Digital Vision: COP26

Enabling Net Zero

To net zero and beyond: how digital transformation is redefining services

Kulveer Ranger, Global Head, Strategy & Communications for Financial Service & Insurance, and SVP Strategy & Communications for UK&I

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My generation’s journey to net zero began in the 1980s when as a society we became truly aware of the impacts we were having on our planet. Having been told about the hole we had created in the ozone layer, we followed the science and stopped using CFC gases in our fridges and deodorants. Then, having found roll-on deodorants rather annoying, and an alternative to CFCs, this global issue faded into the background. Yet it does mark a defining period in our history: it demonstrated to us all that when we act together, we can succeed in living more sustainably and in harmony with our planet.

Since then, human understanding has grown around the complex issues of consumption, pollution, the plastic in our oceans and the destruction of biodiversity. So too has people’s desire to play their part in halting the damage. There has also been another seismic change – an explosion in the use of technology, from early personal computers, mobile phones and games consoles, to cryptocurrencies, super smart devices and powerful supercomputers driving our thirst for liking, sharing and commenting via global social media platforms. We are managing to generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data a day and need a huge amount of energy to process and store this data.

Balancing rising demand with growing awareness

Today, we see the convergence of these two societal shifts: greater understanding of our impact on the environment and escalating demand for energy and resources. The urgent need for action to protect our planet has moved from being the message of protest from a few, to a broader acceptance of the collective responsibility of the many. The corporate agenda is no longer led by the quizzical ‘can we…?’, but by the determined view that ‘we can’, and ‘we must’. And if technology is powering our lives, it should be instrumental in accelerating our progress, not just to net zero but beyond, in the way we shape the future through the prism of sustainable design.

Industries are converging with tech partners across supply chains and in ecosystems, both to decarbonize and to innovate without increasing carbon emissions. Businesses can use technologies to understand the carbon footprint of products and services across whole value chains. We can map, track and visualise energy data in order to manage and reduce usage. We can use these insights to make the right design decisions for in-built zero-carbon. And we have all recognised the need to work in collaboration – because no one organization, or sector, or country has all the answers.

Sustainability as the new business-as-usual

We are on the cusp of sustainability becoming corporate business-as-usual; but decarbonization must be managed continuously in alignment with science. Many businesses have adopted science-based targets (SBT), validated by the independent Science Based Target initiative (SBTi), so that they can map out their emissions reductions against a route map aligned to the scientific consensus on limiting global warming. The recent Financial Times listing of Europe’s Climate Leaders provides one illustration for how businesses cannot just look at the top line when it comes to assessing their carbon footprints and must instead examine both the direct and indirect emissions their operations generate and track this over time against their growth.[2]

If I looked back now to how ambition can become reality, I think of my time a decade ago when leading the Mayor of London’s transport, environment and digital portfolios, Boris Johnson set the target for London to become the electric vehicle capital of the world. That ambition had an eye on the future at a time when EV’s were not readily available, technology and charging infrastructure had yet to mature, and there was huge scepticism from the public. A decade on and every mass manufacturer has electric vehicles as part of their offering, we have national and home-based charging infrastructure, and the future has arrived. We have already gone beyond our ambition.

Those who experienced the 80s climate awakening have been joined by a new generation who want to pick up the baton and go faster and deeper into every aspect of our lives. From Sir David Attenborough to Greta Thunberg, the generational divide has unified and as a global community, we are committed to change. This time, it’s not about simply relacing a deodorant spray with a roll-on: there is much more to be done. Let’s look back and learn, then think forward to the journey and what our world can be after net zero is achieved. Corporate leadership has now stepped forward on this issue, and its alignment with both political will and a new generation’s passion and determination for the cause of decarbonization has created a tipping point for businesses and us all to be able to lead to a new sustainable world.

[1]How Much Data Do We Create Every Day? The Mind-Blowing Stats Everyone Should Read, Forbes (21.05.2018)
[2] Europe’s Climate Leaders 2021: interactive listing, Financial Times (18.05.2021)

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Kulveer Ranger, SVP Strategy & Communications UK&I