Many organizations vest responsibility for creating what are usually called environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reports in a corporate sustainability officer or similar title. But lately there has been a growing call for CIOs to play a larger role in ESG efforts, especially when it comes to meeting increasingly rigorous ESG standards and frameworks. In fact, Gartner urges CIOs to get ahead of the trend and cultivate relationships with their sustainability peers.\n\n\u201cThis is very quickly becoming another portfolio that the CIO absolutely has to care about,\u201d says Chris Bedi, CIO at ServiceNow, which uses its own ESG Command Center product line to create the company\u2019s ESG report.\n\nMeasurement is technology-intensive\n\nPart of the reason is because emissions calculations are becoming more integrated with operational systems such as enterprise resource planning and manufacturing automation. IT organizations are also driving the build-out of the edge computing networks that will be used to measure emissions in the field.\n\nCurrently, many organizations don\u2019t measure sustainability data directly but derive it from more easily measured data such as fuel usage, says Casey Herman, a partner and U.S. ESG leader with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, a Big Four accounting company that also consults with non-audit clients on how to execute sustainable business initiatives.\n\nFor example, a company may determine how many therms it burned of a particular fuel and calculate its output based on the carbon content of the fuel per therm. \u201cIt\u2019s much more computed and derived than measured,\u201d Herman says.\n\nThat\u2019s perfectly okay with most standards organizations, at least so far, Herman said. \u201cThe Greenhouse Gas Protocol clearly supports computed as well as direct measurement,\u201d he said. \u201cIs it perfect? No, but what is?\u201d\n\nThat said, gaining a more accurate picture of the company\u2019s total emissions involves an increasingly sophisticated array of intelligent equipment. For example, ServiceNow draws data from sensors that measure power use, temperature, and humidity in its data centers directly into the ServiceNow platform, Bedi says. Transportation companies are increasingly using GPS data to track their emissions, says Dean Emerick, vice president of communications for ESG | The Report, which advises on ESG issues.\n\nUnilever used GreenToken, a blockchain technology product from SAP, to determine what percentage of its palm oil purchases came from sustainable origins, says Florian Roth, SAP chief digital and information officer. Agranimo\u2014a company that helps improve profitability for farming organizations and eradicate food waste in the fresh produce supply chain\u2014uses sensors to collect crop-specific and plant-relevant information and sends it to SAP\u2019s Analytics Cloud, where it\u2019s combined with data from other sources. \u201cThis allows field managers and commercial teams to work together to make decisions in a range of areas including irrigation, disease management, frost damage assessments, and harvesting forecasts,\u201d Roth says.\n\nBedi views sensors as simply part of the data center. \u201cThe intersection of ESG and the long-term business goals of enterprises are, more and more, starting to intersect,\u201d he says.\n\nBut not everyone thinks sustainability reporting should be concentrated in an already overburdened IT organization. \u201cBudgetary responsibility for systems integration and technology solutions to support this work shouldn\u2019t fall squarely on one department,\u201d says Ben Kruse, director of global ESG reporting and insights at AT&T. \u201cCompanies will be best served when the commitment to ESG is shared across departments, including compliance, operations, sustainability, finance, IT, and others.\u201d\n\nWhile ESG hasn\u2019t monopolized Bedi\u2019s time at ServiceNow, there\u2019s extra effort required to create \u201cthe organization and bandwidth and put the right talent in place so we treat it with the same level of maturity and seriousness,\u201d he says. \u201cVery quickly, ESG will become a part of everybody\u2019s budget.\u201d\n\nReporting the data\n\nCIOs and IT teams are central to this aggregating and reporting on data in a meaningful way, Kruse says. \u201cKey challenges include making disparate, legacy systems\u2014which were likely never designed for ESG reporting\u2014work together to provide reliable, auditable datasets,\u201d he says.\n\nMoreover, the data sources that ESG reports use can be unstructured, Emerick says. \u201cMuch of the data may sit in highly textual sources, making it difficult to extract relevant information,\u201d he says. \u201cESG data is qualitative and has historically been analyst-driven, which leads to unstandardized data due to source and bias.\u201d\n\nBut he sees that changing over time as companies become more used to ESG reporting. \u201cOrganizations with complex rating frameworks have very different data needs and processes than firms just starting on their ESG approach,\u201d he says.\n\nFortunately, there\u2019s a model to follow. CIOs encounter similar challenges in pulling together data from across large organizations and acquired companies. \u201cIt\u2019s not an uncommon task for CIOs to say, \u2018I have data silos all over the place, and I need a meaningful way to collect data, organize it, and report on it, in a way that\u2019s auditable and conforms to the standard,\u2019\u201d Bedi says. \u201cIt sounds a lot like financial management.\u201d\n\nHerman also sees ESG reporting progressing along that path. \u201cThe technology supporting financial disclosures has evolved over many, many decades,\u201d he said. Where manual ledgers gave way to mainframes, ERP, and the cloud, \u201cwe\u2019ll see the same thing in nonfinancial reporting,\u201d he says. \u201cThat is the skillset and value that the CIO organization brings. They understand how to select, design, implement, and integrate those complex data systems, just like the multiple systems that manage financial data.\u201d\n\nNew SEC regulations\n\nCollecting precise environmental data is likely to become more critical and technology-intensive in the near future. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in late March released a 534-page proposal to require publicly traded companies to report greenhouse-gas emissions from their own operations as well as from the energy they consume and to obtain independent certification of their estimates.\n\nWhile the proposal isn\u2019t final yet\u2014it will be open for public comment for at least two months before work begins on a final rule\u2014the writing appears to be on the wall for the future of ESG reporting. Large companies may need to start disclosing climate risks in fiscal 2023, while smaller firms would have until fiscal 2024, with an extra year to include supplier and customer emissions and to get emissions data audited, according to an SEC fact sheet.\n\nOther SEC timelines are also going to pressure companies, Herman says. Currently, many companies issue ESG reports for the previous year in May, June, or July, but the proposed SEC rules would require reporting within 60 days of year\u2019s end. \u201cThey\u2019re going from six months to two months, and that\u2019s going to take a lot of tech enablement,\u201d he said.\n\nEventually companies may move toward making ESG reporting an all-year proposition, Kruse says. \u201cSystems integration can pull forward data availability into near-real time\u2014pivoting the compilation of ESG data from an annual reporting exercise to an effort that supports ongoing performance management by departments across the business.\u201d\n\nSounds like a job for the CIO.