Should Irish Tech Leaders be More Focused on Sustainability?

Sustainability is already on the minds of Irish tech leaders, but there's both a business growth and customer demand case for making it a higher priority

Given that 90% of business leaders know it's a significant issue and it's something their customers want, you'd expect sustainability to figure pretty close to the top of the agenda for people making the key decisions for their organizations.

However, just 60% of organizations have a dedicated sustainability strategy in place . Is that good enough for their business, their customers and the planet? It's not unreasonable to say that it isn't.

This article considers whether sustainability is high enough on the agenda for Irish tech leaders. We look at how important it is to their digital transformation initiatives, how key it is to their investment strategy and how their hoarding of data is a serious sustainability issue.

16% of Irish tech leaders say “Realising our organization’s sustainability and ESG strategy” is a primary focus right now

In 2023, Big Four accounting firm EY ran a survey that asked Irish tech leaders what their primary objectives were for their transformation initiatives.

The results of EY’s survey pinpointed 11 core focus areas, with improving the quality of products/services ranking first (picked by 55% of respondents) and addressing pressure from investors/shareholders placing last (chosen by 4% of respondents). Sustainability made it to joint-sixth on the list, with 16% of respondents selecting it as a primary objective.

On the face of it, EY’s survey suggests sustainability has some way to go before it becomes a primary focus for Irish tech leaders. But should it already have more prominence in their thoughts? A joint study from McKinsey and NielsenIQ suggests it should.

The joint study makes the case that “Consumers care about sustainability—and back it up with their wallets.” The study makes the point that companies that convince customers of their sustainability and ESG credentials achieve cumulative growth that’s 8% higher than those that don’t. This highlights that there’s a business case for Irish tech leaders being more focused on sustainability, as doing so can lead to higher growth.

26% of Irish tech leaders say “Investing in sustainability management and reporting tools” is a priority over the next two years

In the previous section of this article, we explained that sustainability has some way to go in becoming a primary transformation focus for Irish tech leaders. But where does it feature in their thinking about the technologies their organization should be investing in? According to EY, sustainability does rank higher in their thoughts for this metric.

In its 2023 survey, EY found that sustainability management and reporting tools is the fourth most important technology for Irish tech leaders to invest in. Indeed, it’s such a key area of investment for them that it ranks higher than putting money into AI, fifth in the results, which is seen as “ A cure to countless problems faced by organizations across the globe .”

However, are Irish tech leaders giving enough focus to investing in sustainable technology? If we look at what customers want from brands then it would suggest they aren’t. A 2023 report by TheRoundup.org , an environmental awareness and sustainability website, highlights that sustainability is important for 78% of customers.

It feels fair to say then that Irish tech leaders should be more focused on sustainable technology, particularly as TheRoundup.org’s report also notes that 55% of consumers are willing to pay more for eco-friendly brands. This makes it clear that there’s a customer demand case for Irish tech leaders to put greater emphasis on sustainability. However, it seems there’s a big gap between where Irish tech leaders are focusing their investment and what customers want from businesses.

Data is a massive sustainability problem and 70% of Irish businesses have too much of it

Data won’t necessarily be the first thing that comes to mind for many people when discussing sustainability — it’s natural for minds to be drawn to physical products, rather than digital matter. However, it’s a huge issue for sustainability and Irish companies have been noted to have more data than they can use . Forbes has highlighted that the issue with data is how it’s stored. Much of the world’s data centres run on non-renewable energy sources and require energy-intensive cooling systems to keep them running — they need to be kept at the right temperature to ensure they operate at peak efficiency.

Data centres are responsible for around 1% of energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG). While 1% may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, this number needs to go down. This is because emissions must be cut in half by 2030 if the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario (NZE) is to be achieved.

Moving to the cloud can help Irish tech leaders significantly reduce the environmental impact created by their organization’s data. As John Mennel , a Strategy partner and a leader in Monitor Deloitte’s ESG & Sustainability Strategy practice, states: “Companies that move from on-site data centers to the cloud report energy savings of 80%.”

But organizations can go further than this by following FinOps principles and introducing sustainable practices into how they architect and code their applications, so they're optimised for the cloud. The result is that the applications are not only stored in a more sustainable environment, but also set up in an efficient way that ensures they consume the least amount of data possible. This is of particular relevance to organizations that have already migrated to the cloud and want to ensure they operate more sustainably.

NearForm can ensure your organization embeds sustainability into its data engineering, architecture and coding requirements, as well as help it to move from on-premise data centres to the cloud. We’re an Irish-founded consultancy with wide-ranging expertise in cloud and data engineering, and partnerships with AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure.

Furthermore, as noted by our Head of Data Engineering and Analytics (Dan Klose) and Head of DevOps and Platform Engineering Luca Lanziani: “We operate with a set of core principles that are designed to deliver sustainable success for our clients.”

Conclusion: Irish tech leaders can benefit from ramping up their sustainability efforts

With just 16% of them putting the issue at the top of their agenda, it’s clear that Irish tech leaders should be more focused on sustainability if they want to grow their businesses and give their customers what they want.

Sustainability is already a key issue and it’s only going to become more important in the coming years, as the “ Gobsmackingly bananas ” effects of climate change become even more visible and governments strive to meet their net zero targets by 2050.

By increasing their focus on sustainability, particularly by moving their data to the cloud, Irish tech leaders can ensure their organizations truly take the lead in achieving the UN definition of sustainability — “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

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