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ESG is a top board agenda item for most corporations. With carbon footprint data becoming a key requirement across various business sectors such as sourcing, investment, and provider metrics to partners, clients and shareholders, today’s CIO has a critical role to play in driving sustainability efforts in the enterprise. Essential to approaching this new responsibility is guiding the enterprise from a reactive approach to a proactive plan based on long-term thinking.

From recent interactions with many CIOs from F500 organizations we serve, technology leaders know they can significantly impact sustainability. These leaders have a multidimensional view of the many influences that support an environmental sustainability agenda, from measuring the carbon footprint of the extended enterprise’s technology stack to identifying opportunities to help reduce cost and waste by reducing the number of assets across the organization.

In addition, change management is key to orchestrating sustainability initiatives across the corporation. With a history in a changing technical marketplace from mainframe alternatives to cloud-native and mobile-first, the CIO’s office has the talent and experience to successfully drive large-scale project management across the enterprise.

And, most importantly, CIOs have access to a critical lever in driving this change – data. Data fabrics, data engineering, data analytics and reporting are now the crucial foundation for ESG. There is still a long way to go, as today, less than 10% of companies measure their carbon footprint and over 30% get it wrong.

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Across the industry, a tried-and-tested approach is now evolving, and the following steps allow technology leaders in purpose-led companies to build more sustainable business practices.

Build an enterprise framework around sustainability

Companies leading the pack have a defined blueprint for target carbon emission reductions, with agreed-upon thresholds at the enterprise level. Establishing and communicating the enterprise target reduction goal is one of the first steps in mobilizing change. The CIO’s role in defining the target requires harmonizing multiple initiatives, many originating in highly fragmented and necessarily siloed business areas. The CIO can provide an enterprise-wide view of the initiative and establish a common target. Additionally, sustainability objectives must be right for the business and contextualized for the company’s industry. 

Measure, manage and measure again

Looking at sustainability through a data lens provides the right lever to change the paradigm. Establishing the baseline requires measuring the impact of the enterprise’s full technology stack, including outside partners and providers, and asking, extracting and reconciling data across external parties. Managing partners is more than just aggregating decarbonization data – the choices we make around the cloud and sourcing, or for that matter, disposition of assets after a cloud migration – all drive the carbon footprint.  

Managing also involves engaging employees to make the right choices. By way of example, let’s look at cell phones. According to Cisco, there are 27.1 billion devices connected to the internet — that’s more than three devices for every person on the planet. Many enterprise employees carry two mobile phones. With existing technology, an employee can segment two different environments on one device. Also, organizations can completely disconnect hardware refreshes from a service contract, and employees can be allowed to decide if they need an entirely new device or simply a battery change. 

Combine human and machine intelligence

Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) bring new tools for solving some traditional problems. Predictive intelligence, for instance, allows us to provide thoughtful choices with associated impact predictions, so users can be intentional about the options they choose. 

Data is critical but often hidden in unstructured documents, flat files and even manual reports. AI really helps with data ingestion, extraction and classification. AI also helps with changing behavior – using thoughtful and timely nudges, many of which we have perfected with digital commerce.

All digital componentry aside, it’s the humans that make change successful. This is a truth not lost on any CIO. Agile principles create a virtuous circle by driving adoption, changing the culture of the enterprise, creating stronger loyalty and attracting purpose-driven talent. 

Sanjay Srivastava is chief digital strategist at Genpact.

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