Think back ten or twenty years. What did sustainability mean for tech companies? For most, it was just a bolt-on to the core business. And any aspiration to be “green” probably went little further than using renewable energy to power data centres.
Fast-forward to today, and the sustainability agenda looks very different – and far more pervasive. It’s now driving a fundamental reinvention of industries, from automotive to energy to air travel. And any company claiming it was holistically doing its bit for the environment just by signing up for renewable energy would be considered a laggard.
Instead, for a sustainability strategy to be credible today, it must be at the heart of everything a business does. Which means being embedded along its value chain, in all its products and services from concept through design to delivery, usage and re-use. In all these areas and more, issues like resource usage, waste, biodiversity, employment impacts, and social and governance factors need to be taken into account.
Why the dramatic change? net zero. As governments worldwide plan out their strategies and roadmaps to decarbonise their economies, businesses of all kinds must throw their weight behind efforts to drive out carbon and other greenhouse gases.
And tech businesses have a unique dual role to play in this. First, by minimising impacts on climate and biodiversity from their own operations and supply chains to achieve net zero. Second, by developing tools and technologies that help organisations in other sectors do the same.
The sheer scale of the necessary change has been highlighted by our recent report - the Net Zero Economy Index 2020, which shows the 2020s are the “pivotal decade” for action on climate change. We estimate that to keep warming within 1.5°C will require decarbonisation at a rate of 11.7% per year throughout this decade and beyond – five times the rate achieved in 2019. It’s a huge ask.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also accelerated migration to digital behaviours, many of which are less carbon-intensive. Achieving double-digit decarbonisation every year will require structural changes across all sectors and geographies. Only fundamental transformation will get us to net zero at the pace and scale we need.
But there’s light on the horizon. While the challenges along the way to net zero may look daunting, they can be overcome. Applying digital technology is one of our strongest and scalable options. Just look at how digital has already transformed many industries from physical to virtual interactions or how it enabled entire workforces to shift to home-working virtually overnight.
Equally positive, the tech industry has many tools to hand to redouble the progress towards net zero. Our recent Climate Tech 2020 report explains how emerging technologies, such as AI and blockchain, can help optimise energy networks with innovations like integrated storage, distributed grids and energy-efficient models for autonomous electric vehicles, while also driving the discovery of new materials and ways of doing things.
The results in every case? Optimisation, less waste, and reduced usage of resources. Our recent joint report with Microsoft explains how organisations can embed net zero across their business purposefully to turn net zero from ambition to action.
For tech businesses, the message is clear. Supporting the journey to net zero is about much more than bolt-ons. It’s about taking a holistic view across your entire supply chain and fundamentally rethinking and transforming your business.
Put simply, sustainability today must be end-to-end. Why? Because every impact counts, and they all add up. And ultimately, for the future of mankind and the planet, they all need to add up to zero.