The world is not ready to achieve net-zero yet

- In conversation with Sandip Patel, Managing Director, India & South Asia, IBM

Sandip Patel, Managing Director, India & South Asia, IBM offers his views on how a focus on Sustainability and Innovation is helping build a green vision for organizations in India and across the world at the 3rd Edition of The Economic Times SDGs Summit co-powered by Skoda Auto Volkswagen India Pvt Ltd.

ESG is going to be among the dominant themes of the decade along with technology. How is IBM going about implementing its ESG agenda?

IBM has been very committed to ESG for a long time. We published our first corporate policy on the environment in 1971. It was much before the Paris accord and we are very proud of this legacy. We have recently published our intention to get to net-zero by 2030.  At IBM, reaching net-zero is not just a compliance requirement but an endeavour that is core to our business purpose and mission: To become a sustainable enterprise and also to help clients accelerate their net-zero and sustainable journeys.

Many businesses perceive ESG as a cost. How compelling is the business case for ESG?

I think that ESG is an initiative that everyone needs to think about. ESG is not a cost. It is the way we need this world to be and the way we want it to be on a go-forward basis. Due to the aforementioned reasons, everyone needs to embrace this not just as a compliance requirement but as something that is important for the good of the world and future generations.

We need to accelerate the pace of ESG initiatives to succeed with net zero goals

You must be talking to a lot of Indian CEOs, do you see an ESG agenda on their list?

I think that a lot of people are talking about it. While I think that there is interest and momentum, a lot more needs to be done.  The world is not ready to meet Net-Zero by 2050 at the current pace and that is why it is important to accelerate now.  It has become fashionable for companies to state that they are following the UN SDGs. However, it is important to start with a clear view of what sustainability really means for an enterprise, how it aligns with its values and how it is included as a part of its core strategic mission; all SDGs may not be relevant for many companies. Hence, it is imperative to take an industry lens and assess what is really relevant.

[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]What is also needed is broader and genuine stakeholder engagement towards refining these goals that will create the buy-in. Consequently, we also need to work as an ecosystem to make these things live. I’ll just give you a very simple example: We actually partnered with Shell to build a unique B2B marketplace for sustainable mining. The platform was called Oren and it brings together mining companies with various sustainability solution providers; those that can help reduce water wastage, manage emissions, manage pollution, etc., these are the kind of ecosystem related initiatives that companies need to come together, really embrace, and start to move forward with.[/box]

Do you also see ESG as an opportunity?

As I have stated, ESG is core to our business mission and purpose. We have also launched a new practice called Green2Grow and the aim is to help our clients accelerate their journey to sustainability and meet their performance and ESG goals together; this is accomplished by leveraging digital, AI, and the hybrid cloud. This practice that we have launched is organized around 5 broad themes: The first is that it helps clients define their sustainability strategy which includes new business models and redefining how they engage with their stakeholders in the broader ecosystem. The second theme is that it helps our clients with their ESG reporting and climate risk assessments. The third theme is that it helps manage carbon emissions and the transition to cleaner sources of energy. The fourth is that companies get help to manage their infrastructure assets and operations in a more efficient manner with a lot less energy. The fifth theme is that it helps make our client’s supply chains a lot more sustainable.

What are the few things that companies should consider before starting the journey from compliance to actually executing it?

I would have them contemplate upon 3 key points. One, this is not a zero-sum game. In fact, long-term performance will be impacted if sustainability is not at the core of the business mission. They really have to ideate and assess how sustainability can become core to their business mission and how it is relevant to their industry. That is what they have to think about, from economic performance to a sustainability point of view. Second, being there is a huge opportunity with literally trillions of dollars of investment at stake. We should not look at this from a compliance view alone but use this opportunity to revamp our operations and even re-invent business models.  So, it is really about revamping operations, how do you drive automation? How you re-invent business models and take market leadership is quite important?  It’s about thinking on the lines of transformation to technology to achieve sustainability objectives. Third is that you have got to accept that this is an ecosystem play. No one company can work on this on their own; it needs businesses within and across industries to collaborate with each other, the government, and multilateral institutions.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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