The pandemic has brought renewed focus on the topic of sustainability. While the COVID-19 lockdowns resulted in a steep dip in greenhouse gas emissions, 2020 was still considered the worst year for climate-related disasters, with record-breaking temperatures around the globe, months of disastrous wildfires that engulfed most of California and Australia, and a record hurricane season in the Caribbean.
Despite renewed commitments made around sustainability, as seen, for example, at the G7 summit in Cornwall, and already substantial global investments made in renewable energy, recycling, public transport and electric vehicles throughout the years, little material progress seems to have been made in averting climate catastrophe.
New research by Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work demonstrates that the conversation has dual implication for businesses. While some environmental efforts amount to little more than “greenwashing,” other businesses clearly see the financial incentives of genuinely participating in the transition to entirely new ways of generating power. Harnessing change has always been a root source of wealth creation. With an existential need for innovation, a new phase of wealth creation now stands before us: “The Green Rush”.
This new movement will be rampant with technology adoption, with spending on everything from Internet of Things (IoT), to artificial intelligent (AI), to smart-grid technologies, to big data/analytics and blockchain.
Key findings from the research include:
- Sustainability investments are linked to business gains. When respondents were asked how the pandemic would impact their spending on sustainability efforts, key differences emerged across geographies. In the U.S., just over one-third of business leaders planned to increase sustainability budgets compared with nearly half in Europe. What’s more, the goals of this spending extend beyond simply regulatory compliance. According to a large majority of respondents, the most important goals of their sustainability initiatives are to increase sales (70%) and enhance brand reputation (71%). Far fewer (62%) linked the value of sustainability to avoiding government sanctions.
- Technology investment is key to combating climate change. More than three-quarters of respondents (77%) listed environmental sensors and IoT as important or very important to meeting their sustainability goals. The widespread deployment of such sensors could have valuable implications for traffic efficiency, wildfire response and more. Smart grids and AI round out the top three technologies for green businesses, at 72% each.
- Emerging tech can catalyse current sustainability endeavours. While many respondents reported using tried-and-true sustainability approaches such as eco-friendly lighting (63%) and renewable energy (57%), these more traditional approaches can be supercharged by new technologies. For example, conducting energy audits can be made easier and more valuable through the use of AI and analytics platforms.
- ROI and senior-leader commitment are top concerns and will require a renewed look at sustainability strategies. Over three-quarters of senior leaders cited uncertainty around ROI as a challenge to realising sustainability goals. Lack of clarity (69%) and commitment from C-suite leaders (66%) also represented significant hindrances for study respondents. Clearly defined goals and strategies can help alleviate this.
Benjamin Pring, VP, Head of Thought Leadership and Managing Director, Cognizant’s Center of the Future of Work, says: “We’ve reached a point where we must accept that we can no longer sit idle. To further protect our planet and our future, technologists, designers, business leaders, activists and all other stakeholders must unite with the absolute interest of the welfare of our planet at the core. The overall effect will create this ‘Green Rush’ – a concerted global effort to develop solutions to the long-term damage that has already been done to our environment.
“Technological advancements such as AI, IoT and smart grid technologies will play an integral role in making businesses more environmentally friendly but shifting mindsets and behaviours will be just as important. And key to this will be the realisation among forward-thinking decision makers that green business is good business, both communally and commercially.”