Sustainability in the ICT Industry: Our 2015 Plan

December 15, 2014
  • Dunstan Allison-Hope portrait

    Dunstan Allison-Hope

    Vice President, Human Rights, BSR

I love this time of year. Old commitments are gradually filed away, annual projects are closed, and opportunities for reflection arise. The pristine 2015 calendar comes into view, stimulating new optimism about the great possibilities that lie ahead.

At BSR, this is when we reflect on state of sustainability and business, and formulate our priorities for the year ahead. We look back over 20 years of progress, but quickly identify the specific projects and priorities needed to maintain the urgency and ambition necessary to achieve our mission.

Reflecting with my team on the state of sustainability in the information and communications technology (ICT) industry, the following items—and some thoughts on how BSR could address them—are front of mind as we formulate our 2015 plans:

1. Realizing the potential of ICT as a sustainability solution: There is a compelling body of research demonstrating the potential for ICT to address sustainability challenges, such as reducing carbon-dioxide emissions, supporting adaptation to a changing climate, or increasing access to essential services. But we need to accelerate the move from research to action.

It is striking to me that BSR’s membership includes more than 200 non-ICT companies that can integrate ICT into their sustainability strategies. To help make this happen, BSR is seeking company partners that wish to scale up the sustainability applications of ICT, especially in industries such as agriculture, retail, energy, and transportation. Our Center for Technology and Sustainability provides one such solution.

2. Understanding the sustainability implications of disruptive innovation: The ICT industry thrives on disruption and providing new ways of doing things—everything from social media to 3D printing, the sharing economy to robotics. Applied the right way, disruptive technologies can enable quantum leaps toward sustainability; applied the wrong way, they can delay the transition.

In response, BSR is seeking company partners to explore the sustainability implications of these disruptions, and to understand how to maximize their contribution to a just and sustainable world.

3. Increased engagement with rights holders in human rights due diligence: A growing number of ICT companies are undertaking human rights impact assessments to understand how best to apply the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. One of the most important lessons many companies have learned is the value of integrating the perspectives of rights holders (rather than just policy experts) early on in the due diligence process.

BSR’s report, “Legitimate and Meaningful: Stakeholder Engagement in Human Rights Due Diligence,” provided insights for the effective integration of rights-holder perspectives into human rights due diligence. We will integrate these recommendations into the human rights impact assessments we undertake with ICT companies, and we will share these perspectives at various business and human rights forums.

4. Increasing the sustainability impact of supply chain strategies: The ICT industry has made huge progress creating more responsible and sustainable supply chains over the past decade, such as through the growth of the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition and Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative. There are opportunities to accelerate progress through initiatives that invest in women in factories, or through programs that dig deeper into the sustainability impacts of individual product categories, such as servers, smart phones, or network equipment.

BSR’s Center for Sustainable Procurement provides an opportunity for companies to focus sustainability improvement efforts on individual product categories. Our HERproject and Women in Factories initiatives are seeking partner companies striving to empower women, including through the innovative use of ICT in global supply chains.

5. Designing products for sustainable obsolescence: Technology is ubiquitous and product lifecycles are shortening, which has obvious implications for sustainable materials use and disposal. The proliferation of eco-rating systems for phones (such as those introduced by AT&T, Sprint, Telefonica, and Vodafone) have demonstrated the industry’s appetite to address the issue, but their success relies on collaboration throughout the consumer electronics value chain—retailers, brands, manufacturers, component suppliers, and raw material providers—to tackle systemwide challenges.

BSR’s member companies span the complete consumer electronics value chain, and we are seeking innovative, collaborative, and ambitious approaches to sustainable product design.

My hope is that the priorities listed here result in an increasing number of high-impact engagements with BSR member companies—and that very soon, my 2015 calendar, while still optimistic, looks a lot less pristine.

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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