Is the world finally waking up when it comes to climate challenges? As one of the first conferences of its kind, Cognizant’s Tech for Good series has highlighted the role of technology and innovations to help creating more sustainable solutions and societies. These are the major insights from the series final session, as presented by speakers from Vattenfall, Skanska, Axfoundation and Stockholm School of Economics, among others.
How can people, cities, organizations, businesses and academia unite for a better world? Are there ways for a business to minimize the environmental footprint while also making money? And where should those determined to transform start?
These were some of the matters covered by the speakers at the Snapshot Talks: Unite for Good, a co-hosted afternoon organized by Stockholm School of Economics and Cognizant. As many as the speakers were, as many were the different takes on sustainability. However, there were some common threads throughout the day:
- Reach out externally. No organization can manage this alone. Be it a city striving to go from a linear to a circular system while welcoming more inhabitants like Uppsala (an initiative they’ve been rewarded for), or a giant in the construction sector like Skanska wanting to become climate neutral by 2045 – to succeed you have to look for new capabilities, possibilities and synergies outside your usual sphere. Even customers, and sometimes also competitors, need to be involved. This also includes the internal work; create cross-functional teams, like Axfoundation do, that include a variety of disciplines.
- Get the structure in place. Transformation is now part of many large organizations’ strategies. Sometimes the initiative comes from above, like at Vattenfall that currently tries to replace coal by hydrogen in the steal making process, and sometimes it comes from the grassroots within the organization or from customer demands. But to address the challenges in an organized manner and at speed, there has to be a structure in place. This is for example what Skanska tries to do with its Sustainovation initiative, and this is what Uppsala tries to do with its Climate Protocol.
- Go for impactful areas. For many companies, the work linked to reducing climate impact might feel overwhelming. Still, you need to start somewhere. At Axfoundation, the food chain is in focus; the food sector accounts for 1/3 of the global green house emissions. Together with SLU Axfoundation runs a fascinating project where food waste is transformed into quality protein (insects eat food waste, and the insects are then fed to fishes at farms). Start with a limited project, and then go on involving the whole value chain to create an impact.
- Disturb the existing chains. The existing systems are leaking out resources and energy (according to numbers from Stena Recycling, only 9% of the global economy is circular). This calls for completely new value chains – and new business models. Question everyting, like the horizontal, conservative company structures and the traditionally fragmented industries, like the building sector. For a city, this might mean shaping entirely new models in cooperation with companies to enable sustainable urban development, according to White Architects. Another example of an innovative approach to an existing case, is the SJ/Cognizant/SSE case cracking, which preceded the event, and were presented during the afternoon. Here, students have tried to address business travel challenges through new ideas on tech enabled bookings and a green loyalty program.
- Engagement to the core. Long-term sustainability is about including that aspect in the early phases of everything you do. For some companies, like startup Minesto offering underwater kites for renewable power (a larger estimated global potential than all nuclear power capacity on earth; 600 GW vs. 400 GW) or Bright Sunday, breaking down the financial barriers for solar energy, sustainability is the very business idea. For others, with heavier legacy, it means adding sustainability to existing processes and building it into the design processes, like Cognizant tries in the Design Thinking model.
- Walk the talk. There is one thing to talk about and plan for sustainability, another to actually accomplish tangible results. It happens too little, too slow within larger cooperations, according to the report “Walking the Talk” from Stockholm School of Economics. Why aren’t we changing quicker? There are many answers to why we make choices that go against knowledge, an area that is investigated by Associate Professor Maria Wolrath Söderberg who is about to release new a book about the driving forces behind “flygskam” (to be ashamed of flying).
As consumers we also play an important role: we can question old truths about company products and offerings and also our own behavior. The final conclusion then? It’s time to unite for a better tomorrow; we have just begun crafting a more hopeful future and there’s a lot more to do. We will continue to publish insights from the event, so keep your eyes open.