Sustainability: what top performing companies have in common

We live in amazing times. Only a very small number of years ago, any spend on ‘Green IT’ was considered as something nice to have. A way for companies to show that they were ‘doing their bit’, and to give them something to pad out the annual Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report.

That was then. Now, something truly incredible seems to be happening. This year, according to the Carbon Disclosure Project’s latest report, the number of companies within the S&P 500 that reported climate change policies as an integral part of their corporate strategy nearly doubled – up to 65 per cent from 35 per cent last year. That’s a huge increase in companies that have made a board-level focus to embed carbon reduction strategies into their core business practices.

So why the change? Have many of the world’s top executives suddenly decided that they have to save the planet? Well, without wanting to cast doubt on these people’s good intentions, the truth is likely somewhat different. The truth is that most companies are realising that sustainability is simply another word for efficiency, and efficiency is something that every organisation needs to run as, well, efficiently as possible.

These executives are to be loudly applauded. They have realised that by embedding sustainability into core business practices, they are driving initiatives to reduce their costs, increase staff satisfaction, and to tap into an enormous market demand. No surprise then that many of the top performers in the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Leadership Index are also top performers in their industry, such as Cisco, BMW, Honda and Samsung.

At a number of recent events, I have heard it said that the drive towards increased sustainability will be more disruptive than the arrival of the Internet. A bold suggestion. When we consider that one of the people making this claim is John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, a company whose success was based on anticipating the disruption caused by the arrival of the Internet, we would do well to pay attention.

So what does this all mean for IT leaders? Well, in reality, all of those business leaders embedding sustainability into their core strategy are likely to be looking to ICT to drive change and success. After all, ICT has a track record of driving revolutionary change, so it is only right that ICT becomes the poster child for sustainability.

How to get started with this revolutionary change then? The chances are that you are already have! There are three key areas of focus, at least two of which will be familiar to ICT leaders.

Travel – reducing travel is clearly a good thing. As well as avoiding the high costs of air fares or fuel, along with the associated carbon emissions, sitting in an airport lounge or traffic jam is clearly not a good use of anybody’s time. Video conferencing and TelePresence are an obvious way to reduce this, but less obvious is how to get people to actually use them. Now assessment tools are available that take the human factor into account when looking at using technology to reduce face-to-face meetings, and also provide a handy reporting mechanism to help you understand how much money, time and carbon you are saving.

Energy – given the spiralling costs of energy, reducing our consumption is also clearly important. ICT uses a lot of energy from multiple sources – on the desktop, in the network, and in the data centre at a minimum. Companies need to explore these three areas for ways to increase energy efficiency and implement management techniques to help keep down costs and emissions.

Waste – do you know where all that old ICT equipment in your company goes to when it’s run its natural course? If you do, and you know it’s met with an ethical and environmentally friendly end, then please give yourself a big round of applause! Sadly, however, you are in the minority. Most organisations do not have a policy as to how to dispose of electronic waste and, with e-waste predicted to grow by 500 per cent over the next decade according to a UN study, this is an issue that governments are starting to take seriously. At the very least, ICT departments need to have policies in place to not only deal with waste, but to also carefully manage the lifecycle of their technology to determine when disposal is the right option.

We do indeed live in amazing times. ICT departments can do amazing things by simply focusing on reducing travel, energy and waste.

Colin Curtis is director of sustainability for ICT services and solutions provider Dimension Data.

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