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Every company – every individual – has been or will be impacted by climate change – but there are solutions, and it’s not too late. Where to start? Look to your ecosystem – partners, clients, vendors that have sustainability projects under way – to identify where your organization can have impact, says Sophia Mendelsohn, Cognizant’s Chief Sustainability Officer.
When it comes to sustainability, the time for hesitation is over. The imperative to reduce or harmonize our consumption with what the planet can provide and the atmosphere can absorb is urgent.
As a mother, consumer and business leader, I share a common goal with a majority of people around the world to ensure our families, businesses, and communities can continue to thrive. Getting there requires a stable climate that can feed the billions of people around the world, is predictable enough to keep our economies humming, and supports our livelihoods. As much as we know we need climate stability, economic activities — including farming, product manufacturing, logistics, waste management and our ever-increasing reliance on technology services — continue to generate levels of carbon pollution that threaten our planet’s future.
This year, and especially this summer, flooding, wildfires and record-breaking heat drew people’s attention throughout the world to the stark reality of the impact of climate change. At the same time, people around the world continue to need and gain new access to purchasing power and lifestyle changes powered by energy.
Balancing the situation is not going to be as simple as telling people to switch how or what they buy, drive or eat – or trying to use guilt as motivation. It’s not about changing the lightbulbs at our offices (although we are doing that), and it isn’t about saving water and reducing waste in our operations (which we are also doing). This is about influence, and about flexing our collective strengths — human and technological — at scale.
Scaling to Net Zero
There’s little time to lose. In recognition of this, Cognizant recently announced our Net Zero by 2030 commitment. First and foremost, this pledge reflects our commitment to our stakeholders to eliminate pollution associated with climate change. As a Fortune 200 company operating in 36 countries with 300,000-plus employees working for some 2,000 clients, we believe this is an important first step.
By 2030, we will eliminate or offset all greenhouse gas emissions across our operations and supply chain. We expect to operate as cleanly and efficiently as possible, and purchasing carbon offsets only where we can’t make absolute reductions. And by 2040, we expect to seek to offset no more than 10% of our carbon footprint.
Our investors, clients and communities have guided us in setting these goals. We saw that stakeholders wanted zero carbon emissions, board-level governance over the work, and independent verification that we are making progress against these robust goals.
We will also continue working with our suppliers, asking them to transition to renewable energy. It’s a big deal to say to your investors, clients, employees and partners that you’re ready to step away from the fuel we’ve all relied on for decades. But we believe that a global economy with diminishing use of fossil-based fuels is attainable — and we’re going to play a role in getting there.
We are prepared to use our own scale and expertise as well as magnify our impact through solutions and support we provide to our clients. One example: we’re working with Alveo, a leader in data integration and analytics, to offer a comprehensive environmental, social and governance (ESG) data management solution to the financial services industry. We hope this solution will help our clients achieve their own sustainability goals. Partnerships like this will be more important than ever as businesses intensify efforts to mitigate climate risk.
By offering our skills and our technology to clients who want to do the same thing, we can put technology and solutions behind the high-level goals companies are setting globally.
A sampling of what we are working on with clients:
- Helping clients transition from energy-intensive data centers to public cloud solutions.
- Working with a global pharmaceutical firm to reduce its energy and water consumption by using data and analytics.
- Improving crop yield and water reduction for a European farming technology company through instrumentation, data management, analytics and software engineering.
- Providing wastewater, groundwater management and fire safety as a service to reduce energy, water, and emissions for a European manufacturer.
- Creating software to help a U.S. healthcare payer enroll its members via a paperless process that eliminates the need for paper documents.
Beyond finger pointing
Climate change is about unintended consequences. I came to Cognizant from the airline industry, where my view was that everyone wants to see their friends and family, and sometimes that requires boarding an airplane. No one wanted to create pollution when they did this – they simply wanted to connect with their loved ones. It was the unintended pollution resulting from burning jet fuel that we targeted, not the act of flying.
This is an important distinction — history has shown us, blame does not spur climate action. Hope and solutions do.
Consumer demand to address climate is one of my greatest sources of hope. Our “Green Rush” study showed that public sentiment is evolving and there is an outcry for solutions. Our research shows business leaders now perceive sustainability investments such as environmental sensors and IoT as being linked to business gains. Even with the challenges of the pandemic, sustainability strategies will grow in importance in the next four years. While businesses in Europe are more apt to increase sustainability spending vs. those in the U.S., the expected impact of these investments goes beyond regulatory compliance – a majority of respondents believe they’ll also increase sales and improve brand reputation. These are significant shifts that fill me with hope.
Luckily, there are solutions emerging, too. We have clean energy — such as solar and wind — that has become more readily available. Renewable energy has arrived at scale and is increasingly affordable too. (It is a critical part of Cognizant’s net zero goal). These advancements are providing options that save us from a false choice between a stable climate and having the energy required to power business at scale. And thank goodness. There’s little time to lose.
To learn more, visit the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) section of our website.