- Despite technological advances, inadequate data undermines corporate sustainability initiatives and erodes consumer trust, according to a Monday IBM report. The company surveyed 2,500 executives across 22 industries and more than 20,000 consumers in 34 countries.
- While nearly three-quarters of executives believe their companies successfully communicated environmental, social and governance performance, only 1 in 5 consumers surveyed said they trust ESG reporting, down from nearly half two years ago.
- Data deficiencies widened the gap between progress and perception, the report said. More than 2 in 5 executives ranked data as a top barrier to ESG progress. Similarly, only 2 in 5 consumers said they had sufficient information to make sustainable purchasing decisions.
While revenue concerns and cautious budgeting may temporarily deprioritize ESG investments, most companies remain committed to reducing their carbon footprint and advancing sustainability.
The incentives are myriad. More than two-thirds of consumers value sustainable goods and services, and more than 7 in 10 respondents said they would favor an environmentally conscious employer.
The tools to reduce emissions without breaking the budget exist, Jonathan Wright, IBM’s global managing partner for sustainability services and global business transformation lines, told CIO Dive.
Cloud migration represents a scalable lever for cutting carbon emissions and gaining operational efficiency, a 2020 Accenture-UNGC study found.
But cloud without governance can be a double-edged sword.
Retiring on-prem data centers brings down the cost per unit for compute and storage, boosting efficiency and reducing emissions. But it can be difficult to measure and accurately report those gains in a hybrid multicloud ecosphere.
“This is an agenda for the CIO,” Wright said. “It’s an agenda driven by data and hybrid cloud, pulling together complex data sets in a way that empowers decision makers in day-to-day activities.”
Many of the same IT governance structures that contain cost can ameliorate sustainability shortfalls.
More than three-quarters of executive respondents view ESG as central to their business strategy and 72% see it as a revenue enabler rather than cost center, the report found.
“You start by looking at where your workloads are, what you can do at different times of the day and how you can smooth out the peaks,” said Wright. “Then you can begin to record actual gains so that you can demonstrate the right impact to your stakeholders.”
Moving from talk to action on ESG requires up-front investment in tools, technology and talent. It also requires a paradigm shift, from estimating vague averages to reporting actual, verifiable numbers.
“Without data, none of this can happen,” Wright said. “With data, it is still going to be a challenge because it requires a cultural change.”
IBM launched an ESG initiative last year and reported progress towards its goals earlier this month, including 61.6% emissions reduction since 2010.