Technology as a Force for Sustainable Change

In the last year, a real appetite has emerged for technology as a force for sustainable change.

Tech companies are increasingly standing out as strong supporters of environmental awareness and action, Rachael Kinsella, Editor in Chief of thought leadership specialist, iResearch Services, tells software company, Pegasystems (Pega), in its Future of Operations LinkedIn broadcast.

“The impetus has grown through COP26 [the UN Climate Change Conference] last year and a number of heavy industry commitments and conversations that were going on towards the back end of 2021,” Rachael says in The Future of Operations discussion.

Technology as a force for good

“And what we’ve seen at the start of 2022 is a real appetite for technology as a force for good and the technology industry playing a greater role, working with other organizations and other sectors on how they can use innovation and technology to be a force for sustainable change,” she tells Eva Krauss, VP Strategy & Transformation for Pegasystems.

The 10-minute podcast explores the major impact sustainability and climate change will have on business operations in the coming years and how today’s industry leaders are preparing for an increasingly disruptive future.

All of this means that 2022 is an exciting and challenging time for the tech industry, as the sector explores how to innovate and be a force for sustainable change, says Rachael. As an example, artificial Intelligence is being used to manage and improve customer communication and make it a more sustainable process. Retail, agriculture, hospitality and other industries are looking at ways of reducing waste through increasing or improving recycling and donating food waste. The technology sector is working on reducing emissions and pollutants and how companies can innovate to help run a sustainable operation across the whole business and lifecycle.

How sustainable are tech industry businesses?

In one of the most comprehensive surveys of its kind, iResearch Services interviewed more than 500 senior leaders within the technology sector in How Sustainable is Tech? to find out how sustainable they are in their strategic business planning, how sustainable they want to be and how sustainable they are perceived to be, both internally and externally. The survey also discovers how the allocation of resources, recruitment, and retention of staff is affected in becoming more sustainable and taking into consideration other key business challenges over the past year.

“One of the key areas that came out of it is the connection and disconnection between personal beliefs around sustainability on behalf of leadership and how far along they think their organization actually is, when it comes to becoming more sustainable,” Rachael explains.

Personal sustainability and organizational sustainability are not aligned

“There’s a massive disconnect between how sustainable CEOs want to be; where their personal beliefs and ethos lie around sustainability; and how sustainable their company is.” There are major concerns that the sustainability of the organization isn’t matching up with personal ethos at CEO and C-Suite level. In total, 80% of CEOs surveyed believe sustainability is very important. In middle management 73% see sustainability as important and looking at operations specifically, it drops down to 55%. “That is quite telling, in terms of the myriad challenges that operations professionals and leaders face in current times.” In addition, in each case, a smaller ratio believes their companies are very sustainable – CEOs 15 percentage points less at 65%, middle management 25 percentage points less at 48% and operations 1 percentage point less at 54%.

The Future of Operations

Pega has also been working with iResearch on the Future of Operations project, with a report that explores the importance of sustainability and climate change for the operations team. Eva Krauss says, “One of the compelling statistics stated that 68% of the surveyed people agreed that sustainability and corporate responsibility are going to have a big transformational impact on the business. So, people think it’s important. They haven’t fully realized that [these are] going to drive a lot of changes into operational teams over the next couple of years.”

Sustainability means business

What are the effects on businesses, and how can they prepare and promote sustainability? There is an impact right across the organization, says Rachael. This includes everything, from the initial business planning, budgeting and finances to innovation and interaction with customers and potential customers, to employee experience and attracting, retaining and recruiting talent.

One of the most surprising statistics that came out of the research was that around half of those surveyed believe employees will work harder for an organization that is operating sustainably. The importance of sustainability from a customer demand perspective is becoming apparent, but employees are also demanding it – and they want to see what the companies are doing before they decide whether to work for them.

Challenges of prioritizing sustainability

One of the biggest challenges for companies who prioritize greater environmental and social governance and sustainability is making sure that they don’t fall into the trap of ‘greenwashing’ – saying they have sustainable operations when that is not the case in reality, or not being as far along as they claim. “There’s been an enormous backlash against greenwashing and businesses are being found out. So that’s a big reputational risk, but also it could take a massive hit to revenue,” says Rachael.

Competitors who are being transparent about how sustainable they are, and who are embedding sustainable initiatives throughout the organization, are more likely to win and retain customers. They are also more likely to win the right talent to help them run a more sustainable business.

For new product development, supply chains and key operational areas of a business, there are potential implications of not prioritising sustainability right the way through. Companies at the forefront are approaching things from a strategic perspective at the very beginning, mapping the situation out and looking at all the different touchpoints across internal and external stakeholders.

The power of partnerships

One vital way of getting ahead is to form partnerships with like-minded businesses, trade bodies and membership organizations. This makes it easier for businesses to develop new products and new platforms and to provide more sustainable services to customers. They can also get support for more investment in sustainability, access to lobbying for more sustainable industry-wide initiatives, and more of a transparent framework for reporting and to have a wider reach.

Interestingly, the research from iResearch Services suggests that a significant proportion of the tech industry is partnering with other tech organizations – not necessarily companies in different sectors.

Tech trends for good

Pegasystems commissioned iResearch Services to write its Future-Proof 2025 Technology Trends Report, which explores how the technology trends of hyperautomation, distributed cloud, AI governance, extended edge and extended reality are set to impact the tech industry in future. All these innovations are having and could continue to have profound effects on helping organizations improve sustainability.

How green is green?

Rachael Kinsella also wrote a Green with Envy article for the Pega GO! Magazine, asking, “Whether trying to reduce carbon emissions, maintain long-term growth, or boost social equity in the workplace, enterprises across all sectors are pledging to become radically more sustainable. Technology companies are among the most vocal supporters of sustainability initiatives, but how is this translating into action?”

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