Why CIOs can become corporate sustainability heroes

By David Bicknell

Technology has always been a driver of business change. Indeed it’s been said that the best Chief Information Officers (CIOs) are looking beyond the tactical duties of their  jobs to “enable new business models and help the CEO use technology as a  competitive weapon.” And that certainly applies to the most successful corporate sustainability programmes.

An excellent recent blog post by Heather Clancy on ZDNet recently summed up the challenge – and opportunity – facing CIOs – in both the public and private sectors.

Clancy suggests there are several reasons the CIO should be central to advancing the corporate sustainability cause. She explains them like this:

* IT is the one role within most companies that touches every division. One of the fastest growing software application categories today is  enterprise carbon and energy management. You can think of this sort of like ERP for electricity and greenhouse gas emissions data. I firmly believe that these features will quickly become integrated into the common operational tools use to run companies. That’s because what good is this data if it isn’t considered in context? The only way to get the complete context, of course, is by exposing that information across the company. That’s where the CIO comes in.

* CIOs are used to working across many different divisions in a “dotted line” role. Mark Greenlaw, the former  CIO-turned-sustainability executive for Cognizant, said one big example of this  is the insight that the IT team can bring to facilities managers who are trying to cut the electricity associated with lighting, drive smart building technology investments or address data centre power management issues.

CIOs know how to CYA. What team outside the legal department has borne the brunt of covering your company’s ass when it comes to  privacy mandates, corporate disclosure rules and other compliance measures? Yes, the IT team. Right now, many companies report their progress toward environmental, diversity and social goals voluntarily, but it is easy to foresee a day when that might become mandatory. There is no way that businesses can get around that challenge without using technology to collection and report that data — on a much more real-time basis.

* CIOs have been programmed to think sustainably. Greenlaw said he has called upon his knowledge of how to pitch large capital projects, a skill he exercised often as CIO, as a means of investigating the technology investments that Cognizant might make to operate more sustainably. Those investments run the gamut from alternative energy technologies such as wind generation to the business value of long-term service agreements to the appropriate lighting retrofit approach.

* Increasingly, the lines between business technology and information technology are blurring. There is probably no bigger potential example of the convergence of purpose-built business technologies and what we have been trained to think of as IT than building management systems. Although building management systems aren’t under the direct control of IT, there are myriad ways information technology can help optimise their performance—and more are emerging every day.

You can read Clancy’s complete piece here.

It’s also worth reading this excellent piece on sustainability heroes by Jo Cofino in the Guardian.

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