There is a business function to deliver sustainability issues, either as an individual or as a team, writes Alex Bardell MBCS of the Green IT specialist group - but with increased awareness of environmental issues, is this role still required?

In order to counteract climate change, we are going to have to make major changes to the way we consume energy and resources. On one side, organisations realise they must take leadership to improve their energy efficiency, while on the other, governments are drawing up legislation which will encourage and eventually force improvements.

The answer depends upon where we believe we are on the sustainability journey. The UN 2015 Paris Accord set out a plan to tackle climate change, while also setting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to transform our world. Organisations, whether motivated by brand or an understanding of the importance of corporate social responsibility, should be motivated to act as they consume large amounts of resources that generate greenhouse gases.

Shifting to zero carbon energy will not be enough to deliver the UK’s commitment. Pressure will be put on energy supply and for fossil fuels to be replaced in transportation and heating. Energy demand efficiency has to improve, delivering organisational process and manufacturing output with smaller inputs. We might look at our energy bill and the waste being created, but most organisations are not looking at their processes and asking the question, ‘how can we improve sustainability?’

Having committed to targets, the UK government now needs to deliver, and it is apparent it will use both a carrot and stick approach - offering incentives as well as legislation to force change.

In 2019, the UK government released its updated Environmental Reporting Guidelines, which outlines the updated carbon reporting standards required for companies, including reporting carbon usage of third party suppliers. There has been a shift in technology consumption models, cloud, colo, business continuity services and business functions as a service - and all are third party delivered. Interpretation of the legislation implies that companies will have to report this energy usage. The BCS Green SG has developed several artefacts with our partners which are available to support computer and data centre energy efficiency improvements.

Technology may also provide some of the solutions needed to deliver wider carbon reduction. A study by the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, identifies how ICT can enable a 20% reduction of global CO2 emissions by 2030. The most substantial benefit is technology’s role in increasing agricultural crop yields by 30%. An assessment of eight economic sectors (mobility/logistics, manufacturing, food, buildings, energy, work / business, health and learning) identified areas where technology could reduce CO2 emissions, as well as supporting delivery of the United Nations’ SDGs.

Transition within organisations is needed; either by developing existing functional areas, or creating new ones to incentivise sustainable companies and drive corporate responsibility.

Existing Chief Sustainability Officer roles within a company may be called into question as sustainability becomes the new norm. However, to ensure we deliver against the SDGs, there must be a process and accountability. Whether it is meeting our 2050 zero carbon commitments, or creating a closed loop manufacturing process that eliminates waste and protects resources, a lot of organisational change is still required, which must be actively managed.

Sustainable Development Goals Grid