ICT sustainability and being a sustainable business: an interview with Alison Rowe, Fujitsu

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Alison Rowe is and expert in ICT sustainability and Group Executive Director Sustainability, International Business, Fujitsu.  She spoke with me about ICT Sustainability, its benefits to business and the environment.

1. You have led the development of the sustainability function at Fujitsu since 2007.  What changes have you seen in business attitudes towards managing and being accountable for environmental, social and governance risks and performance during that time?

There has been an improvement in attitudes to the environment which has been driven by increased legislation (such as Australia’s National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act) and market forces (Carbon Tax) and perhaps extreme weather events.  It’s now typical to have a person inside a business accountable for the environment, often driven by a need to reduce energy consumption and costs.

The social aspect of sustainability is coming back on the front foot now as we see environmental management become business as usual. The governance of risks is still a major challenge for business. Whilst there has been an increase in corporations identifying risks the scale of impact is not often understood or planned for.

 2. What are the key challenges in embedding sustainability across cultural boundaries?

Sustainability means different things to different people, so language is critical. Organizations need to define what Sustainability means for their business and how their people can contribute towards their vision, practically and emotionally. Does it mean protecting the natural environment? Does it mean developing new sources of renewable energy where supply is limited? Does it mean reviewing your supply chain and creating opportunities in developing countries? Does it mean water efficiency? The key is not to think narrow, it’s to think big!

3. What is ‘ICT sustainability’ and how can it benefit business?

‘ICT sustainability’ is about ensuring that ICT is designed, manufactured, managed and used in a way that minimizes environmental impact and meets the aims of sustainable development. Virtually every stage of the ICT lifecycle has an impact on the environment in some way.

Rising energy consumption throughout the ICT lifecycle, and the resulting GHG emissions, are perhaps the most obvious impact. Water is also used in large quantities, particularly in the manufacturing process and for cooling in data centres. Waste, such as packaging materials and end-of-life e-waste, is generated throughout the product lifecycle.

Despite the negative impacts of ICT, it’s important to recognize that ICT can also have a positive effect on the environment. ICT is an important tool in most businesses and the ICT infrastructure is typically increasing. This means ICT increasingly contributes to the environmental impact of operations, primarily in terms of energy consumption and associated carbon emissions, but also factors such as e-waste and water usage.

In addition to the financial benefits of reducing energy consumption, and the need to meet increasingly stringent environmental regulations, businesses want to be – and be seen to be – socially responsible. However businesses vary considerably in the maturity of their ICT sustainability thinking and execution.

Businesses that don’t take measures to improve their ICT sustainability performance may be missing out on financial benefits and the significant opportunity to deploy ICT to enhance sustainability across their operations.

4. What are the key sustainability issues businesses be thinking about in the next five to ten years?

Businesses should be thinking about:

How do externalities to the balance sheet (such as the true costs taking into account the environment) impact the business’s decisions about growth?

How will the business survive given the scale of climate change impact predicted for locations where they have operations or where they customers and supply chain are based?

What does it mean to be a responsible business and how do I represent this in the community?

5. To what extent do you think integrated reporting will help businesses embed sustainability?

To be frank, it will remove the marketing and pictorial reports from the front reception desk and ensure the critical information is linked to business outcomes.  Integrated reporting will enable better decision making and less trade-offs between the environment and finances.

You can read more about ICT sustainability here

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