Companies underestimate IT's sustainability factor

Businesses are not doing enough strategically to promote sustainability through IT, despite clearly recognising the value, according to research published today.

Although the majority (90 per cent) of organisations agreed that technology is part of the solution to reduce their impact on the environment as well as introducing more sustainable working practices, nearly half (41 per cent) have no plans to achieve this. Furthermore, one in five questioned admitted that they are not using current technology effectively as a sustainability enabler.

The research, which was commissioned by BT and carried out by Datamonitor, surveyed 350 senior executives from public and private organisations, revealing that the utilities sector is the most savvy when it comes to planning how to enhance sustainability using IT, followed by transport, retail, media and leisure, finance, the public sector and then, finally, construction.

Related study by YouGov also found that nearly a quarter of employees (23 per cent) did not believe that the organisation that they were working for was environmentally and socially responsible.

"The findings suggest that companies may be paying lip service to the issue of sustainability," said Tim Smart, chief executive of BT Global Services UK. "Operating sustainability is important - and technology has a role in making it happen. However the lack of forethought given to how to exploit this opportunity means that companies may fail to see real benefit from the efforts they are making and critically a return on their investments."

The survey also revealed that businesses feel that sustainability will be a major factor on IT investment in the next five years, with a third of organisations suggesting that it will be most important, above implementing new technologies and improving security.

While more than a third (35 per cent) viewed sustainability as a purely regulatory issue, the majority recognised the benefits of operating this way in terms of customer attitude and reputation.

"There is no escaping the fact that sustainability records are being called into question by stakeholders before purchases, partnerships or commitments are made," said Smart. "But technology shouldn't be used to achieve quick wins on the CSR ladder; networked IT services have a fundamental role to play in enabling more sustainable practices that bring opportunities and benefits in terms of competitiveness, productivity and even reduced costs."

Neil Hendry, director of consulting at Datamonitor, added: "In terms of building sustainability credentials, the research highlights a positive awareness regarding the impact different technologies can have on areas such as flexible working, more efficient supply chain processes, building services automation (for reducing and monitoring energy use), as well as the importance of ensuring employees aren't disadvantaged through lack of IT skills.