Sustainability Goes 2.0


By Samuel Greengard

Times change. IT changes. It turns out that a growing number of organizations are getting serious about social and environmental policies. They are creating the title of chief sustainability officer.

There was a time--perhaps a decade or so--when sustainability and green computing were causes best relegated to granola chomping, tree-hugging executives from companies like Ben & Jerry's and Patagonia. But a couple of recessions and a few energy price spikes later, it's clear that these concepts aren't just feel-good fads, they're ways to run a business more efficiently and cost effectively.

There's also a younger generation that deems these things important. Diss these consumers and you will have your brand reputation to defend on Twitter.

Today, the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies have chief sustainability officers and most university MBA programs have added sustainability training. Many chief sustainability officers report directly to the CEO and board.

However, the term can mean drastically different things to different people and organizations. For example, when Deloitte surveyed chief sustainability officers at 48 large companies, it found that many were using outdated definitions that focused heavily on environmental performance. In most cases, that's because these factors were tangible and measurable--particularly in terms of ROI and regulatory measures.

In some cases, these initiatives were heavily skewed toward risk management and cost savings, noted Katie Pavlovsky, a principal with Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP. She says that organization must take a broader yet more highly structured and long-term approach that resolves around environmental issues as well as social and economic issues outside the primary scope of the business. It's necessary to "really think about the value chain and the collaboration required to meet sustainability objectives," she notes.

That's where the CIOs office comes into play. It takes a free flow of information and thinking--along with hardcore data, metrics and benchmarks--to make an initiative work. It takes systems and software, including analytics, to connect all the dots.

As the concept of sustainability continues to evolve, organizations must look beyond their industry sector. It's essential to use analytics and other tools to better understand performance and measure results. It's critical to think of the overall footprint within the value chain, from buy-side to sell-side, and how customers view the company.

That's sustainability 2.0.


3 Comments for "Sustainability Goes 2.0"

  • Sam Greengard October 29, 2013 11:20 am

    I appreciate your thoughts, Nick and Derek.

  • Derek Eisel October 28, 2013 1:39 pm

    Great post. I ran the environmental program for a Fortune 500 logistics company after working in IT there for many years. In order to get IT to care about it, I had to collect the kilowatt hour information for the data centers, translate that into cost and compare that to the other operations (offices and warehouses). Many CIOs are not going to care about this topic unless customers or supply chain partners push them (see the EICC group) or because they're pressured on costs. Kudos to those who just care about it, but for everyone else try tracking the data to build a business case.

  • Nick Murry October 28, 2013 4:50 am

    Nicely put. Sustainability is all about driving long term business value, as organisations move away from traditional CSR to a focus on material issues that will improve efficiency, reduce risk and drive opportunity. Having got to grips with internal sustainability - particularly energy and resource efficiency - businesses are increasingly turning their attention to their supply chains, which is where the vast majority of their indirect emissions and impacts lie. IT has a key role to play here, as demonstrated by innovative cloud based reporting platforms such as Ecodesk, which enable suppliers to share key sustainability performance data with multiple customers, far more efficiently than was previously possible.

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