No business is truly sustainable without optimising its tech

In this guest post, Donovan Justice, partner of digital engineering and emerging tech at EY, sets out why every digital transformation strategy needs to factor in the principles of sustainability

Digital adoption has been catalysed by the global pandemic and this trend of acceleration isn’t slowing down. In fact, 71% of businesses say they plan to increase spend on developing technology skills to help advance their digital transformation strategy.

Investment in IT – both products and people – is at an all-time high, despite the obstacles facing CIOs in today’s climate: from geopolitical disruption, rising inflation rates, labour shortages and supply chain challenges.

Additionally, with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) objectives increasingly on the boardroom agenda, the onus is on CIOs to balance the need for digital transformation with sustainability goals.

It’s no secret that technology is necessary for our society to advance. The rapid increase of business transformation projects over the last few years is proof of this and provides a call to action for business leaders and CIOs across the board. But they must optimise their tech stack with the environment in mind, as this is fast becoming the only viable solution to running a sustainable business.

‘Greening’ your technology

There are several routes to optimising a technology stack, including internal and user-facing technology. CIOs and IT leaders play a significant role in helping businesses on this journey.

For example, most businesses today see their website as an integral part of their technology stack, but the total amount of carbon emissions produced per pageview is a cause for concern. There are certain steps IT teams can recommend and take to improve performance and help businesses optimise their websites and applications in line with their sustainability targets. This includes building static pages, choosing a green hosting platform, improving SEO for better site ranking and ensuring that the website’s UX/UI design is simple and straightforward to navigate.

Website optimisation is just one example of how tech stacks can be improved from a sustainability perspective. As business leaders increasingly prioritise ESG, they must be able to challenge suppliers on their own sustainability ambitions and how ‘green’ their tech products really are – and one way to do this is through bringing CIOs and IT leaders on the journey from the outset. This ensures they do due diligence before deploying any tech across the business, avoiding reputational damage further down the line.

CIOs and IT leaders are also key players in helping businesses understand the impact and risks associated with implementing new and emerging technologies. For example, while quantum has the potential to create new opportunities for ESG, it can also introduce new sustainability risks.

There is growing concern that quantum technologies could drive exponential increases in energy use and natural resource consumption. Therefore, businesses will need to take practical steps now to ensure sustainability-by-design as they prepare their quantum readiness strategies for the future.

Managing your e-waste

Tech moves at an incredibly fast pace and the process of replacing old systems with new ones is another major contributor that can have a negative impact on the environment and a business’ sustainability journey if e-waste is disposed of improperly.

For businesses, the process of disposing of or recycling products after use, and encouraging customers to do the same, will help advance sustainability efforts. Additionally, hanging onto legacy systems doesn’t always mean that businesses aren’t advancing their tech stack. As long as legacy tech is being evolved and repurposed alongside the implementation of new technologies, it can provide an efficient way for organisations to optimise their tech stack and further reduce e-waste.

Having this ‘circular mindset’ is not just for business leaders or CIOs alone. Every function of the business must work together towards this common goal of eliminating e-waste and pollution to help advance sustainability efforts. Enabling true circularity goes further beyond this by working with suppliers and customers too, across the full end-to-end value chain.

Ultimately, no business can implement a transformation strategy that puts people first without considering sustainability. This will be part of the requirement from stakeholders to make sure ESG goals are being met across the organisation. By linking transformation objectives with sustainability goals and following the steps outlined above, CIOs and business leaders will see a truly measurable impact on their contribution to the ESG agenda, helping to creating a better working world for people and the planet in future.

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