Aligning sustainability, business and tech

May 9th, 2022 Written by Faye Longridge

The case for living a more sustainable lifestyle has been well reported, with all of us encouraged to do what we can to minimise our impact on the planet. Sustainability has become a bigger priority for all sectors, and the tech sector is not immune to this.

Businesses are being urged to take a leading role in this, and many industries are adapting their operations to become more sustainable. But in the tech sector, in particular – how can businesses play an active role in driving and implementing change?

As proud sponsors of this years’ Leeds Digital Festival, alongside Accenture, we were delighted to be featured in the sustainability three-day mini-fest, leading the discussion around sustainability, business and tech. During the event at our Leeds hub on 26 April, we welcomed sustainability and tech experts across Yorkshire to discuss the role that the tech sector can play in driving the sustainability agenda and identifying practical steps we can all take to create actionable change. This not only provided a brilliant opportunity to ignite inspiration and gain new insights into how tech can drive sustainable initiatives, but it also brought like-minded people together to connect, network and share their individual experiences and achievements.

Many conversations were raised surrounding how technology and collaboration have the capabilities to make a truly impactful difference, and those in attendance left feeling a mutual sense of motivation to help improve their workplace culture when it comes to sustainability. Along with this, we were really pleased to share our team’s key viewpoints on this crucial matter. In this article, we outline the discussions from the evening and the key takeaways that you can use to create change.

Gavin Williams
Gavin Williams, Sustainability Champion at Infinity Works

Less talk, more action. If you think you can make the change, just do it.

Hosting the evening, was Infinity Works, Gavin Williams, our unofficial sustainability champion and Delivery Lead. Gavin shared his experiences with environmentalism and how he’s taking a leading role in driving the sustainability agenda at Infinity Works, while spearheading upcoming climate change initiatives.

Gavin highlighted that whilst sustainability can mean different things to different people, the most important thing is to act, not procrastinate. “If you think you can make a change, just do it,” he said, before outlining the fundamental ways people in the sector can help the sustainability agenda. These included:

  • Being responsible citizens and making concerted changes in the way that we live.
  • Working in and working with responsible businesses.
  • Embedding sustainability into the way we deliver all our technological solutions.
  • And using technology to solve some of the problems we have when it comes to sustainability.

How collaboration can drive sustainable solutions.

Our first talk of the evening came from Madeline Evans, UK Net-Zero Campaign Lead at Accenture, to discuss the importance of understanding different forms of sustainability, and how we should be collaborating with others to achieve net-zero.

Madeline is passionate about using technology and human ingenuity to solve the world’s most complex challenges. Key to her work is bringing key city stakeholders together and creating local networks and communities to make a difference. Collaboration is key to success, and Accenture’s ‘Net Zero Wheel’ is just one of the tools being employed to support this movement.

Madeline explained, “The first step is to reinvent demand and behaviour. A ‘say: do’ gap exists where we say we want to be more sustainable, but doing it is another matter. At Accenture, we’ve started doing ‘sustainability moments’, where at the beginning of each meeting we discuss what changes we’re making in our day-to-day lives to help with sustainability. I’m impressed by everyone that I’ve heard, and doing it is having an impact. The micro-cultures within businesses can be incredibly powerful.  

“We also need to look to decarbonise industry. This is applicable to all industries, although we’re focussing on industrial clusters – there are six within the UK – to encourage circularity amongst them.”

The third element of the Net Zero Wheel focuses on decarbonising transport. Continuing to develop the infrastructure required for electric vehicles is crucial, but we also need to improve on sustainable aviation fuel and shipping.

Decarbonising the energy system is also essential. “The electrification of cars is only a good thing if we have a clean energy grid and we need to educate consumers on this sort of thing,” Madeline continued. “I really recommend downloading the National Grid ESO App as this shows how much clean energy is being produced on the grid in real-time.”

Last but not least, is recovery and removals which is essentially the net in net-zero. It encompasses offsetting, carbon pricing and trading, carbon capture and storage.

But the thing Madeline is most excited about is nature. “We don’t tend to think about nature in the same sense as the climate crisis and the carbon crisis, but if we forget about nature, there’s not a lot of point in anything else,” she said.

Why cities are crucial to improving sustainability

Cities are a huge part of the UK’s sustainability problem, and 54% of the UK population live in towns and cities. 45% of UK CO2 emissions are driven by 63 cities and 64% of that comes from transport and housing. Ultimately, it’ll be the cities themselves which are also going to be a huge part of the solution.

Net-Zero ambitions continue to be at the forefront of every discussion on sustainability, and it’s clear why a focus on building more sustainable cities will be critical to success. Madeline Evans from Accenture discussed Accenture’s Net Zero Carbon Cities campaign, which has been developed alongside the World Economic Forum to tackle this challenge head-on.

Bringing stakeholders together, Accenture’s Net Zero Carbon Cities campaign highlights that every organisation within each city has a role to play – from local government and hospitals to universities and start-ups. Madeline said, “It’s important that we don’t rely on one segment, it’s not only up to businesses or local councils, we need to be bringing these people together so we can make effective and achievable goals.” Already launched in several UK locations, Accenture is hoping to bring this across all major UK cities, including Leeds.

Madeline concluded by saying, “It’s crucial to drive public and private sector collaboration. Individuals need to be genuinely pragmatic to take action and what we’re trying to do is use the power that we have as Accenture to bring communities together in order to develop solutions. It’s all about being hyper-targeted. We want to make a difference. Every organisation has a role to play, so if you want to be involved -let’s do it. We welcome collaboration from all in the ecosystem.”

Madeline Evans
Madeline Evans, UK Net-Zero Campaigns Lead

Using your tech skills to make an impact  

Building upon Madeline’s enthusiasm, Co-founder at Crysp, Pete Mills, spoke about how he’s utilising tech efficiently to drive innovation in sustainability.

Introducing his own sustainability journey, Pete referenced Spanx CEO Sarah Blakely’s ‘cassette moment’, saying “I needed to change the cassette. The Amazon fires in 2018 were a big wake-up call in my own life. I thought to myself, I’m building the wrong company and I don’t have a true purpose.” This lightbulb moment encouraged Pete to back mission-led businesses that would not only positively impact the environment, but people as well.

This wake-up call helped Pete to connect with The Rainforest Trust – a US-based charity that focuses on the purchase and protection of tropical rainforests to strategically conserve threatened species – of which he is now a conservation circle member.  However he recognised that as a technology leader, he could play a role as more than a member, by using their skills, time and expertise to help improve the trust’s operations. The trust relies upon data collection from people on the ground in the tropics, to determine which parcel of land they need to obtain to protect a section of species. Connecting technologies has allowed The Rainforest Trust to accelerate this decision making.

Pete Mills
Pete Mills, Co-Founder at Crysp

What we can all do to make change

Closing the event, Gavin Williams announced, “What we’ve learnt today is the importance of action. I often hear people say ‘we’re waiting for a solution’. My advice is that it’s key to act and not wait for someone to tell you to. We’ve been talking about technology, but this can apply to all aspects of life. So, if you think it’s the right thing to do, then do it.”

The event was a great opportunity to gain insight and practical tools from a variety of perspectives. Leeds is part of who we are, and we thoroughly look forward to supporting businesses utilise tech to help us all achieve our net-zero dreams in this thriving city. So, let’s all come together and make a difference.

Some of our key takeaways from the event include:

  • Nurturing a sustainable culture in the workplace is key to driving positive change. Consider implementing small initiatives to encourage discussions including ‘sustainability moments’ similar to ‘safety moments’ where team members share what they are doing to improve sustainability at the start of meetings. Collaboration is needed to improve the overall picture, if we rely only on individuals, businesses, councils, or government agencies then we are simply passing the responsibility. Bringing these together is the most powerful.
  • If you are considering making a positive change, then you must simply do it. Don’t hesitate as inaction is creating a bigger problem. Small changes have a big impact.
  • Start with people. A community of teams who collaboratively work together in taking actionable changes is key to driving success. Many communities exist, and if you can’t find one that works for you, consider creating it yourself.
  • Business is about more than just profit, being responsible can also be profitable. We should all be ensuring that our careers and businesses align with who we are and who we want to be. Ask yourself if you need to ‘change the cassette’. Are you leading the life you want or are there steps you can take towards positive change?

We’d like to thank all our attendees, as well as Gavin Williams, Madeline Evans and Pete Mills for a truly motivating and inspiring discussion.

With deep roots in Yorkshire, Infinity Works wants to help Leeds to continue to thrive which is why we’re delighted to be sponsoring Leeds Digital Festival this year.

The Leeds Digital Festival is set to return in September with a two-week line-up of world-class tech content.  Open to anyone and everyone in the digital and tech sector, the festival is a brilliant opportunity to expand your skills and to learn from others – plus, it’s free to attend. If you’re interested in knowing more about our events at Leeds Digital Festival, sign up to receive alerts about our events here, or follow our  LinkedIn page for updates.

Written by Faye Longridge