3 things CIOs must do now to accurately hit net-zero targets

Research from Accenture shows that 48% of companies say technology-enabled sustainability initiatives lead to more competitive products and enhanced customer service, and contribute to attracting top talent—all of which help drive increased revenues. However, the latest and largest UNGC-Accenture CEO study revealed that 91% of CEOs report insufficient technology solutions as a barrier to seizing opportunities in the net-zero transition, building resilience in their organization, and overcoming current volatility in the business landscape.

CEOs are relying on CIOs to identify and deploy these value-driven technology solutions, thus reinforcing the role that CIOs play at the heart of their companies’ innovation, agility, and growth.

In some cases, CIOs are building more sustainable businesses by leveraging what already exists. They operationalize these technologies to understand where efficiencies can be achieved and new ways of working can be introduced, leading to reduced emissions, energy use, and materials. In other cases, they’re innovating and creating better solutions by identifying, building, and scaling those technologies to be more sustainable.

Regardless of whether they take a ‘build on’ or ‘create anew’ approach, CIOs should consider three key actions to meet their sustainability and broader business objectives. These measures will drive decarbonization across the value chain and give CIOs the opportunity to leverage their expertise and build resiliency throughout their organizations.

Optimize internal technology

Today, CIOs can influence everything from hardware procurement and the way developers write code for their company, to how IT gathers, processes, distributes and stores data—all of which impact a company’s carbon footprint. CIOs, in partnership with other key business leaders, need to use the latest innovations in analytics, AI and visualization technologies to effectively interpret and act on carbon data across the digital technology lifecycles to improve sustainable performance.

One of the immediate efforts CIOs can take to accelerate sustainability goals includes selecting energy-efficient software, which can have a major impact on energy consumption. Uniting Technology and Sustainability surveyedcompanies that said they were taking various approaches to incorporate sustainability throughout the software development lifecycle. Some of these tactics included strategizing about sustainability objectives at the beginning of the software lifecycle (34%); establishing metrics that measure the sustainability quotient of the technology or software (32%); aligning engineers and developers with the goals and KPIs of sustainable technology or software (39%); and making testing sustainable by selecting innovative approaches to conserve energy (33%).

Enable the carbon intelligent organization

An organization’s transition to net-zero requires a well-rounded strategy that encompasses carbon reduction, carbon removals, incentives and governance, green financing, policy, industry engagement, and collaboration with the value chain. One way CIOs can help accelerate this transition is by adopting architectures, digital solutions, and technologies that help deliver and integrate carbon data and insights into core decision-making processes across the organization and beyond. Making carbon-informed decisions helps companies and their key stakeholders (supply chain partners, customers, and employees, for instance) not only reduce their carbon footprint but also identify and seize new sources of value. These types of solutions help businesses advance their carbon footprint capability to a level of quality, granularity and frequency that supports their integration with operational and financial data systems. Those organizations that equip themselves with integrated carbon and business intelligence will be better placed to profitably compete and grow in the transition to net-zero.  

Technologies such as myNav Green Cloud Advisor, for example, have helped establish a baseline of existing data-center energy consumption, computing requirements, and sustainability goals to quantify the “greenness” of potential cloud solution options. This tool has reduced emissions and waste by identifying greener IT practices and integrating these changes into day-to-day operations.

Collaborate and create sustainability at scale

CIOs are aligning sustainability and technology strategies to gain a competitive advantage, increase financial value, and create a lasting, positive impact on the environment and society. Whether helping customers map and visualize sustainability issues across value chains, convening with people to build solutions, or creating integrated platforms designed to serve a common purpose, CIOs can drive new sustainable sources of value-making technology and use it to solve carbon-emission challenges at scale.

This opportunity to collaborate with sustainability in mind extends to the influence CIOs hold over where and how employees work. By integrating remote working capabilities, the CIO plays a hand in an organization’s shift to an increasingly remote or hybrid workforce model—a move that can significantly reduce a company’s carbon footprint. This effort has the potential to not only create sustainability at scale, but increase employee satisfaction, which will power a more sustainable organization.

Yet another example of collaboration to scale sustainable solutions can be seen with Climeworks, who partnered with Accenture to develop a direct air capture technology that removes CO2 directly from the air. The CO2  can either be captured and transformed into a raw material or be permanently removed from the air by safely storing it. This technology has attracted top clients for Climeworks, who are exploring its potential uses to deliver carbon removals at scale, with potential global impact. 

CEOs believe new technology will allow them to reach sustainability goals and build resilience, with 55% of CEOs enhancing sustainability data collection capabilities, and 48% transitioning to a cloud infrastructure. The CIO’s role in delivering this technology will be essential.

Despite the current macroeconomic crisis, business leaders will need to double, if not triple, their pace of decarbonization to achieve the rapid emissions reductions required to avert the worst consequences of climate change. CIOs must be prepared to react and pull the levers needed to support achievement of these goals in time.

Accenture, CIO, Emerging Technology, IT Leadership