Video Quick Take: Paul Daugherty on Technology, Transformation, and Sustainability – SPONSOR CONTENT FROM ACCENTURE

Todd Pruzan, HBR

Welcome to the HBR Video Quick Take. I’m Todd Pruzan, senior editor for research and special projects at Harvard Business Review. As we experience a new wave of technology transformation, sustainability has become a top priority for businesses around the world.

Today, I’m here with Paul Daugherty, Accenture’s group chief executive of technology and chief technology officer. He leads all aspects of Accenture’s technology business around the world. And under Paul’s leadership, Accenture technology provides innovative and comprehensive services and solutions that span cloud, Metaverse, systems integration, security, and much more. Paul, thank you for joining us and giving us an expanded perspective on sustainability and technology.

Paul Daugherty, Accenture

Hey, Todd. It’s great to be with you, especially talking about these topics, which are so critical.

Todd Pruzan, HBR

Technology is consuming an increasing amount of energy and resources. Some suggest the Metaverse will actually increase our carbon output. Why is sustainability so critical at this time?

Paul Daugherty, Accenture

It’s a great question. And as we look to what’s happening now and in the next decade, technology and sustainability together are going to be something we all need to come to grips with. And the reality is, if you look at it, we’re in the midst of this technology revolution. And the next decade is going to offer even more exponential advances in technology and innovation that are going to enable us to live our lives better and more effectively and solve some of the big societal problems that we face.

However, as you mentioned in your question, it comes at a cost, because computing consumes resources. It consumes chips and such, and it consumes energy. It would have emissions and carbon impact, et cetera. So, we really need to look at these things together. And that’s what we are addressing in our research and in the report that we recently did.

And if you just look at some examples, there was a recent study that showed that training a single artificial intelligence model can have the equivalent emissions of five automobiles for their entire life—driven over their entire lifetime. Or concerns about the impact of blockchain, where Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency powered by blockchain, that one cryptocurrency, consumes the equivalent energy of Switzerland.

So these are real impacts. But we have to really pursue it in a balanced fashion. Because while technology consumes more resources and has these impacts, on the other hand, technology presents the solutions to many of these sustainability challenges that we face, which is why we use the phrase that, really, sustainability is becoming the new digital for companies as you look to the future, just as companies have been transforming everything they do to become digital and operate more effectively, driven by technology as you look to the future. That will increasingly be focused on using technology to drive sustainability at the core of their transformation and how they drive their business.

Todd Pruzan, HBR

How does technology fit into the sustainability journey?

Paul Daugherty, Accenture

It really is the flip side of the coin, or both sides of the same coin, if you think about it. On the one hand, technology is the solution to so many of the problems that we face from the sustainability perspective—the tracking that we need to do around ESGs and sustainability, but well beyond the tracking into the solutions themselves, looking at sensors and tracking systems to help reduce methane emissions, as one example, or looking at sustainable circular supply chain solutions that track waste and recover waste in companies’ supply chains and turn it into productive output.

So many of the challenges we face can be addressed by better uses of technology. But at the same time, we need to pursue more green uses of technology. We were part of, along with many other companies, founding something called the Green Software Foundation to look at bringing companies together to pursue practices that help us use technology in ways that consume less energy, have less environmental impact, and, again, produce more green software.

So this dual focus is going to be important. And if left unchecked, it can have a big impact. Studies have shown that about 15 years ago, the collective output of technology was about 1.5% of global emissions. Today, that’s about 4%, so it has almost tripled.

It’s projected over another 15 years to triple again to more than 12% of global emissions. So left unchecked, that will have a massive and catastrophic impact on overall emissions of the planet. It’s pretty clear that we’ve got to adopt these greener software solutions today.

I’m very encouraged by the progress and believe there’s a lot we can do to develop more green software. All organizations need to really rally behind this.

Todd Pruzan, HBR

What does this all mean for the CIO? How is the role of the CIO changing as a result?

Paul Daugherty, Accenture

It’s a great question. Just as the CIO needed a seat at the table with digital, and companies came to realize that over the last decade as they did their digital transformation—the CIO needs to have a seat at the table with sustainability and partner with the other stakeholders in the business.

And that’s not really happening enough today, simply stated. Our research shows that 49% of companies do not have the CIO involved in sustainability, planning, and setting the objectives. And only 45% of organizations have the CIO’s objectives linked to sustainability goals.

And an even more striking statistic is that only 7% of companies have integrated their sustainability strategy and their technology strategy, which is a big mistake and a big miss, because the two need to come together for the reasons that I just talked about earlier. But, again, as companies address this and pull these things together, we’re really encouraged by the progress that we can see happening.

Todd Pruzan, HBR

What can companies do today to make sure they’re on a path to a sustainable future?

Paul Daugherty, Accenture

Simply stated, it’s a matter of pulling the two together, looking at sustainability and technology together in the way I just described. And I’d encourage companies to look at three different dimensions of it. First, make sure you have a clear program around sustainability through technology.

This is where technology can make a difference depending on your industry, in your supply chains, in water, water treatment, and clean water supply, in emissions and emissions tracking, and such. Whatever your industry needs might be, make sure you’re looking at how technology presents the solutions, because there’s a lot of opportunity out there.

The second is looking at sustainability in technology, in the way we develop the technology. Make sure your organization understands the need for green software that I talked about earlier and that you have a program to implement it.

Third, look at sustainability at scale, because this isn’t something any one organization can do by itself. Look to your partners, look to the ecosystem that you provide around this. And pulling together all the stakeholders to really drive the impact in and around your business is going to be critically important to the success.

Todd Pruzan, HBR

Some great insights on a critical topic. Thank you so much for a great conversation, Paul.

Paul Daugherty, Accenture

Thanks, Todd. It’s been a pleasure.

To learn more, read the report, Uniting Technology and Sustainability, at

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