COP26: Technology industry leaders speak out

Representatives from Celonis, Cognizant, Qlik and Secondmind share their views on what's next for the technology industry

With the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) having drawn to close, industry has an opportunity to reflect on the key decisions and pledges which have been made. Leaders across the globe have agreed upon a range of actions to help solve the world’s climate crisis, many of which are set to have a long-lasting impact for businesses, particularly those in the tech sector. 


Whilst plans, such as an agreement to boost uptake and affordability of clean technology and kickstart a green industrial revolution, are positive moves towards long term sustainability goals, there are a number of considerations from an industry perspective that need addressing. With this in mind, a group of technology industry leaders discuss these considerations and how organisations can build on the COP26 momentum over the coming years 


Don’t trust the process


Janina Nakladal, Global Director of Sustainability at Celonis, believes it is imperative for organisations to assess their internal processes and ensure they are operating as efficiently as possible, saying “COP26 has brought the urgency of the climate crisis to the forefront of all minds. Tackling sustainability is the greatest challenge of our time, and businesses – not just individual consumers – play a vital role in the fight. 

 “To achieve individual and collective goals, technology will be crucial. One enormously effective approach to consider is using technology to analyse where inefficiencies might lie within a company’s operations and processes, and taking relevant action to eliminate unnecessary waste and emissions. Processes underpin everything a company does and determine how businesses are run, from product conception, to production and distribution, to fulfilment. By making processes more efficient, the world becomes more sustainable.

 “Once business processes are analysed and improved with intelligence and data execution, it becomes possible to prioritise sustainability in every operational decision. By doing so, companies can do everything from track their carbon footprint across their entire supply chain, to setting dedicated sustainability KPIs to hit. It’s only through examining and streamlining every internal process that companies can truly become more sustainable.”


Data is everything


Julie Kae, VP, Sustainability and DE&I at Qlik, suggests that companies need to become better at communicating the quantifiable benefits of their sustainability initiatives. She remarks that “it is easily argued that major businesses have been slow to adopt the change necessary to mitigate climate-related disasters. One of the challenges that many organisations face is that they can report sustainability metrics, but they struggle to convey what they really mean to their organisation and their contribution to the climate-change efforts.

 “Environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) is playing an increasing role in decisions around investment, procurement and even consumer purchasing choices, so organisations need to find a way to measure and communicate their actions clearly. This is not easy given the lack of standardisation in sustainability measurement, which can make finding the right data points and knowing what to focus on difficult.

“To get buy-in on sustainability initiatives, businesses need to be able to tell stories with their data, with data literacy being an important skill in enabling organisations to clearly communicate their ESG credentials. When businesses start using data analytics and data storytelling to better understand and communicate their sustainability data, they will help their own board, employees and customers understand the impact of the steps they are making to reduce their carbon footprint and impact on the environment.”


AI to drive success


Gary Brotman, CEO of Secondmind, proposes that machine learning will provide the pathway forward for the automotive industry, enabling manufacturers to optimise car engines and reduce emissions. He went on to say: “As the carbon-neutrality drum beats louder, car makers remain under intense pressure to produce vehicles with a dizzying array of complex powertrain configurations designed to meet consumer and bottom-line demands while also adhering to increasingly more stringent emissions regulations in the short term. Achieving business and environmental sustainability with such headwinds requires radical new approaches to model based development to evolve traditional engineering design and development to get ahead of the curve.

 “A primary driver of climate tech investment and the key to accelerating this evolution is a more rapid adoption and deployment of practical, state-of-the art machine learning throughout the design and development process. This new breed of software adeptly manages increasing complexity and enables faster, automated experiments that compress critical, time consuming and costly steps in the development process such as engine and hybrid system calibration from months to weeks. 

 “Reduced operating costs from legacy processes will unleash further investment in electrification and other strategic areas of growth, and ensure long-term sustainability for the industry and the planet.”


Teamwork makes the dream work


Rob Walker, MD UK&I at Cognizant, argues that a united front among key decision makers and industry leaders will be the key to lasting and impactful change, saying “it’s great to see that world leaders at #COP26 have made a commitment to turbo-charging the uptake of #greentechnology, especially in areas like hydrogen. These types of initiative are vital in shifting industries to more sustainable energy sources, which will be critical if we are to achieve worldwide net-zero targets. Likewise, finding new sources of power is crucial if we want the economy to continue to grow in the years to come.

“We’ve reached a point where we must accept that we can no longer sit idle. To further protect our planet and our future, technologists, designers, business leaders, activists and all other stakeholders must unite with the absolute interest of the welfare of our planet at the core. The overall effect will create a ‘Green Rush’, a concerted global effort to develop solutions to the long-term damage that has already been done to our environment. Technological advancements such as AI, IoT and smart grid technologies will play an integral role in making businesses more environmentally friendly but shifting mindsets and behaviours will be just as important. And key to this will be the realisation among forward-thinking decision makers that green business is good business, both communally and commercially.”



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