Adopting a responsible technology approach

We’re in the midst of a technology revolution that’s having an unprecedented impact on businesses, society and people at large. The sophistication and interconnectivity of new technologies is leading to change that is swifter and more radical than ever before, with businesses in almost every sector needing to evolve rapidly if they’re to stay ahead.

Like those before it, this next generation of technology, known as the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, can be a powerful force for good. Innovations such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things and blockchain have the potential to tackle some of the most challenging problems of our time, from climate change and resource depletion to inequality and disease. They’ll also be a driver of economic advancement, for the UK and beyond.

But these same technological advances could have unintended consequences, accelerating risks to the Earth and society if they are not designed and scaled in a smart and sustainable way.  What is required, therefore, is a balanced, responsible approach.

Our approach

Technology is a key part of our commercial strategy – both as an enabler for our business, and as a proposition to help our clients achieve their goals. So we’re developing and adopting a ‘responsible technology’ approach which looks to maximise the positive impacts whilst minimising any negative ones. It emanates from our purpose – to build trust in society and solve important problems – and also aligns to our values and intent to ‘act with integrity’ whilst ‘reimagining the possible’.

We’ve established a series of commitments and actions that will help showcase the positive role of technology, as well as mitigate potentially adverse social, ethical and environmental concerns across our whole value chain i.e. our supply chain, operations, people agenda and client work (see diagram below). These are set out in a new, responsible technology policy, supported by our Executive Board.

Given that technology is a fast moving sector, and the issues and opportunities associated with it are still evolving, we see this as a first step, and will both review the policy regularly to ensure it’s up to date, and seek the views of others, contributing to a better collective understanding of the role of business in relation to technology.

 

Opportunities and risks

With the right approach, technology represents not only an opportunity to grow our business and enhance the services we provide to clients, helping them to deliver commercial success, but also to solve the important problems of our time. We collaborate with many global and UK organisations to explore, analyse and highlight how technology can be a force for good.

For example, we’re collaborating with the World Economic Forum and Stanford University on a two year programme to explore how the fourth industrial revolution could help solve global environmental issues; we’ve published a paper exploring whether 'explainability' is a prerequisite for trust in AI; we’ve expanded our Tech She Can programme, and co-created a charter through which over fifty companies are committing to tackle gender imbalance in the technology sector; we’ve become a Founding Partner in the Business in the Community Inclusive Digital Champions Network; and we’re using our education outreach and community affairs programmes to share our skills and help young people from all sorts of under-represented sections of society to learn about technology and be inspired to get involved.

There are also risks associated with technology adoption. We’ve identified four which demonsrate the need for a responsible technology approach and are addressed in our policy:

  1. Jobs and skills. The changing nature of work, as technology and automation substitute existing roles, requiring upskilling and reskilling of people
  2. Health and wellbeing. Physical injury or poor physical and mental health from excessive or improper use of technology, and poor working conditions associated with the manufacturing of electronics
  3. Privacy, security and integrity. Abuse of personal privacy by collecting and using data about people without their consent; the security risks of increasingly interconnected systems and devices; and the creation and dissemination of ‘fake news’
  4. Environment. High energy use in data centres; high carbon, energy, water and raw material impacts from the production of IT hardware and electronics; and pollution and material inefficiency through increasing levels of end-of-life electronic waste

Programmes

We have a large number of internal programmes and systems which underpin our Responsible Technology policy, including:

  • Digital masterclasses. We run digital training sessions to help our people keep up to speed with emerging technologies and launched a ‘digital fitness assessment’ to help them identify key learning needs
  • Skilling for the future. We’ve introduced a new resourcing system which helps our people build experience in new fields of expertise and adapt to the future of work
  • Inclusive digital. We’re proactively encouraging people from different backgrounds to join us in technology roles, and monitoring the diversity of our technology recruitment
  • Digital apprenticeships. We’ve developed digital apprenticeships with six universities across England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, to support social mobility whilst improving our digital capabilities
  • Digital diet training. We offer our people training and information on how to manage their health and wellbeing in a 24/7 world through ‘digital dieting’, as part of wider resilience programmes
  • Workplace health assessment. We’re running a programme which evaluates our people’s technology use from a health risk perspective
  • Information security. We’re certified to the ISO27001 standard for information security management and are investing heavily in our infrastructure to maintain best-in-class protection of data and people
  • Privacy and security training. We run mandatory, annual privacy and security training for all of our people
  • Social media policy. We’ve developed guidelines to help our people know how to use social media with respect and integrity and take action to uphold this
  • Technology in our buildings. We use technology in our buildings that is specifically designed to reduce our energy requirements, such as a sophisticated building management system, DALI controlled lighting solutions and voltage optimisers
  • Online meetings. We’ve invested in online meeting capabilities to reduce the need for our people to travel, reducing our greenhouse emissions
  • Reuse and recycling of IT. We send all of our end of life IT to a specialist company for reuse or recycling, with none ending up in incineration or landfill, to minimise the impact of end-of-life hardware

For information about how we can help clients adopt technology responsibly, see our technology practice.

Contact us

Bridget Jackson
Head of Corporate Sustainability, PwC United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)20 7213 2435
Email

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