It's time for IT leaders to act on sustainability

Coeus Consulting's Director, Ben Barry, warns that sustainability approaches must be broadened and prioritised to achieve optimal targets.


This is a contributed article by Ben Barry, Director at Coeus Consulting.

New and technology-driven approaches are key to advancing company sustainability goals, and IT leaders should be in the vanguard.

Strong, effective CIO and IT executive leadership will empower faster, game-changing progress by broadening the scope of sustainability activities, prioritising sustainability ahead of the siren song of lowest cost opportunities, and working to embed sustainability across the organisation's supply chain.

Currently, however, around 70% of IT leaders have revealed that IT sustainability is typically seen as a tick-box activity that's primarily about boosting the corporate reputation or benefiting from incentives, such as a chance to save on taxes.

In addition, half of the respondents said their formal strategies were not defined within the IT department but elsewhere in the organisation, giving those to whom IT concerns are most relevant, less than ideal levels of control.

Although IT leaders indicate 10-20% of IT budgets will be earmarked for sustainability in the next few years, those budgets are not predicted to meet their targets. Sustainability, therefore, must occur largely under constraint, embedded into 'business as usual activity'.

It seems that despite the positive sentiments often reported, there is still room for improvement. Critically, firms must begin to see sustainable IT practices as an opportunity that can be proactively and comprehensively addressed, as part of a closer look at the overall operating model.


IT typically already has much of the data required to help shift organisations towards greater sustainability: they must be empowered to prioritise sustainable choices of technology and service. In addition, IT can work even more closely with the business to develop sustainable products and services that support changes in customer consumption and business needs.

IT procurement

Responsibility for sustainability within IT should be formalised as part of every related purchasing decision - perhaps even by installing a Head of IT Sustainability. At smaller organisations, someone within IT can be designated for ensuring sustainability in respect of all IT initiatives, dedicating time already budgeted to enhancing best practice, measuring impact, and developing accountability. This can also help ensure that appropriate sustainability metrics are developed and used.

Existing supplier agreements can be reviewed to understand how to cover off sustainability criteria. Service credit regimes will benefit from clear service-level agreements (SLAs) that stretch organisations, with incentives applied around sustainability achievements and penalties for under-performance, across the full contract term.

Requests for proposal (RFPs) can be drafted incorporating explicit sustainability targets, with their relative weighting when scoring potential suppliers.

While only 13% of organisations said IT sustainability is currently key in their procurement process, 45% indicated this will become a key element within a few years. 57% of respondents said they would like to see suppliers and partners publish IT sustainability reports and audits as well as demonstrate a low carbon footprint.

Multiple benefits from fostering sustainable IT

Sustainable IT operations can reduce energy consumption, increase resource utilisation, and improve waste management; IT systems can also monitor and measure consumption levels, set sustainability baselines and targets, and monitor progress with data-driven initiatives.

A sustainability-focused culture can be promoted to employees as well as customers and other stakeholders, increasing engagement and loyalty to the organisation and its services. IT can again help here, working alongside the business to foster sustainable behaviours both internally and externally, in tandem with planning and buy-in from senior leaders.

Making the change

The private sector will have a key role in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Organisations are missing a trick by relegating technology’s contribution to sustainability to a 'support' role - as despite one-third of the largest EU companies pledging to reach net zero by 2050, just 5% are, so far, on course to achieve the target.

This is despite our report showing that 90% of IT leaders already see sustainability as a key IT objective within their organisation, and 88% of organisations already have an IT sustainability strategy in place.

The good news is that there does seem to be recognition that IT and sustainability goals are intrinsically linked, with IT having a major impact on sustainability: 85% of CIOs and other IT leaders agree that their organisation needs to do more when it comes to IT sustainability.

This means both prioritising and broadening approaches to sustainability, viewing targets and strategies through a climate-first lens even before considering cost concerns, moving organisations into pole position to lead the strong, sustainable economies of the future.

Ben is a founder and Director at Coeus Consulting, and a business and IT transformation professional with over 20 years’ experience in consulting and management roles. Previously he was Director, CIO Advisory at KPMG and he has also held roles at Xantus Consulting and Capgemini. He has coached and led senior clients on strategy development through to transformation and benefits delivery.