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The sustainability imperative - why it’s critical for CIOs to step up to the mark

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan September 21, 2022
CIOs and CTOs need to get engaged with the sustainability strategies of their organizations. That means taking some fresh approaches.


Five years ago, this would have never been a real topic of discussion amongst CIOs. We wouldn't be talking about sustainability. We'd be talking about how to manage servers more effectively. But here we are, sitting down talking about sustainability.

It’s a good observation from Juan Perez, CIO at Salesforce, as part of a discussion around the sustainability imperative facing organizations and the role of technology leaders in meeting that challenge. It was a debate taking place at this year’s Dreamforce, a conference that has had sustainability as a hot topic running through its metaphorical veins. Perez argued:

From an IT perspective, it's interesting. I see more and more of a role that the CIO needs to play to support initiatives across the organization, and the need for not only the technologies that are used to report Net Zero goals and sustainability metrics, but also implementing technologies and solutions that are environmentally conscious.

Prior to joining Salesforce, Perez served 32 years at UPS, a company, he noted wrily, that didn’t have the greatest sustainability credentials, given that its business model is built around planes and trucks that use a lot of fuel:

Creating a business case in that particular domain is very difficult because you don't have a simple and easy solution to implement the drive for sustainability. Everything is complicated and difficult.

It’s not impossible however, he added, recalling that as CIO at UPS, he had spent time implementing tech solutions that could optimize delivery routes:

The greatest mile that you can possibly drive is the one you never drive. So that's an interesting way of actually saving money on one end, and also helping with sustainability. That's why the company is so focused on creating those types of solutions that help them advance and help with a business case.


From the point of view of Accenture CIO Penelope Prett, there’s a need to take a wider perspective for the greater good:

The CIO of today has to reach out to all the ecosystem partners  - Accenture, Salesforce as an example - and find ways to collaborate to move the collective agenda forward.  As a very specific example, there's the Green Software Foundation with Microsoft and Accenture, working on standards for green development and how to teach IT shops to build more sustainable capabilities for their communities.

Internally, CIOs are well-placed to be able provide cross-functional support across an organization’s sustainability pushes, she added:

Each department approaches sustainability from its lens. HR is about how to recruit. CFOs are about , how to track emissions. The CIO is in a really unique place to help bring all those different lenses together and create a unified product out of it, for the voice of the company on how sustainability will be addressed. We need to capitalize on that while we're in this position, to help drive improvement for the overall company.

The sustainability agenda is actually changing the role of the technologist, argued Mastercard’s CTO for Operations, George Maddaloni:

It's driving change in technology, because, honestly, I don't think technology has thought about sustainability in the way that we need to going forward. In my role in our organization, you're just driving change in terms of the decision-making that we have to make every day, whether it's a project, an investment, a data center cloud migration, whatever the case may be, bringing sustainability into that discussion is part of what we do now.

It’s also about being ready potentially to go an extra mile to support your sustainability intentions, he added:

We've absolutely started making decisions that are weighted sometimes with [the idea that] we're going to actually spend more money here, but it is going to be more efficient. We had a classic project in Australia recently with a big data center move from one location to another. We made the conscious decision to spend a little bit more money because we knew we could get 50% more efficient in the new location.


For its part, Mastercard is a user of Salesforce’s Net Zero Cloud. Maddaloni explained: ,

For me specifically, I've been focusing on how do we measure the actual technology platforms and diving into those. That data challenge involves new instrumentation techniques and things of that nature, and plowing that back into something that we can feed for scope one, scope two. The scope three challenge gets really broad, and that's where Net Zero Cloud is helping us.

Access to data is critical, affirmed Salesforce’s Perez:

It's the old saying - what gets measured, gets done. If you don't measure it, it's not going to get done. It's just that basic. So when you make those types of commitments, and when you do stand behind those commitments, it's extremely important to have the right technologies and tools to measure how you're progressing towards those types of commitments.

Data is critical for effective reporting and managing all these different metrics, having a solid data strategy that is not only good for for the use of doing business in the company, but of having a better strategy that also takes into account how you're going to get that data into the system that's all sustainability-related. To have effective reporting is extremely important.

If you don’t pay attention here, there will be negative impact, he warned:

The whole area of effective reporting, gathering data, putting that information into systems and technologies that can be trusted at the end of the day, is something that requires significant attention by key leaders. The worst thing that can happen here is you report incorrectly and you're actually creating a false impression as to what your overall sustainability strategy is doing.

That's why I believe it's so important for leaders in IT and other parts of the business to engage with other partners, like Accenture, to really help us drive an effective sustainability strategy supported by the right data and using Salesforce technology to be able to demonstrate  commitment.

And don’t leave it too late to get tracking underway, added Accenture’s Prett:

The most important favor that you can do for yourselves to position for the future is to get the data and start tracking now. It's very hard to prove you've made a lot of progress if you start tracking and having baseline data after you’re way down the journey. You suffer by comparison.

My take

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the macro environment today and that raises the prospect that sustainability might slip down the agenda as a corporate priority. From the evidence on show at Dreamforce this week, that seems unlikely. As Maddaloni put it:

It’s become more important than ever. That we're thinking about how we're deploying technology, I think that's the thing that's changed for us. The most recent changes, especially in the past 12 months, have radically shaped the strategy we have in terms of technology and how we're deploying products and how we're managing data.

And that should mean that IT professionals can step up to the mark all the more, he concluded:

I think it's an amazing time, where we're really learning as a community about how to measure this stuff, how to make better decisions around around this topic…Whenever you get new problems to solve, it's fun, and it's driving a change in terms of how we're deploying from a software perspective, from a product perspective.

Final thought to Accenture’s Prett:

Companies are passing the point where we can just stop hurting the world around us. We are actually entering a phase, based on the technology that's available and the collective energy behind this, where we can start actively helping the planet after all these years. That's a super exciting place to be generationally, because we can leave this place better than we inherited it.

Amen to that!

For more on sustainability and Dreamforce, check out our dedicated event hub here.

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