There’s no questioning the importance of sustainability, and IT leaders at organizations of all sizes are working to understand the impact.

We sat down with IT leaders to get answers on what they are doing right now to help build a more sustainable future. From large organizations like Amazon to mid-sized London clinics and beyond, sustainability is everyone’s responsibility, at every level. A more sustainable future can be realized by coming to grips with your own emissions, making sustainability part of new partnerships, and educating everyone from the top down. Organizations that don’t keep up will be left behind.

Own your emissions today, partner for the future

A more sustainable future starts with understanding the current landscape of your organization’s emissions today. That means data, tracking, and metrics must be available to create clear, achievable goals.

Alex Bazin, CTO at Lewis Silkin, began a project to measure their emissions impact and found that the majority came from their supply chain. Alex said they also discovered that some of their supply chain partners had a deep understanding of their individual emissions output. Taken altogether, they were able to create a complete picture of their Scope 3 emissions. Bazin now says he asks suppliers about their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) capabilities before engaging with them.

Carolyn Brown, CIO at the British Medical Association, said ESG initiatives are no longer a “take it or leave it proposition,” they’ve become a required expectation. In fact, Laura Kendrick, CIO of IPG Mediabrands, said that with “big clients,” tech leaders who would’ve otherwise received a pass would now be dropped at the first phase of the pitch process without clearly outlined ESG values. She also noted, “18 months ago, that probably wouldn’t have been that critical.”

The impact of creating clear sustainability goals and actions isn’t just about material concerns for our ecosystem anymore. When it comes to decision making on sustainability, it’s about defining and balancing both the hard and soft goals.

Similarly, the type of initiatives that James Maunder, CIO at the London Clinic, calls “quick wins”—such as turning off PCs and switching lights to LEDs—can help accelerate short-term goals. In the long-term view, the clinic is pushing to digitalize hospital paperwork to reduce waste.

Maunder suggested that the London Clinic needs thought leadership from organizations like Cisco to not only challenge their sustainability goals, but to inspire them toward meeting those goals. This is how technology leaders can affect real change across organizations.

Change starts with leadership

Action and thought leadership need to be in place from the top down. As Clare Ward, Amazon’s Worldwide Technology Leader, Travel & Hospitality Solutions, explained, “leaders create more than they consume.” This mindset is precisely the kind that can go on to support more concrete goals and realize action plans.

Benjamin Jones, CTO at GFK, suggested that while it might not be the case that everyone is well-versed in all things sustainability, big impacts can be made by “individuals who will champion elements of it and promote those for colleagues.”

Promoting sustainability from the inside means understanding the wider sustainability ecosystem—who’s talking about it and how. Jon Townsend, Director of Technology and Information Security at National Trust, said he feels that everyone has a role to play in promoting sustainability. That means shifting the conversation to focus on the reality that no one person is responsible for achieving sustainability. Rather, it’s a holistic principle that everyone must consider at every turn.

Educating from the top down

Not all roles influence sustainability equally. If a CIO isn’t thinking about sustainability as part of their function, they’re “doing something wrong,” Townsend argued. C-suite leaders, unsurprisingly, are in the best position to influence sustainability initiatives.

More than that, they can make sure that the entire IT department is acting with sustainability in mind. Going even further, they can help customers understand the path to net-zero emissions.

The responsibility to monitor, plan, and educate both team members and customers starts at the top. This should be shared by senior leaders, who can then ensure the team at large is aware and aligned at every turn.

With more and more organizations requiring ESG initiative visibility as part of their partnership pitch process, ongoing education on sustainability has become another crucial piece of the puzzle. Education programs, like the one being rolled out by IPG Mediabrands, promote sustainability goals internally and demonstrate to clients and the industry at large that an organization has something relevant and impactful to add to global sustainability efforts.

In practice, internal education is the scaffolding that makes achieving sustainability goals possible. As Paul Coby, CIO of Persimmon Homes, pointed out, energy consumption by global data centers needs to be considered as organizations shift to cloud-based management models.

“It’s not an infinite resource you’re consuming,” Coby warned. Storing data unnecessarily creates waste. “In the same way that you wouldn’t waste food, don’t waste data,” Townsend said—a brilliant example of the kind of critical piece of education that technology leaders must embrace.

Tomorrow’s leaders are today’s action-takers

Just as technologies are ever changing, ESG initiatives will be forever ongoing. This means that understanding our role now as action-takers and educators has ripple effects that will continue into the next quarter, year, and decade.

Having visible and realistic ESG goals, robust internal education, accessible emissions metrics, and leadership with a passion for sustainability are ways we can make progress now. It’s not just about protecting the planet for the next generation of IT leaders—it’s about doing business better.


Watch the full roundtable session

Webinar: Who is Responsible for Sustainability

Webinar: Partnering for a More Sustainable Future


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Christian Zachriat

Global Sustainability Lead

Cisco Meraki