equity and digital ethics. The key is to figure out how different issues impact your stakeholders and business so you can prioritize your efforts.
But none of these issues is simple, so you’ll need new thinking and new digital investments. “If you try to improve sustainability without that sort of ambition, you are likely to fail,” says Markkanen.
Digital sustainability requires addressing each material issue with a set of problem-specific solutions, leveraging information technology (IT), operational technology (OT) and engineering technology (ET), as well as non-technical innovations.
For example, if a circular economy (a model that promotes reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling of existing materials and products as much as possible) is one of your sustainability goals, then possible solutions might be:
By developing a shared understanding of digital sustainability among executive leaders, you can more easily prioritize how you develop and deploy the technologies you need it. Besides contributing to corporate sustainability initiatives, CIOs and other IT leaders will also have to meet specific ESG goals around the sustainability of IT infrastructure and services themselves.
Four actions will fuel more effective delivery:
Focus on six key areas — energy efficiency, e-waste, paperless transactions, material efficiency (utilization, capacity) and supply chain. To evaluate IT sustainability, use parameters such as cloud utilization, power management or the number of devices per employee.
Work with other executive leaders and promote joint initiatives to align around high-importance material issues, using the digital sustainability taxonomy to build accountability. For example:
Remember that having a sustainability “czar” won’t guarantee results; you need invested executives dedicated to implementing change across all functions.
Establish an ESG data platform to gather and analyze ESG-related data from operations as well as the entire value chain. Deliver an integrated set of analytical, reporting and business application tools that can provide the necessary hindsight, insight and foresight.
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Recommended resources for Gartner clients*:
Apply Digital Business to Sustainability
The Role of the CIO and Technology in the Enterprise Sustainability and ESG Endeavor
Define Sustainability and Leverage Materiality to Drive More Effective Strategy
*Note that some documents may not be available to all Gartner clients.