How CIOs can unite sustainability and technology

Jul 20, 2022
IT Leadership

Delivering on the promise of sustainability will require CIOs to work in close collaboration with other executives to identify the technologies that will help their company achieve its ESG goals.

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As technology continues to take a larger role in corporate sustainability practices, CIOs can play a key role in driving both business value and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance. In fact, creating and implementing a comprehensive sustainable technology strategy must now be the core mission of a purpose-driven CIO.

Every executive in Accenture’s recent sustainable technology survey agreed that technology is critical for achieving sustainability goals. So why have only 7% of businesses fully integrated their technology and sustainability strategies? In part, it’s because this will require a fundamental shift to a business model that will affect the role of the CIO, who may not even be aware that their expertise is needed to address these challenges. Delivering on the promise of sustainable technology will require CIOs to take a seat at the sustainability table, where they must work in close collaboration with other executives to identify the technologies that will help their company achieve its ESG goals. 

Despite how critically intertwined these goals are with technology investments and operations, less than half (49%) of CIOs are included in their corporate leadership team’s decision-making processes around sustainability objectives and plans. Without CIOs being involved in these core responsibilities, ESG targets suffer — which is particularly concerning when considering companies that take the lead on ESG issues outperform their competition financially, generating up to 2.6 times more value for shareholders than their peers. 

Why are some companies slow to action? 

Given how important sustainability metrics are to companies and their stakeholders, it is crucial to identify why it is taking so long for some organizations to jump on board with new technological innovations to implement meaningful change. Our research has uncovered the following challenges:

  • Perceived lack of readiness and expertise: 40% of executives surveyed believe that the right solutions are not available or not mature enough, including availability of the right talent to lead these initiatives. 
  • Complexity and challenges with implementation: 33% of executives surveyed are struggling with the complexity of solutions or with modernizing their legacy systems to be more sustainable. 
  • Awareness and understanding of impact: 20% of executives surveyed are not aware of the unintended consequences of technology or whether the technology they use is sustainable. 

Examining these hurdles more closely, Accenture developed a Sustainable Technology Index, which ranks performance against the three elements on a scale of 0-1. Interestingly, it revealed a “crowded middle” around the median score of 0.45, with roughly 60% of companies posting scores within the range of 0.3 to 0.5. Put simply, this indicates that most organizations still have a long way to go in achieving a sustainable technology strategy, creating an opportunity — and sense of urgency — for CIOs to foster greater education and implementation of suitable solutions.  

New responsibilities for CIOs 

CIOs must be proactive in progressing these organizational shifts, as business leaders will continue to lean on them to ensure company technologies are providing solutions without contributing to an environmental problem. While in years past this was not an active concern, the information and communications technology (ICT) sector has recently become a larger source of climate-related impact. Producing only 1.5% of CO2 in 2007, the industry has now risen to 4% today and will potentially reach 14% by 2040.  

Fortunately, CIOs can course-correct by focusing on three key areas: 

  • Net zero: Utilize green software practices that can reduce energy consumption.
  • Trust: Build systems that protect privacy and are fair, transparent, robust, and accessible.
  • Governance: Make ESG the focus of technology, not an afterthought.

As a first step in this transition, CIOs can begin assessing their organization’s technology through the lens of sustainability to ensure that those goals are being thought about in every facet of the business. In addition, they can connect with other leaders in the company to encourage greater emphasis and dialogue in cross-organization planning for technology solutions as they relate to sustainability targets.   

What are the benefits? 

While the path to implementation requires comprehensive analysis and a proactive approach, a switch to sustainable technology leads to numerous benefits for the company, its sustainability goals, and CIOs themselves. Sustainable technology contributes value across the board: 48% of companies said that they saw increased revenue, 49% saw a marked improvement in talent recruitment and business innovation, and 53% said they’ve been able to use these changes to meet their ESG targets. In fact, companies that adopt sustainable technology to a significant extent achieve 4% higher ESG scores from Arabesque S-Ray, a global specialist in measuring ESG metrics. 

Driving value: How sustainable tech contributes value in various forms


The emphasis on sustainable technologies also reflect a turning point in how organizations interact with CIOs. The expertise of these leaders is now needed across all aspects of the organization, emerging as a strategic asset and a key part of a company’s sustainability DNA helping accomplish goals much larger than focusing solely on internal operations. While these new responsibilities can certainly be daunting, they also mark a significant opportunity to transform the way a company views its technological resources, along with a turn in how company leaders and investors view and value CIOs as important decision-makers in the greater strategy of the organization. 

Diana Bersohn

Diana Bersohn is a managing director in Accenture Strategy - Technology. She is a leader in strategy and transformation, specializing in global IT operating models and large-scale business and technology transformations.

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Sanjay is the Global lead for Technology Sustainability at Accenture and drives thought leadership and innovation in this area. He is also responsible for establishing and managing Accenture's ecosystem strategy for Sustainability, for developing Accenture’s Technology Capabilities offerings and capabilities, and for embedding sustainability best practices in technology delivery. As an innovator with over 36 patents in software engineering, Sanjay is passionate about bringing digital technologies to develop innovative solutions to achieve sustainable development goals, and currently focuses on decarbonizing digital technologies.