Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Rob Walker

Environmental, social, sustainability: It’s time for businesses to take action

By Rob Walker, UK&I MD at Cognizant

Most companies have now come to the realisation and understanding that proactively improving upon ESG issues improves business outcomes by responding to social needs. However, many have so far failed to make progress beyond the ‘awareness’ stage. Implementing a business model with environmental and social governance (ESG) at its core is now one of the most critical issues of our time, yet for many, understanding how they can do so is still very much an open question.

Organisations looking to recruit new talent must move past the awareness stage to taking proactive action. Increasingly, younger generations embarking on their careers are looking to join and identify with businesses that have a sense of purpose. Businesses need to not only have goals around these matters, but also help current and prospective employees feel as though they can play a role in achieving them.

At Cognizant, for example, our so-called ‘Outreach’ programme mobilises our associates’ expertise and enthusiasm through volunteer work, with the goal of taking social responsibility and “improving everyday life.” In the past year alone, more than 31,000 volunteers in 40 locations globally invested more than 221,000 volunteering hours. They volunteered their time to provide hands-on experience in state-of-the-art technologies in schools, teach coding skills and help pupils understand the many career opportunities presented by STEM disciplines. In addition to benefiting those around us, our Outreach volunteers are historically 9% more likely to stay with us.

The sustainability technology conundrum

There’s no doubt technology will have a significantly positive impact on sustainability. It has enabled more businesses to succeed with employees seamlessly working remotely and collaborating across the globe. It has also helped massively reduce the amount of corporate travel and, therefore, emissions. Cloud in particular has been a foundation upon which most businesses’ remote working structures have been built, which is why its adoption rate has accelerated significantly in the past year. Businesses and employees are now able to access relevant information securely and quickly without the need for access to a physical office location.

Technology is not without its challenges, however. For example, some of the biggest increases in energy demand stem from data centres. According to recent DCD research, data centres consume about 3% of the world’s energy on their own, a percentage that could soon rise to 8% as digital transformation increases. An opportunity Cognizant is actively working on addressing through IT efficiency and renewable energy.

As such, data centre businesses need to be aiming to become low carbon to have a positive impact. We are already seeing major steps towards this with cloud providers such as AWS, Google and Equinix, who earlier this year pledged to become climate positive by 2030. For example, one of the many collations like The Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact is backed by 17 industry bodies and sets targets for efficiency and the use of green energy.

Environmental, social and sustainable initiatives build future success for businesses

While the past year brought unprecedented challenges and tragedies, businesses were able to realise that there is more than one way for them to operate. We can collaborate much more easily with colleagues around the world without long-distance travel. As a result, we can expect continued and significant design and investment in digital capabilities to create customer and employee offerings that are seamless, digital and secure.

This is good news, as this new way of working will help businesses work toward contributing to wider climate initiatives set by countries around the world. This will not only improve everyday life for the human population but also ensure the success of their own operations in the immediate term by creating better experiences for employees and customers.

Customers, shareholders and employees today want to know firstly how businesses are having a positive impact on the environment and wider community, and secondly, how they can help others do the same. Much like Cognizant is preparing to do, setting public, time‑bound greenhouse gas reduction goals and wider environmental and social initiatives increases associate, investor and client confidence in a company, all working toward successful outcomes and increased ROI.

On the road to taking action

Businesses and governments simply cannot ignore their responsibility towards environmental, social and sustainability matters any longer. These matters require collective responsibility and proactive leadership by example.

Here’s one example: Since the start of the first lockdown in 2020, home schooling became a reality for many students and parents. Just like many businesses, Cognizant was flooded with requests from schools and charities for laptop device donations because they were struggling to maintain an acceptable level of education for students who lacked the necessary tools. However, we had to find a sustainable solution—the first of its kind at Cognizant—and we are now working with ComputerAid, a charity that will wipe devices, refurbish them and sell them at highly subsidised prices to schools and charities. We have already donated 1000 computers to ComputerAid since the beginning of the programme in April and are planning to donate approximately 250 more laptops by the end of 2021. We are thrilled to have been able to help so many students around the world.  

The computer donations—as well as our ‘Outreach’ programmes—are just a small part of our much broader social responsibility strategy and there is a lot more to be done. Having a solid strategy in place fosters a positive impact on the environment and the communities around us, not only on food for the world but also for business and employees. Organisations must come to this realisation soon. Businesses that have already bought their tickets to board this train need to move away from the platform and begin their journey now.