A recent survey by Intel reveals that chief technology officers (CTOs) have the vision and appetite to accelerate the sustainable transformation of their enterprises, as technology and sustainability strategies converge more and more.
The ‘Sustainable CTO’, the survey says, is “a new model of a tech leader who can deploy technology to build an organization that is fairer, greener, and smarter.”
As a matter of fact, eight in 10 senior IT leaders believe that their organizations are heavily reliant on technology and the CTO to make their business more sustainable, with over 70 per cent even saying that their organization will not be able to reach net zero without IT.
The surveyed chief sustainability officers (CSOs) and chief executive officers (CEOs) also say that the CTO has the potential to become the greatest driver of sustainability in their organization.
“CEOs see sustainability as their organizations’ top growth driver between now and 2030, with digitization a close second,” said Asma Aziz, acting Canada country manager at Intel. “With 82 per cent of CEOs and CSOs believing that the CTO role has more influence on the organization’s sustainability strategy than before, now is the time for CTOs to assume the mantle of the Sustainable CTO and step up to the challenge.”
This is not a role being imposed on CTOs, the study stresses, it’s what at least 80 per cent aspire to be, their number one priority being ‘leading the sustainable transformation of the IT function’, according to senior IT leaders.
The CTO is slowly even becoming more influential than the CSO in leading organizational sustainability responsibilities. Additionally, 76 per cent of senior IT leaders believe the concept of a siloed ‘sustainability team’ should be abolished, and that sustainability must be fully embedded across the whole organization.
That entails supporting the CTO at a board level to help them close key gaps to sustainable transformation.
One of the key gaps the study reveals is knowledge. More than 72 per cent of senior IT leaders admit there is a huge sustainability knowledge gap in the IT profession. Interestingly, CTOs also doubt their own skills, which they identify as a top barrier to sustainable transformation.
“It’s very complex for leaders to know and understand what it is they can do to reduce emissions in the IT environment,” said Motti Finkelstein, corporate vice president – digital transformation officer, Intel. “It’s not as simple as just turning something off or down to make an impact. The CTO or CIO must balance providing innovative business capabilities with sustainability.”
Nearly 80 per cent of senior IT leaders do believe that technological innovation will be key to driving sustainable transformation within an organization. However, only 5 per cent of CTOs consider innovation a number one priority.
Innovation is further hampered by a lack of investment. Eighty-two per cent of senior IT leaders say their CEOs and other leaders understand that technology investment is the best way to become a more sustainable business, but evidence shows that this is not translating into financial action yet.
The lack of financial and tax incentives and absence of regulation and legislation, as well as the ongoing economic turbulence, are further discouraging investment required for long-term sustainable transformation, the study noted.
“Sustainability and profitability can go hand-in-hand, without making tradeoffs or sacrifices to business productivity,” said Sunil Joshi, CTO of North America Hybrid Cloud Services at IBM. “We need to demonstrate the true business value of focusing on sustainability and green IT, like how investing in green IT solutions can reduce your computing costs. Once we can show the overall business impact and any correlating ramifications, the investment and funding in more sustainable, responsible IT will come.”
The study uncovers four functions that a sustainable CTO should focus on to drive sustainable transformation:
- Measurement and reporting – Organizations need to measure their scope one and scope two emissions, the carbon output of their IT infrastructure, the sustainability performance of their IT function, hardware and software in order to make progress
- Investing in tech positive – Focus investments on reducing IT related emissions including using energy efficient hardware, renewable energy sources, new ‘green’ technology, transformative technology, recycling hardware, increasing device lifecycles, predictive AI, environmental offset projects, outsourcing, and streamlining data storage policies.
- Build a sustainable supply chain – Review suppliers and partners through a sustainability lens and cut ties with those that fail to positively contribute to their targets. Most organizations are also willing to pay more for ‘green’ products and services.
- Improving the IT function’s sustainability performance – Minimize electronic waste by repairing when necessary, as well as keeping technology in use longer. Organizations are also educating employees on energy efficiency behaviors, adjusting the type of processor used and memory available, powering devices using renewable energy, and more.
For this study, Intel surveyed, between February and March 2023, over 2000 business leaders including senior IT leaders, chief executives and chief sustainability officers, based across 22 markets including Canada.