The Power of Partnerships and Collaboration in Technology and Sustainability

The conclusion of Part One of our How Sustainable is the Technology Sector? report perfectly sums up the power of partnerships and collaboration in helping to address sustainability and climate change.

Undeniable opportunity

It says, “There is an undeniable opportunity for technology to be a force for good and create sustainable change, through dedicated industry partnerships and sector-wide collaborations. We see enormous potential for technology to help create more accessible and inclusive workplaces across sectors and geographies, but only if the right investment, infrastructure and employees are in place to rise to the challenge and implement the changes needed – the clock started ticking some time ago, so the pressure is on.”

Partnerships for positive change

Partnerships within the tech industry are the preferred pathway to positive change. Two-thirds (66%) of 550 technology businesses surveyed by iResearch Services are collaborating with more than one company on sustainability, with 85% of partners coming from within the industry. In the USA, this is even higher, at 96%.

The necessity for partnerships is taken up by Bruno Sarda, Principal of Climate Change and Sustainability Services at audit firm and consultancy EY, in iResearch Services’ newly-published follow-up to the Sustainability in Technology report.

Cooperation for common good

He points out that climate change is a global problem that requires global solutions and is better solved through partnerships. Trying to make the tech industry more sustainable has increased cooperation for the common good and has brought companies closer together.

“I think sustainability has been a great platform for collaboration. You’ve seen companies that would not be in the same room on any topic other than sustainability, whether it’s to reduce HFCs [Hydrofluorocarbons] gases and in refrigerant, vending machines and so on; all kinds of other standards.”

“There’s not a single company that’s unique in trying to solve these [sustainability] problems. These are not necessarily going to be competitive advantages.”

With many companies chasing net-zero targets set for 2030, the extent of collaboration in the tech industry will be crucial in the next decade. This includes improvements in technologies to track and reduce emissions in supply chains, and more investment in technologies to match renewable energy from grids with the demand for computing power.

Matching words with actions

The technology industry could become one of the greenest industries, Bruno suggests, but it needs to match words with actions, so as not to get a reputation for cynical greenwashing – that is, claiming that products and services are more sustainable and eco-friendly than they really are.

What is collaboration?

Emanuel Kolta, Senior Analyst, Network Sustainability and Innovation at GSMA Intelligence, which represents the worldwide communications sector, agrees that there have been some welcome collaborations and partnerships created, but that there is a pressing need to share best practices and achieve more. “There is a lot of room for development. You can see, for example, mobile operators doing a lot of things and there are a lot of initiatives. It depends on how competitive the sector is, so, for example, companies who directly compete are less likely to collaborate. But in some areas where we have mobile operators who don’t compete with each other, they are more likely to collaborate.”

What is meant by collaboration? “I think there are different levels and different goals – setting up common targets and harmonizing methodology,” says Emanuel. In addition, it is important to measure sustainability and have platforms where companies can share best practices.

Internal partnerships

It’s not only external partnerships that play a vital part in making progress on sustainability, but internal collaboration between departments. And IT is at the heart of the process, says Alex Nicholson, Senior Director of Social Media and Impact at Pegasystems (Pega), a maker of artificial intelligence software.

Crucial role of IT manager and team

“I think the key component to sustainability in a business is a strong partnership with your IT department. Cloud, AI, Blockchain – they’re all very sexy, but they are not going to get the work done! IT is going to set up the systems that you need in your business, to track your measurements, understand what you need to do from an employee perspective and create all the tracking mechanisms that you need for reporting. So, when we’re thinking about who the most important partners are when you’re establishing the foundational elements you need for a strong sustainability strategy in your business – it’s going to be the IT manager and the IT team.”

Sustainability and partners

Technology professionals feel strongly about sustainability. On average, 86% of 550 tech leaders surveyed by iResearch Services in Part One of the report think it is important that the partners they work with are following sustainable practices. This rises to 94% in China, Japan and Germany and even the lowest score among executives, in India, is 72%.

Achieving more with industry associations

Add in working with industry associations and cross-industry partnerships and even more can be achieved, says Russ Shaw CBE, who should know, as he is the Founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates. Says Russ, “Companies can always achieve more when they collaborate with external partners than they can alone – no individual business has all the answers.”

Collaboration should be more commonplace

For instance, Global Tech Advocates has a Start-up Showcase that highlights start-ups from the world’s fastest-growing tech cities and regions that are driving innovation to address climate change.

Some start-ups can assist companies with sustainability issues, including Ever Impact, which helps cities and businesses to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Zopeful, which runs an Intro to Climate course, and Wherefrom, which promotes sustainable shopping.

Russ adds, “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.”

GSMA has created a dedicated sustainability assessment framework for its members, in partnership with Yale University. 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.

GSMA’s Director General, Mats Granryd, says, “The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in many ways, so keeping the commitment to the SDGs [sustainable development goals] 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.”

Future optimism

Gurpreet Purewal, Vice President, Business Development – Thought Leadership at iResearch Services concludes that the collaboration in the technology sector over sustainability makes him optimistic about the future.

“I think if you look at where we were 10 years ago, and where we are today, it’s just astronomical improvement, and the acceleration of innovation is huge. How technology companies are moving forward is great, to see that they understand their place in the world and their potential for change. So, I think for the technology industry it’s very much continuing the journey that they’re setting out and imposing that transparency, consistency, and honesty in the way that they work.

“But when you look across the different industries, technology has been very good at creating those partnerships, building those alliances, and they have almost the most information or knowledge base, because they’re working across industries.”

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