As ESG Action Gains Momentum, Innovation Takes the Spotlight

Written by Pamela Rucker, CIO Advisor and Instructor, Harvard Professional Development

ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) topics have emerged as critical issues for organizations of all sizes. Among those issues, sustainability has seen a surge of interest, rising steadily on CIOs’ priority lists. Via a series of interviews and panels at Schneider Electric’s Innovation Summit 2022, a snapshot of the challenges, triumphs, and next steps shows that IT and business leaders are focused as never before on data center sustainability. But it’s going to require unprecedented cooperation among all stakeholders to drive change.

With a stellar line up of speakers and sustainability topics, Schneider Electric demonstrated recently that they are not simply a leader that sells commercial sustainability solutions. At its annual Innovation Summit in Las Vegas, NV., the company showed that its investments in emerging technology, educational programs, and ecosystem partners are the result of a deep commitment to create competitive advantage for themselves and their customers with an eye squarely focused on the triple bottom line. 

While watching the demonstrations, it was obvious that the sheer magnitude of their sustainable innovation is a feat in and of itself; however, even greater power lies in the fact that Schneider’s products and services make other companies better too. Their theme of “Digital + Electric = Sustainability” represents a real opportunity for companies to pivot away from products and processes that offer profit with a high environmental price tag. And that’s where I found myself mesmerized by the possibilities. 

One of the biggest challenges I see organizations grappling with is having the right capability when it counts. We are living in a world faced not only with the impact of climate change, but also with the impact of a changing demographic. Schneider’s CEO, Jean-Pascal Tricoire, opened with a keynote that declares “The Moment is Now,” and he couldn’t be more accurate in that statement. Numerous studies have found that today’s consumers want to buy products and services from companies that not only care about ESG, but can prove that they’re doing something about it. Panelists at the conference noted that 75% of people would select a company based on their ESG goals, and 85% would stay loyal to them. That’s a staggering statistic, and it means that people want to buy from companies that have similar values as theirs, and they’ll also refuse to bring their talents to places that don’t engage in meaningful change. 

Getting Started: Steps for Meaningful Change

The problem most companies have though, is where to start. This is where Schneider shines. They have published a framework to help leaders know what specific steps they can take right now to make meaningful change. In a great discussion about partnerships, metrics, and redefining data center sustainability, the group noted that data runs the planet, and that is true. We have bigger and bigger data centers because we rely on more and more data to get things done. Our obsession with instant searches, free information, and two-day delivery has come at an incredible cost. Humans can’t work that fast, so we need machines to do it, and those machines require energy. The group went on to note that even when we try to work in ways that use less energy, we are impacting the water supply. So, one definite way to reduce any environmental impact is to tackle the way data centers are managed, and to require a similar type of management from partners.

Look, every company today will build, buy, sell, or service their products using a digital process. That means every company should be capturing data about how they operate. All of that data ends up in a data center somewhere: with you, your partners, or your suppliers. I agree with final thoughts of the panel: You can’t understand and address the full impact of your operations unless you work with partners that are digitized and have similar goals as yours. Even if they aren’t there today, they have to want to get there, and be willing to do the work now.

In a world that’s becoming more digital every moment, we all need ways to understand and address the impact of our desires. The devices we watch, the dances we post, the data we consume all create footprints that must be managed. While Schneider’s tools can’t change the world overnight, they can help keep us honest about our promise to do better. And that’s action we can all be glad about. 

This post is brought to you by Schneider Electric and CIO Marketing Services. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Schneider Electric. 

To learn more about Schneider Electric’s ESG solutions, click here.

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