Due to the emergence of new energy-intensive technologies, the rapid deterioration of the climate, and widespread corporate greenwashing, it is now more important than ever for CIOs to focus on sustainability. They can examine and monitor the environmental impact of technology as well as develop projects that will promote sustainability across the organisation by appropriately leveraging their power.
It goes without saying that greenwashing undermines people who are truly trying to develop sustainability in their endeavours. Unintentional greenwashing could be just as detrimental as intentional greenwashing.
The challenge of sustainability cannot be met by any business alone. IT leaders and CIOs may embrace sustainable business practices, but for better impact, they must collaborate with peers and these efforts can also extend to dealing with greenwashing.
However, success will depend on everyone working together and a partnership between the private and public sectors. Even if digital technology can bring a complete ecosystem together to find novel and scalable solutions to intractable development challenges, success will still depend on everyone working together.
IT leaders and CIOs must request their existing and prospective suppliers to substantiate claims they make about the environmental footprint of their products, processes and services by using recognised, accepted standard techniques for quantifying and evaluating those claims.
Separating green facts from fiction
Some 90% of technology leaders feel that some or all companies in the sector participate in greenwashing – making claims about a product or service being more environmentally friendly or sustainable than it actually is, according to a recent report by iResearch.
You have to go beyond the label or the claim and do your own due diligence. Given the reputational risks and potential damage to your brand, it is imperative that any labels and claims are thoroughly validated, ensuring that they are not only science-based, but also third-party validated.
Assessing the full-lifecycle environmental impact – the process of determining how a product, process or service will affect the environment over its entire life cycle – is critically important.
Any methodology used to assess this should be in line with global, European and international standards depending on the product, process or service, and use a third party to validate the information provided by your suppliers.
Checking if the labels have an official website that lists the criteria used to analyse a product’s impact on the environment is one approach to separating fact from fiction. An important question to ask is whether the full lifecycle of the product – from its raw materials to its end of life – has been considered.
Measurement of what matters is necessary, but we also need to make sure there is adequate oversight to ensure that corrections are made and that opportunities for improvement are taken advantage of. Creating standards that allow organisations to make claims that are comparable would do a lot to separate marketing fluff from true action.
Organisations such as the Green Software Foundation are working to change the culture of how software is developed and are creating a widely accepted certification for climate-friendly software. The Eco-Friendly Web Alliance, for example, has set the world’s first eco standard for websites – a good first step to reducing digital emissions.
It is backed by a scientific advisory board and follows a stringent process. The organisation is pushing for change in the datacentre sector and the adoption of circular economy in IT, and is addressing growing digital emissions and high energy consumption in the IT sector.
These third-party certifications should not be the exception in a sustainable future, but should become the expected norm. There is a long way to go before we achieve that, but it is a goal worth pursuing.
Reputational risks due to greenwashing and being a victim of greenwashing could severely damage an organisation. To mitigate this, organisations should embrace and support the use of available best-practice guidelines, not only for IT but for the organisation as a whole, such as the Oxford principles for net zero aligned carbon offsetting, Climate Action 100+, LEED, Net Zero Asset Owners Alliance, RE100, the Oxford Martin principles for climate-conscious investment, and the Science-Based Targets initiative, to help determine that environmental practices and initiatives are conducted in a rigorous and credible way that ultimately contributes to net-zero goals.
If the foundation of your tech/solution stack and your digital infrastructure is built on shaky ground where sustainability claims are questionable and unsubstantiated, that could lead to disastrous outcomes. It is imperative that hardware and software procurement is well thought out, future-proofed, aligned with the circular economy, and are checked against greenwashing and validated by a third party.