Sustainability has become top priority among executive leaders and boards of directors across enterprises. A recent study conducted by the executive research firm Heidrick & Struggles in association with INSEAD of 301 corporate directors across 43 countries published in the Harvard Business Review reveals that climate goals are “very important” for 75 percent of the respondents with about their organization’s strategic success.
I recently had an opportunity of exchanging thoughts with some remarkable industry leaders during a roundtable on ‘Preparing for a sustainable workplace revolution’. We shed some light on how CIOs and technology executives can foster inclusive and sustainable growth. We also discussed the roles leaders can play in helping companies become carbon-neutral.
There was a consensus on increased pressure on C-level executives from investors, regulators, and other stakeholders to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, participating leaders and the audience felt that customers, business partners, and investors would now prefer working with companies that take active steps to cut down on their greenhouse gas emissions.
Here are my key takeaways from the roundtable on how enterprises can equip themselves for a sustainable workplace revolution.
Making sustainability an inclusive discussion
There are multiple reasons why enterprises need to be good corporate citizens. For starters, it’s a way of demonstrating your organization’s commitment to the planet’s sustainability. From an environmental sustainability perspective, it can generate heightened brand recognition and improve your company’s reputation among consumers.
Being environmentally responsible can also help companies increase customer loyalty, boost sales, and accelerate financial performance.
Moreover, demonstrating a commitment to environmental sustainability can help companies attract and retain talent at a time when labor shortages are at an all-time high. According to a study by the National Environmental Education Foundation, nearly 90 percent of employees engaged in their company’s sustainability efforts say it enhances their job satisfaction and overall attitude about the company.
Preparing for a sustainable workplace revolution: Ready or not?
Increasingly, employees want to work for companies that share their values around environmental and social responsibility, making them involved in these initiatives equally critical.
Finding solutions to workplace sustainability requires innovation and creative thinking. This is another critical reason why an equitable and inclusive approach to the sustainability discussion is so vital. It’s a way of drawing in perspectives and recommendations from all employees across a variety of socio-economic, ethnic, and other backgrounds to improve sustainability efforts.
Identifying the economic benefits of an ESG-driven enterprise
One of the most valuable lessons that organizational executives involved in ESG strategies have learned is that sustainability and growth are not necessarily opposing forces.
Research shows that investing in sustainability initiatives provides numerous benefits beyond the environmental impact that it delivers. Long-term business benefits would include:
- Greater loyalty among employees who work for companies that are committed to sustainability (Cone Communications Millennial Employee Study)
- Higher employee morale as evident in 55% of companies with strong sustainability programs (Harvard Business Review)
- Better employee wellbeing: Employees in green-certified buildings experienced a 26% increase in cognition and 30% fewer sick days on average (Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health)
- Higher profitability: Eighty-eight percent of companies with solid sustainability practices were found to have better operational performance and cash flows than those that don’t (Oxford University)
Supporting a sustainable and new-age, technology-driven workplace
While building an ESG enterprise is a shared responsibility across the C-suite, the onus is on technology executives to optimally operate energy management systems and adopt digital solutions that create the visibility of real-time GHG emissions.
The advent of green-IT and other advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, automation, and the Internet of Things (IoT) is making it easier for organizational leaders to monitor, track, streamline, and analyze opportunities for improving corporate sustainability efforts.
These technologies also help improve operational efficiency, optimize LEED buildings and construction methods, and decrease resource dependency. For instance, data generated by the carbon output from data center equipment, office space, factory floors, and other facilities can be analyzed to evaluate changes in operational efficiency and identify opportunities to optimize operations.
Meanwhile, AI and machine learning tools can help identify anomalies in operations that could be exacerbating carbon output along with opportunities for reducing the carbon footprint from workplace technologies, data centers, office spaces, etc., suggest improvements for LED light efficiency, and more.
The savings that can be generated from data center activities alone can provide enormous cost savings and environmental benefits. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that data center facilities consume up to 100 to 200 times more energy than standard office buildings.
How CIOs and technology leaders can foster sustainability
There are multiple ways technology executives and their teams can contribute to organizational sustainability efforts. A good starting point is optimizing the use and power consumed by existing technologies such as servers, storage systems, and applications. A growing number of forward-thinking leaders have begun benchmarking the power consumed and the heat emitted by current applications and devices used within their organizations.
Another progressive step forward is using green machines that can be applied to specific user profiles and activities. This step includes the use of virtualization software for a broad range of cloud applications such as sales management, analytics, and HR apps.
CIOs and technology executives can work with OEM and hardware providers to identify carbon offset targets offered by green machines to help their companies achieve net-zero goals. This can include the use of green machines that utilized refurbished components and can ultimately help a company reduce its e-waste.
The first step in these efforts should focus on quantifying the scope of the transition, then assessing the state of the company’s carbon emissions. These efforts can be followed by defining and setting mid-term and long-term goals while formalizing and implementing the decarbonization strategy.
As members of the C-suite, CIOs and technology executives can further foster sustainability efforts across the organization by identifying and working with environmental advocates who can help spread the word.
Nobody knows what the future of work is going to look like as it continues to unfold. We are all on this journey together. But the pace of change is high and a strong enterprise-wide commitment to create sustainability in the workplace is a fantastic way to galvanize employees in a mission that engenders substantial passion.