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Smart Cities & Sustainability

Smart Cities & Sustainability
What are some recent examples of convergent technology?

Top Answer: I was at a Microsoft Ignite conference a few years ago and one of the sessions was about mosquito trapping in Guatemala. But they weren't talking about how technology was trapping more mosquitoes; they explained how they were using drones to fly into parts of Guatemala that humans couldn't get to. They would drop in mosquito traps, retrieve those traps with the drones later, and then determine if there is malaria in that area. Once they did that, they could treat that area to kill off the mosquito population. They weren’t creating technology to kill mosquitoes. They just happened to use a technology that now exists to do it. And I get the feeling that's probably what we'll see more and more: people are going to take a technology that was used in one way and apply it to a different use case to start converging problems together.

What are the barriers to improving sustainability in IT?

Top Answer: We need to collectively think through the perennial problem of whether we are creating higher barriers to entry for those who are not already monied and in a position to do great things. As a simple example, we went all natural and organic in my house and it did great things in terms of our health, but my bills for food and cleaners went up by about 20% across the board. If someone does not have the same level of personal resources to cope with that increase, even though they know it's a good thing to do, they will just buy the Clorox off the shelf because it’s a lot easier and their budget will stretch longer. We now have large organizations and companies who have recognized that sustainability is a problem, whether it's for publicity purposes or because of their genuine beliefs. I tend to believe it's a problem that's coming quicker. Last summer was one of the hottest on record in Arizona, so we are seeing the impacts of that. And we need to do something. 

What role does IT play in sustainability efforts?

Top Answer: IT has an opportunity in this area because it can make sustainability efforts more effective for the company, both in managing and observability metrics, etc. IT can also implement change that allows for more efficient operations, as well as implement change in IT specifically, no different from marketing or sales. Every organization has to have its own improvement objectives apart from trying to improve the broader company operations. But it's easy for the modern company to capture the majority of its impact in IT. Whether it's your own personal data centers or capacity you use from a partner data center, cloud provider, or some combination of those, a lot can be done with your global networks. Many people don't realize that networks have one of the biggest impacts on sustainability and energy use in general. So they talk about moving to the cloud only to realize that they're spending more and potentially creating more impact because of the increased network traffic.

How do you define sustainable IT?

Top Answer: Now that I'm worried about building my own company, I see sustainability as a minimum success criteria for all of us. That criteria is measured in two ways, the most important of which is to do carbon net zero by a particular point in time, without diminishing IT's ability to grow and add value to the organization. Historically, when you pushed sustainability efforts, the response was, “What's it going to cost me?” And cost doesn't have to mean spending 5 cents per kilowatt hour for green energy versus 3 cents for fossil fuel; the cost could be putting up another barrier to growth in some form. How do we create a sustainable environment where people want to come to work, and they have the tools, resources and human support from a company that keeps that flow of material strengthened and maintained? Because for the company, it's just as important as fuel is to UPS in getting its trucks around. At the same time, it’s also about directing the company to build a sustainability platform that allows it to grow and excel without a reciprocal negative impact on the environment.

How do you see sustainability efforts in the industry progressing?

Top Answer: There are other nations that we can learn more from in the US and tie that back in an innovative way to what we're doing in our respective businesses. But overall, we have a long way to go. The good thing is, with social media platforms there is an organic impulse. Companies are being put on the hook because there's so much more visibility; it’s not only the big media outlets that report negative information about what someone or something is doing. Now, anyone with a cell phone can report this stuff. So more people are going to be on the hook in the long run, but I'm hoping that we can continue to push as a human race and get to that carbon-neutral state.

Are environmental, social, and governance (ESG) programs mostly about environmental sustainability?

Top Answer: ESG is an area that's had an increased amount of attention not only because of the environmental cost of climate change, which is a big risk to growth, but because of people as well. The social piece is becoming even more important. For example, people are discussing the ethics around leadership pay as billionaires have become even bigger billionaires during COVID. It's an ESG focus that will put controls around that.

What are your thoughts on the questionnaires given by clients or partners that have ESG programs?

Top Answer: I've filled out a few of those questionnaires for clients that have ESG programs, and some of them are fine. I'm more than happy to talk about what we do as a company for social impact as well as diversity and inclusion. But the environmental piece becomes complicated as we're a professional services firm that has one office and 350 remote employees with laptops. Everything we do is cloud based. For some of those questionnaires, you can end up scoring low on the environmental side and there isn’t anything your organization could have done to score higher. Some of them do miss the forest for the trees when they should take a more holistic view. It's interesting because the supplier piece of that is definitely in play. As more companies make sustainability a priority, along with ESG and supply chain, we’ll see a bit of a storm brewing.

Are SMEs getting left behind when it comes to ESG criteria?

Top Answer: For the first time in the history of the United Nations (UN), after decades of putting frameworks in place, they've managed to create 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) that are easier to understand and measure. The SDGs have become a big part of any private sector today in trying to help align the government, the private sector and entities or organizations like the UN. They have become something that everyone can understand in terms of metrics and goals. It's even become a focus for investors in tech startups, so it's not just big tech. A big component of impact investing has become very ESG-focused: there's a lot more money going into companies that are more ethical, more focused on the environment and using innovation or AI for good.