CIOs, it's time to listen to Greta

As with the banking crisis, austerity and the pandemic, CIOs can and must play a vital role in moving to sustainable business models.


Your CEO is concerned about the environment and the impact your organisation has on the planet. As the most senior technology leader of the business, CIOs and CTOs will, and must, play a key role in lowering the environmental impact of the business. It is time to listen to Greta Thunberg.

"If the solutions within this system are so impossible to find then maybe we should change the system itself," not the words of a C-suite executive grappling with an outdated business process that is excessively cumbersome, but the words of a young girl. Greta Thunberg said these very words to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018. Dismiss the image of this young girl from your head and read the words of that sentence again; they fit exactly with the daily conversations that take place between business technology leaders, their peers and boards. The system is not fit for purpose; it is uneconomic, perhaps no longer meets regulatory requirements, and the staff hate it or are not delivering value to customers. Thunberg is asking us to leverage the same expertise in problem-solving, system modernisation, efficiency, transformation, hell even disruption to a bigger and more important challenge. "For the sake of your children, for the sake of your grandchildren. For the sake of life and this beautiful living planet," Thunberg went on to say to the World Economic Forum in January 2019, a year before a catastrophic pandemic demonstrated what disruption really is.

The economy is reacting too. There is a greener hue to business headlines in recent months. International weekly newspaper The Economist reports: "Green stocks are no longer the preserve of niche sustainable funds." Adding that a wind power firm has seen its value increase by a third, and solar energy shares are heating up. Each and every day, the front pages of Reuters and the Financial Times reveal shareholder action, declines in fossil fuel based sectors, rising investment activity for batteries and new fuel sources. Deutsche Bank and oil giants Exxon - the latter famous for the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989, considered the world's worst oil spill - both report shareholder action demanding they focus investments away from carbon intensive business areas.

Across the world, new regulations will challenge business models, in France, the government has granted €7 billion in financial aid to Air France, but in return, the airline cannot compete on journeys of two and half hours with the French high-speed rail service the famous TGV. Regulatory changes are always an opportunity, in particular for CIOs and CTOs; for all its headaches, data regulation GDPR introduced by the EU was beneficial to the majority of CIOs and further strengthened the role of technology in organisations. Just as the news is full of headlines of low carbon investors and shareholders, so too is there a growing tide of regulatory energy heading towards western economies.

In the last 12 years, boards have looked to CIOs and technology to help organisations weather the storms of a banking crisis, the austerity that followed and the pandemic. CIOs must seize the opportunity of cleaning up our environment. Technology will play an instrumental role, monitoring and reporting energy usage, enabling the organisation's staff to work flexibly and end the horror of traffic jam derived air pollution, and after 2020, we all know that there is a drastically reduced need to fly here, there and everywhere.

Technology is an area where organisations can deliver some early clean wins, data centres are the IT industry's 'dirty secret', and CIOs are well placed to demand that the entire technology supply chain lowers its carbon impact.

There are, of course, risks, there are many similarities to the Y2K and dot com era that heralded in this century, but as a community of business and technology leaders, we are well aware that despite some initial mistakes, the vision of those pioneers in the late 90s and early 2000s has come to fruition. The greatest risk is for CIOs and technology to miss the opportunity. There are those that sneer and chide the zeitgeist as 'the green blob' and claim that moving to sustainable energy will have as damaging an impact on the economy as COVID-19. I listen to their demonstrations and immediately feel old; why? Because I recall similar characters claiming that banking, retail and media would not be impacted by this new thing called the internet. Look how that turned out. 

It is time to listen to a brave young lady, because your CEO is listening to Greta.