Accelerating sustainability with emerging technology (First Part)

Joseph Ian M. Canlas

First of two parts

With sustainability and digitalization increasingly becoming a business imperative, organizations are relying more and more on 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT), and emerging technologies to advance their sustainability initiatives. The advantages these technologies provide include improved measurement, increased efficiency, and the capacity to create virtual goods and processes.

These are some of the key findings of the most recent EY Reimagining Industry Futures Study, which examined executive attitudes and intentions toward 5G, IoT, and other emerging technologies from 1,325 global firms across a range of industries. The study offers Chief Information Officers (CIOs) crucial solutions and steps to help their organizations rethink their future, with findings demonstrating significant convergence between business technology and sustainability strategy.

More than half of surveyed businesses at 54% believe that emerging technology can significantly speed up their path toward sustainability, while 41% agree that new technologies play a mostly positive function but with some risks. This knowledge of potential drawbacks is in line with a 2021 study by Science Direct indicating that information and communication technology (ICT) as a whole accounts for 1.8% to 2.8% of greenhouse gas emissions and an even larger percentage of electricity usage.

Interestingly, organizations in Asia are more likely to emphasize the importance of new technology than businesses based in Europe (62% versus 49%, respectively). This regional variation may be a result of the historical attention paid by European governments to the potential energy consumption problems posed by data centers and cloud computing.

Respondents believed that emerging technologies such as AI, automation, 5G and IoT can provide a variety of beneficial contributions to long-term sustainability plans. Topping the list of these benefits are decreased energy use, improved measurement and planning, and decreased waste output. The use of virtual services and workforce tools is another significant trend.

Only around a quarter of respondents highlighted the advantages of adopting circular business models and renewable energy sources, suggesting that these might be areas that require more attention from the CIO community in the future. Nonetheless, the variety of positive results highlights the multifaceted potential of these technologies from a sustainability perspective.

When considering all emerging technologies, 35% of respondents identified environmental, social, and governance (ESG) as a leading factor in their decision-making, while 41% saw it as important. 5G investments were most likely to involve ESG as a key factor, with IoT close behind.

Compared to other emerging technologies, the ESG implications of 5G and IoT tend to weigh more heavily on business investment decisions. Organizations investing in these two technologies are more likely to already see current benefits compared to other organizations who looked at a broader scope.

As a result, 5G and IoT are even more directly tied to many of the ESG advantages associated with emerging technologies as a whole, with 48% highlighting the increased productivity benefits from 5G and IoT, compared to just 22% for all developing technologies. More than half (55%) of those currently investing in 5G and IoT said that these investments assist in improving sustainability planning and forecasting compared to 39% of organizations who believed that the same could be said of emerging technologies in general.

The qualities that businesses are looking for in their IT vendors are evolving as sustainability takes center stage in the technology strategy of many CIOs. More than 75% of businesses claimed to give priority to vendors who can explain how emerging technologies affect the environment. Companies also considered that suppliers need to do more to include sustainability into their service offerings.

These viewpoints are reflected in the qualities that businesses look for in their technology vendors, where respondents prioritized speed of deployment and execution, end-to-end solution capabilities and sustainability credentials and capabilities. However, corporations predict that sustainability credentials and competencies will be even more sought-after in the future.

Business ecosystem strategies that facilitate the acquisition of new skills and competencies through partnerships with vendors and other businesses will also be able to provide sustainability benefits. Eighty percent of businesses concurred that, over the next five years, working with other groups and sectors to develop circular business models will become significantly more crucial.

The second part of this article will discuss differing industry perspectives on emerging technology and sustainability, and considerations organizations can make to ensure expectations translate into long-term value creation.


This article is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.

Joseph Ian M. Canlas is a consulting partner and part of the Climate Change and Sustainability Services team of SGV & Co.

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