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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Connectivity and Communications - Key Driver of Sustainability (CERES)

CERES recently launched their report The 21st Century Corporation: The CERES Roadmap for Sustainability. Last year’s report, CERES 20-20, laid out four pillars. The second pillar was ‘setting new standards and expectations for business leadership’. This new report dives deep into this pillar exploring 20 expectations related to governance, stakeholder engagement, disclosure and performance. It is comprehensive in breadth, thorough in depth and full of inspiring examples that demonstrate it can be done. I think it will remain valuable for many years as a benchmark.

My initial look was dominated by the four key drivers of sustainability: (1) Competition for Resources, (2) Climate Change, (3) Economic Globalization and (4) Connectivity and Communications. Although my original inspiration for CSRPerspective was the intersection between ICT and sustainability, I realized haven’t written much about that recently. In fact, this CERES report has reminded me of the importance of my own sector as it highlights it as one of the key drivers together with resources, climate change and globalization!

This part of the report highlights the rapidity and disaggregation of communications and the impact that has on tracking company’s sustainability performance. CERES talks about an era of “radical transparency” . I certainly agree with this. Some of my recent comments about the importance of social networking to demonstrate authenticity and bridge the gap between the company and civil society are a part of the picture. All companies, telecommunications, communications and others have the choice to embrace this now and use it proactively; or wait, but have a lot of catching up to do.

But I see some additional significant attributes of connectivity and communications that need to be taken into consideration. The less positive side of the “radical transparency” coin is trial by public opinion and, perhaps even more potentially destructive, the short termism engendered by the immediacy of the social networking news cycle.

Connectivity and communications have other potential positive attributes. On the topic of social and economic sustainability; leveling the playing field for the economically disadvantaged and providing better access to healthcare and education are some of these attributes. On the topic of environmental sustainability; substitution of and efficiency for energy intensive activities are positive elements. There are negative attributes too though which have the potential to be carried out more anonymously and on an ever increasing scale; things such as cyber crime, online bullying, child pornography and government abuse of human rights.

I am thrilled and newly inspired to see connectivity and communications considered by CERES to be one of the key drivers of sustainability. It brings with it a renewed obligation to the sector, and to everyone who uses connectivity or communications services, to take that responsibility seriously and ensure we do not permit the downsides to prevail. Rather we must leverage and optimize all the potential benefits.

By coincidence, this month, BT’s Global Services organization is highlighting some of the sustainability impacts of ICT services. You can read more about this here.

1 comment:

  1. As Kevin draws out from the Ceres Roadmap—connectivity and communication are key elements of the new business reality for the 21st Century Corporation. As a telecommunications company, BT is working to leverage its own expertise to develop sustainability solutions. BT’s “work anywhere” tools have eliminated 1.5 million journeys per year, with an associated 58% reduction in carbon emissions. The environmental and social benefits of increased connectivity are clear—but as Kevin also points out, there are potential downfalls.

    Kevin's comment regarding the risks that companies face from "radical transparency" is particularly ripe for further conversation. True enough, this era of social media lends itself to "short-termism," exactly the kind of thinking that has allowed companies to ignore risks from issues like climate change for far too long. Social media makes companies more vulnerable to criticism, and as Kevin notes, to “trial by public opinion.” Yet social media also presents companies with an extraordinary opportunity to actively engage with stakeholders in real time. Social media tools can be used by companies like BT to further engage stakeholders in constructive and candid dialogue. The short-termism that results from the "social networking news cycle" can and should be part of that discussion. For example, Timberland's "Voices of Challenge" forum offers stakeholders the opportunity to comment on controversial issues that affect the company. It takes boldness, yes, but those companies that embrace and leverage the opportunities offered by this era of "radical transparency" find that their efforts are rewarded through improved trust and credibility among stakeholders.