Power of Partnerships in the Tech Industry to Meet Sustainability Goals

Tech companies are turning to collaboration to meet sustainability goals

A problem shared is a problem halved, so goes the saying. Many tech companies are certainly thinking along these lines when approaching sustainability issues – using partners with expertise in the field to boost their performance, while also encouraging businesses in their ecosystem, such as suppliers, to pursue sustainable practices.

There is no doubt that sustainability is of growing importance within tech. The report ‘How Sustainable is Tech?’ by iResearch Services, based on a survey of 550 executives across 11 countries conducted during the lead-up to COP26, finds that 89% of tech companies believe it is important to be seen as a sustainable and ethical brand. The same percentage of respondents say sustainability is important when choosing a new employer, showing it also resonates at an employer brand level.

When it comes to collaboration their research finds that 86% of technology professionals across regions think it is important that the partners they work with are following sustainable practices. This rises to 94% in China, Japan and Germany and falls to just 72% of respondents in India.

More often than not, collaboration extends beyond a single partner: two-thirds (66%) of technology businesses surveyed are collaborating with more than one company on sustainability. The majority (85%) of partners are cited as being in the technology industry. In the US in particular, this is even higher, at 96%. It appears that partnerships within the tech industry are the way forward for positive change.

Associations and cross-industry initiatives

Arguably, even more, can be achieved through working with industry associations, and by entering cross-industry partnerships. “Companies can always achieve more when they collaborate with external partners than they can alone – no individual business has all the answers,” says Russ Shaw, an expert on partnerships in the tech sector. “Our network – Global Tech Advocates – has a ‘Start-up Showcase’ where we highlight start-ups from the world’s fastest-growing tech cities and regions that are driving innovation to address climate change.

“Many of these start-ups can help companies to achieve real impact. These include Ever Impact, which helps cities and businesses measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Zopeful, which runs an ‘Intro to Climate’ course and Wherefrom, a company promoting sustainable shopping. If we are to move the needle further on sustainability in the tech sector, then these inter-industry partnerships will need to become more commonplace.”

But there are some interesting initiatives underway. In partnership with Yale University, mobile network operators association GSMA has created a dedicated sustainability assessment framework for its members. The framework is designed to assess operators’ performance and map the organisation’s interaction with society and other industry players, as well as monitor the leadership position demonstrated on global sustainability challenges and opportunities.

“The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in many ways, so keeping the commitment to the SDGs has never been more important for governments and industries. Yet, we know that it will not be possible to attain the 2030 Agenda without mobile connectivity. It is our responsibility to collaborate in new ways that will maximise the industry’s potential,” says GSMA’s Director General, Mats Granryd.

A decarbonisation audit of 1,000 partners

Mobile operator O2 Telefónica has embarked on a project to find out more about the carbon dioxide emissions among its supply chain of around 1,000 partners. Data is being captured on a climate-focused software platform. The company’s 40 biggest suppliers have been invited to participate in a climate rating exercise, again software-driven, to help identify the steps they can take to decarbonise. Qualitative and quantitative data generated through this project will be used to inform O2 Telefónica’s own decarbonisation strategy.

Meanwhile, CRM software giant Salesforce and global consulting group Accenture have created a new sustainability services partnership to help clients achieve their ESG goals. Accenture, alongside Apple, IBM and Verizon, is also a member of MIT’s Climate and Sustainability Consortium (MCSC), set up in January 2021 to create new collaboration opportunities in decarbonisation.

One of MCSC’s strategic pillars is to link stated company goals to value chains, enhance collaboration and find blind spots. After blind spots have been identified – for example, through virtual workshops in which member organisations can bounce ideas off each other – we enter the strategic problem definition stage in which the community seeks to scale climate and sustainability solutions.

The power of partnerships isn’t just confined to the giants of the industry, however. With sustainability on everyone’s lips, start-ups should weigh up how and why to collaborate. Needless to say, such steps require substance rather than superficiality. They must form part of the growth strategy.

Consequently, to figure out the appropriate fit you first need clarity as to your end goals. Pick the purpose, then the partner.

As is evident from iResearch Services ‘How Sustainable is Tech?’ report it’s clear that many CEOs are not satisfied with their companies’ sustainability efforts. We found a noticeable difference between the importance they give to sustainability (80%) and how content they are with the overall level of sustainability at their companies (65%). Moving the needle in the right direction may necessitate a more proactive approach with current and future partners.

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