As recently as a decade ago, environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) was little more than a box-ticking exercise for many corporates. Today, it is directly priced into business investments, and those failing to take meaningful action are finding capital hard to come by.

This is due, in part, to a growing preference among consumers for brands that can demonstrate legitimate sustainability and steer clear of practices that amount to, or could be interpreted as, ‘greenwashing’. Coupled with the rising cost of fossil fuel energy and the geopolitical exposure that reliance on it invites, businesses hoping for investment are being left with little choice but to pursue a Net Zero agenda.

And as the march to Net Zero gathers pace, technology will play an increasingly critical role in enabling organisations to deliver on their objectives. It is incumbent on technology leads to begin planning for its implementation now, lest they become mired in a frantic game of catch-up.

In this blog post, we will discuss the challenges for technology leads when it comes to addressing sustainability objectives, and outline the three core areas your sustainability technology strategy should address in order to overcome them.

Sustainability Is a Unique Challenge For Technology Leaders

Sustainability presents a significant challenge. It spans across and connects to every component of an organisation’s ecosystem, from colleagues and customers to stakeholders and shareholders, all while placing enormous demand on IT.

But it is not an insurmountable challenge. Indeed, more so than the scale of the challenge itself is the decision paralysis it creates among leaders; a paralysis with multiple contributing factors, including:

Difficulty in assessing a baseline – Arises where activity data has not been tracked to the necessary level of granularity and the required calculations are complex (particularly in IT). For example, when data relating to the potential carbon impact of a code pattern is not readily available, the significance of the impact when the code pattern is delivered at scale could remain unknown. It can also be hard to attribute the impact of supporting services to particular applications.

Lack of benchmark or historical data – Makes it difficult to see critical deficiencies, identify where improvements can be made, or build a case for investment. For example, ‘how can I set a target around the per-usage carbon footprint of a specific service?'

Budgetary inflexibility – Leads to an inability to deliver long-term organisational ambitions within short-term funding cycles. Experiments will be required to build a case for major initiatives, but acquiring approval and quantifying payback for long-term investments may be difficult.

False perceptions – Belief that greater sustainability requires customer experience and outcomes to be downgraded or critical business processes to be compromised. For example, a view that refreshing data less frequently will cause challenges with servicing customers or that accepting less than 100% uptime for an application will inevitably lead to operational disaster.

Business model inflexibility - Constraints or limiting factors within business and service models, such as service level agreements (e.g., reporting frequency), non-functional requirements (e.g., latency and performance), and value propositions (e.g., customer service commitments).

The Three Core Focus Areas Of Sustainable Technology Strategy

In the face of such challenges, intensified by multiple competing pressures with shorter-term deadlines, it is understandable that many technology leaders extend the timelines for getting started on sustainability. Drawing on our expertise in guiding leading organisations through complex change and our knowledge of emerging technologies, tools, and working methods, we have found the following three key areas should form part of the technology sustainability strategy.

  1. Delivering Actionable Data: To be ‘actionable’, data must be evaluated to define improvement actions and monitored to ensure actions deliver the required results. Explore how existing data strategies and models can be augmented to bring sustainability data points into core business decision-making, including the likes of customer satisfaction and employee wellbeing.
  2. Empowering and Influencing End-User Choices: Digital capabilities play a significant role in guiding customers and employees to adopt more sustainable behaviours. Designers working on digital journeys should consider where the potential impact of choices can be surfaced to promote sustainable behaviours and where customer feedback points across digital journeys can be used to collect valuable insights into customer appetite for sustainable options.
  3. Reducing the Carbon Impact of Technology: Education is essential for establishing the key technology contributors to environmental impact, and how green software principles can reduce this impact. Look to set principles, guidelines, and standards for how to Define-Design-Build-Test-Deploy technology in a way that strikes a balance between feasibility, desirability, and sustainability.

Start Taking Action Now

In our eBook, Getting Started on Sustainability: A Guide for Tech Leads, we outline practical recommendations for technology leaders to take action in their sustainability strategy.

We anchor our recommendations for addressing the three core components we’ve discussed with an exploration of the following:

  • Data: The critical role of data in developing comprehensive sustainability strategies, from getting insights in front of decision makers so they can guide risk and identify opportunities, to balancing the need for data intelligence against the carbon intensity required for its generation.
  • Design: How to responsibly design employee interfaces, customer journeys, and technology solutions and balance customer impact with environmental footprint. The importance of how and when information is presented for motivating end-users to make sustainable choices and decisions.
  • Engineering: Ensuring the environmental impact of engineering the different systems and applications that underpin the technology strategy and sustainability goals is minimised by adhering to green principles, practices, and workflows.
  • Governance and culture: The importance of embedding a ‘sustainability-conscious’ culture and how this can be achieved by defining roles, incentivising and empowering employees, introducing key project controls, and holding individuals accountable for core success measures.

Download the eBook now to explore how you can use technology to deliver actionable insights, empower and influence end-user choices, and reduce the carbon impact of your organisation.