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Sustainability a priority for just 2% of CIOs

Security, yes? Sustainability? Maybe later...

Just 2% of CIOs identified sustainability as a top priority for their digital transformation in a new survey of 750 digital leaders. Instead, security (9%), cost reduction (7%) and revenue growth (6%) are top of mind.

That’s according to BT, which conducted the research, surveying financial service sector CIOs in the US.

Such surveys can typically be taken with a pinch of salt – they’re typically shared for PR purposes (awww, shoot, we fell for it) they’re hardly robust quantitative research and often sent out with leading questions.

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But the report does seem to suggest a rapidly growing awareness that CIOs may play a larger role in sustainability in coming years, as legislation demanding more ESG reporting looms.

It comes on the back of a survey of 7,000 business leaders in 2021 by SAP that found organisations are “overwhelmingly motivated” to take environmental action but face deep organisational accountability and KPI selection and tracking issues. (There's a growing ecosystem of startups that provide integrated dashboards for emissions data and other sustainability metrics, using APIs to plug into ERP and other enterprise IT systems.)

CIOs and sustainability

While 17% of respondents said that they currently have sustainability on their “personal performance scorecards”, more than half (53%) estimate that sustainability will be included on their personal scorecards within the next year, as investors and customers demand more transparency from providers on sustainability.

(Conversations within The Stack's own network suggest that when it comes to CIOs and sustainability, the 2% figure is low. We have spoken with many who are clearly prioritising helping make their companies greener.)

Suppliers have not always made it hugely easy. It took until earlier this year, for example, for the world's largest cloud computing provider, AWS, to release a carbon footprint tool that lets users view the carbon emissions they have generated through their AWS use by broad geographical location and by AWS services.

And that tool has come in for some pointed criticism.

Today's survey came as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) mulls demanding new rules on enhanced and standardised climate-related disclosures which includes plans to make financial firms “disclose GHG emissions from upstream and downstream activities in its value chain (Scope 3)"; this will include IT providers.

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“The impending SEC rule changes on sustainability reporting should act like the starter’s gun, triggering a race to make significant and lasting changes in the US financial services industry,” said Sarwar Khan, digital sustainability lead for BT’s Global unit, adding in a release. “In fact, our research suggests they’re already having an effect. With changes to CIOs’ scorecards imminent, there will be a reshuffling of priorities bringing sustainability to the top. This will be a game changer in how the industry views its environmental impact and holds itself accountable.”

"It's not entirely surprising – though disappointing – to see that only 2% of CIOs consider sustainability a priority”, Russell Mitchell, EVP of carbon accounting firm Persefoni, noted to The Stack by email: “At this point in the market's evolution, the majority of demand is generated straight from the CFO, CEO, and Board, driven by compliance factors, and deployed through the CSO (Chief Sustainability Officer). These compliance factors are predominately investor-based access to capital and/or a rapidly accelerating global regulatory environment.

He added: “All of this is because investors increasingly recognize climate risk is financial risk…”

Are you a CIO and taking a leadership role when it comes to sustainability? Or do you have strong views on how digital leaders can help accelerate the sustainability and ESG agenda? We want to hear from you.

See also: Expect to hear a lot more about XBRL. Here’s why