Interviews

Sustainability is a Complex and Multi-Dimensional Topic

Arindam De, the Deputy CEO and Managing Director for Protiviti Member Firm for the Middle East Region, says sustainability has varying levels of understanding across industries and companies<

How does technology contribute to sustainability?
Digital technologies and sustainability are increasingly intertwined. In a recent World Economic Forum (WEF) survey, 40% of business leaders said they believe digital technologies are already positively impacting their sustainability goals. Today, digital technologies are being used to measure and track sustainability progress, optimize the use of resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and make possible a more circular economy, the WEF notes.

Organizations can leverage their greatest asset, data, to drive operational change. Creating a baseline using data is critical for an organization to understand its GHG emissions and energy consumption and establishes a foundation for reporting credible annual improvements. The Internet of Things (IoT) and other smart technologies are also increasingly crucial in delivering visibility and intelligence.

For instance, an IoT-enabled building can help facilities managers proactively take charge of the health and performance of electrical and mechanical systems and industrial processes to drive improvements. IoT sensors can detect or switch off inefficiently running equipment, enable predictive maintenance to maintain equipment at its optimum efficiency, automatically adjust systems to respond to temperature or humidity changes in sensitive environments, and more.

What sort of sustainability efforts does your company practice?
Sustainability is a complex, multi-dimensional topic, with varying levels of understanding across industries and companies. Protiviti works closely with clients to evaluate what ESG means for them, helping build, implement, execute, monitor, and report on ESG objectives that will evolve and grow with the business.

We help organisations identify and implement operational strategies that achieve goals supporting emissions reduction, sustainable supply chain, supplier diversity, and value chain compliance, developing a culture of sustainability. For example, to support value chain sustainability, Protiviti’s sustainable sourcing solutions help the procurement of goods and services aligned with a client’s corporate sustainability targets while delivering quality products at competitive prices.

Do we need to look at sustainability beyond the use of “green energy”?
Though crucial, carbon emissions are one part of a much bigger picture. The environmental aspects of ESG incorporate greenhouse gas emissions and their effect on climate change, but they also consider natural resources, pollution and waste, energy consumption, the circular economy, and biodiversity.

The social lens is equally comprehensive, looking at human rights, supply chains, data privacy, product responsibility, and the workforce alongside diversity, equity, and inclusion. Governance refers to business ethics and leadership, risk and internal controls, board and management structures, transparency and reporting, and anti-corruption. Everything is interconnected, and its impact is bigger than the sum of its parts.

How can companies reduce their carbon footprint? Are there local or regional initiatives that encourage companies to adopt best practices?
First, every company has a role to play in tackling the climate change challenge. Secondly, gains are cumulative, so every little bit helps. To start with, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, including office supplies, operations, and the supply chain. Wherever possible, invest and harness renewable energy at an organisational level. For an instance, if a firm start to harness solar power, will save the firm money in the long term, although the investment may be costly at the initial level.

It would be great for a company to own and manage such property, after installing solar panels onsite. Alternatively, they can purchase power from a renewable energy provider as well. Upgrading equipment, such as replacing old and inefficient incandescent lighting with LED bulbs, saves electricity and money. Windows can be upgraded to energy-efficient ones, while regular maintenance of HVAC systems can generate significant savings for a firm.

Technology plays a significant role in environmental action. Investing in technology such as paperless operations helps conserve forests and reduces waste going to landfills. Also, companies should participate in environment-related CSR activities such as planting trees, educating the public on environmental protection, and cleaning the environment. Finally, measure your progress with help from experts such as Protiviti. This ensures that you stay on track and adjust your green strategy as required.

Countries in the region have put climate action at the heart of the sustainable development agenda. For example, UAE’s Green Economy initiative aims to transform the country into a global hub and a successful model of the new green economy, enhance its competitiveness and sustainability, and preserve its environment for future generations.

What challenges do companies face today in their journey toward net zero and how can technology help solve those issues?
Despite long-term savings associated with a shift to sustainable operations, the transition toward net zero still requires an initial monetary outlay. At times, this stands as a caveat for companies, notably smaller businesses. There are other varied factors that are beyond the direct control of any enterprise, such as businesses facing difficulty to calibrate emissions across their supply chains.

Conversely, companies often find measuring their environmental impact and performance complex to measure and standardize. Technologies such as blockchain allow businesses to track and trace products across the supply chain. Such visibility enables firms to identify areas of inefficiency, which helps in implementing improvements. IoT technologies also help accurately determine the health of equipment and plug any gaps that lead to waste. Ultimately, technologies help businesses reach net zero targets quicker.

What factors can help companies advance toward their sustainability goals?
ESG reporting is growing in importance, particularly among business leaders seeking to understand and possibly comply with specific requirements in their country or industry. A well-defined sustainability reporting structure can enable regional organizations to measure and monitor performance against established goals. Furthermore, transparency leads to improved decision-making, more effective communication with external stakeholders, and enhanced ESG health of an organization. But it is essential that ESG reporting is data-driven, so organizations can effectively evaluate, monitor, and achieve progress toward their sustainability goals.

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