ESG strategy: 3 ways CIOs can play a pivotal role

Environmental, social, and governance initiatives are increasingly essential for business success. Here’s how IT leaders can help their organizations meet key ESG goals
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According to a recent Accenture report, investing in sustainable technology brings numerous benefits:

  • 48 percent of companies experienced an increase in revenue
  • 49 percent saw a significant improvement in talent recruitment and business innovation
  • 53 percent said they have used these changes to meet their ESG targets

For these and other reasons, business leaders are increasingly encouraging CIOs to invest in technology that both ensures productivity and minimizes environmental impact. Failure to do this will result in more than just disgruntled executives – 57 percent of global tech leaders believe managing climate-related risks will be a key factor in keeping their jobs.

As a CIO, how can you champion environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives? Here are three important considerations:

1. Identify and prioritize enterprise ESG goals

The first step in taking IT ownership of ESG strategy is to determine your organization’s primary goals – and understand how many of these can be driven by the technology function.

[ Also read 3 steps for CIOs to build a sustainable business. ]

How much time you should allocate to this phase depends on the maturity of your company’s ESG strategy. Some enterprises have communicated clearly defined goals throughout the organization; others are still struggling to articulate what they hope to achieve.

2. Evaluate technology with an ESG eye

Once ESG goals have been identified, consider how you can reflect these objectives via enterprise technology. Perhaps it’s ensuring that energy efficiency is a requirement for any new procurement or evaluating how you can reduce the carbon footprint in your existing infrastructure.

Another key consideration is auditing the environment for redundancies, inefficiencies, or technologies that are not fully utilized. With today’s mix of legacy systems and digital transformation investments, this is more common than you might think. Without insight into the IT environment and clarity on how the various elements are overlapping and performing, companies can easily run up excess storage costs and compute power.

Finally, evaluate how emerging technologies can help accelerate ESG objectives. For example, deploying AI, ML, and IoT sensors in the data center can allow facilities to adjust cooling systems or improve airflow, leading to more efficient energy consumption.

3. Measure what matters

Ensure that those in non-technical roles can also access and interact with data as needed to measure carbon footprint, green revenue, and other metrics in real time.

It’s important to understand not only what specific ESG objectives you need to meet but also how you will measure progress against these KPIs. For this reason, implement a modern reporting environment that supports high-quality data, traceability, and accessibility. The latter will be increasingly critical as more enterprise groups, investors, customers, and other external parties demand transparency into ESG initiatives.

Start by ensuring that metrics are aligned with the ESG goals prioritized at the onset. From there, establish a data platform that enables you to easily gather and analyze ESG data. This platform must include advanced analytics capabilities so your organization can analyze historical data to make more informed decisions as ESG objectives and initiatives evolve.

At the same time, ensure that those in non-technical roles can also access and interact with data as needed to measure carbon footprint, green revenue, and other metrics in real time.

[ Read also 4 reasons IT leaders should champion sustainability ]

While the steps described above are largely focused on sustainability, there are other actions you can take to address governance and social considerations. For example, establishing IT talent and supplier diversity programs can support DEI objectives, while governance concerns can be alleviated through modernizing the data reporting environment, as described above.

Delivering on ESG objectives is a marathon, not a sprint. But research shows that the companies that prioritize sustainability reap dividends across the board, and this will only increase as employees, investors, and customers become more vocal about their ESG expectations.

By obtaining clarity into how IT can support corporate objectives, ensuring that the IT environment reflects this focus, and instituting the right data environment to report on progress and disseminate results with all relevant stakeholders, CIOs can play a pivotal role in the ongoing success of these initiatives.

[ New research from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services identifies four focus areas for CIOs as they seek more flexibility, resilience, and momentum for digital transformation. Download the report now. ]

Rupert Colbourne, Chief Technology Officer, Orbus Software