A new found love between finance, risk management, quality management and sustainability. How is this happening? With new technologies and data, … lots and lots of data!

– By Esther van Bergen, Capgemini Netherlands –

Capgemini Sustainability Blog: Home

 Back in the day the Green Movement conjured up images of tree hugging hippies who wanted little to do with business. These days it is made up of a much more diverse group of people.  We still have those early adapters in our midst, and gladly so. But as we have all been able to see, that approach alone wasn’t working. At least, not in a way that it actually got the masses moving. Business and environmentalism remained at odds with each other and a ‘marriage’ between the two was considered unthinkable.

But then some elements were starting to come together. Science was focusing on our climate. NGO’s started to evolve into more business-like structured organizations and technology gave us internet that spread the message much easier. The CO2 Footprint quickly became the ‘mascot’ of the Greenhouse effect during the late 90’s that generated attention in a broader base. It was then that businesses started to tentatively to open their doors, knowing they had a role to play. Sustainability, and with it a new kind of environmentalist, was slowly becoming part of the business family, though perhaps by most still thought of as ‘that weird friend staying in the guestroom’.

While some are still struggling with calculating the organization’s direct emissions (Primary footprint), an increasing number is mastering the methodology behind it and is actively looking beyond that. The bigger pay-off comes when you broaden your horizon.  They are determined to measure and manage the role of (finite) resources such as water and (raw) materials in their supply chains (Secondary footprint). Realizing that ‘the weird friend in the guestroom’ is actually fun to hang out with!

Risk management can now use additional factors to evaluate investments, energy security, customer relations and vulnerabilities to climate change and (related) conflicts. Practical examples of why they are paying attention are the floods in Thailand last year, the various droughts in agricultural regions, but also potential back-lash from consumers. Consequently, for Quality management it is a big driver to ensure products and services meet today’s customer’s various demands. Staying ahead of the game this way will result in a (financially) healthier, more resilient business while reducing its ‘negative impact’.

My fellow bloggers Kevin Marcotte, Max Tau and James Robey have recently all spotlighted some examples springing from this. It’s complex, but some of the bigger players on the block have started to tackle it in earnest. The real pioneers are daring to look even further, at the potential of using any type of data to create new solutions; data from GIS, weather, biodiversity, ecosystem services (by bringing Natural Capital into the equation),  social interaction… you name it. You could call it a ‘Tertiary footprint’ 1) perhaps, taking it to a more three-dimensional approach with a focus on a potential positive impact (instead of negative ‘footprint’). Using such data for restorative action and being a contributing part of our nature’s cycle again instead of an adversary.

None of these innovative developments could be within our reach if it hadn’t been for technology developments, like Big Data in IT. It brings together that Modern Family, but like any family it comes with both gains (as outlined  above) and challenges.

The initial challenge is the process of actually gathering, storing and distributing the staggering amount of data efficiently and effectively with quality IT infrastructure. Smart meters and ‘The Internet of Things’ are big players here. Mobile Solutions and Cloud have a role to play as well.  With careful governance of the trade-off between the impact and the gains the negative footprint can be managed, but this must be done by using Green IT (the part that looks at IT’s own design, use and manufacturing cycle).  The bigger challenge is, of course, how can we use the data SMART-ly. To be able to combine the right sets of data that can give us new insights and new solutions requires breaking through the silos that traditionally exist both in and between organizations (profit, non-profit and governmental). Only then can it  really move us to a  Circular Economy and have us living in truly Smart Cities. Last, but certainly not the least challenge which must not be forgotten, is the overall concern of the security of all this data (not in the wrong hands) and ensuring that those who have access can be trusted with the information, which only adds to the complexity.

Though Sustainability in this respect is just beginning, there are already quite a few initiatives out there that can help kick-start anyone’s imagination. At Capgemini we are certainly working on contributing to this and hope to share examples in the (near) future.


Footnotes: 1) ‘Tertiary footprint’ is not defined anywhere as such (that I could find), but simply a term I creatively used for the approach of sustainability I described in that paragraph. 😉

Esther van Bergen is an IT Strategy consultant at Capgemini Netherlands. As a coordinator for Capgemini’s Green IT services and a member of the Capgemini’s Sustainability Network she specializes in Sustainability of and with IT.