Have You Hugged a Sustainability Professional Today?

featured-aeiforaAs Information and Communication Technology (ICT) professionals, we often are missing an opportunity with a key ally in our efforts to work with clients to design and implement a wide range of technology solutions within the built environment. Most likely it is because we don’t have the language skills necessary to better communicate with this ever more important aspect to the team — the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) and her staff. A recent study by GreenBiz Group and AT&T investigated the subject and came to the conclusion that there is substantial benefit from working with your client and their CSO in helping to make the business case for capital expenditure on technology solutions. This goes beyond the corporate walls and includes the healthcare and educational market sectors as well as many other channels where attention has been placed by the client on achieving a triple bottom line. Working with the sustainability professionals on the client’s side is going to increase the likelihood that technology solutions will not only be installed but accelerated and increased.

A significant driver in this is the desire of the client to align established financial and customer satisfaction with newer social and environmental goals as is seen in the rise of Corporate Sustainability Reporting (CSR) as well as an increased demand from consumers and shareholders for companies to tread lighter on the environment. Many organizations have combined efforts of CEO’s, CFO’s, CIO’s and other executive leadership to transform operations using technology to be more efficient, reduce waste and be a larger profit center.

Where it breaks down, according to the study, is with the language used between the C-Suite and the CSO’s office. Often there is a reluctance to use products and/or services that are described as being “sustainable” even if they provide the same benefit as something that doesn’t carry the label. Achieving the desired goals of the C-Suite are often possible through a greater adoption of ICT products and services but without the translation from the sustainability team in close coordination from the ICT professional things often are under designed, underutilized, or don’t perform as promised. For example, the study indicates that ICT technology can have an overall impact of a 77 percent reduction in energy use, a 68 percent increase in efficiency, and a 65 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions simply by deploying the right mix of technology. This includes solutions such as telepresence, systems automation, technology power management, and remote device management. This has a profound positive impact on profitability and social/environmental standing to the ICT client.

To just zero in on a few solutions more closely, collaboration technology has the capability of a dramatic increase in proficiency, efficiency, and reduction in overall expenditure for both small and large operations. Telepresence alone can reduce travel by up to 84 percent in most cases in lost revenue while having the additional benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with simply getting to the meeting. In addition, the use of this technology can improve employee productivity by up to 84 percent increasing the collaborative business process by 49 percent according to the report. The profound impact has even been recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council where Innovation Credit has been awarded in some cases towards projects seeking LEED certification. From the C-Suite it assures that the right people or meeting in the most productive, efficient, and profitable way without the headaches and expense of travel historically associated with meetings.

Deployment of telepresence also allows more employees a better work/life balance where up to 95 percent of the study’s respondents replied that some portion of their employees used mobile computing to perform their job. There greater shift is generational in that the millennial generation expects to be mobile and they have a work-from-anywhere mentality. This will not only help to reduce the carbon footprint of the company but aid in employee retention while increasing profitability. Having the ally of the CSO in your corner to work through the social/environmental benefits of such a technology may just help you close the deal on a wider spread implementation.

Another great collaborative set of technologies that were a showcase item at the 2013 InfoComm conference in Orlando are new in-room IP based wireless collaboration systems such as the Christie Brio, AMX Enzo, and the Crestron Air Media, among others. These systems rely on the Bring-Your-Own-Device mentality of today’s work environment. By implementing systems such as these, markets such as corporate environments and higher education need to provide less equipment within a given meeting space. As a result, less infrastructure, power, cooling and physical space is necessary reducing demand on the building’s systems. Some of these systems allow access of content from cloud storage off site even further reducing the footprint of on-site server space with the added benefit of access by remote users. Working with the CSO’s office can help to find these additional benefits helping to make the business case for deployment. For example, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) shows the financial benefits in the billions of dollars with the use of cloud computing and wireless solutions by a reduction in energy savings alone. The report outlines a 78 percent savings in ICT service and equipment while having a 53 percent improvement in employees productivity and an overall savings of up to 46 percent through constructing a business case for wireless and cloud computing.

Other efforts within the ICT strategy of a company relate to the rise of the Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication of all building systems and building wide technology. Let’s face it. Most if not all components of a building these days are wired in one way or another. A recent blog post I wrote in July of 2013 for InfoComm International’s AllVoices (Rise of the Machines) reaches into this construct. According to a recent study done by the group Machina Research, by 2020 there will be 12.5 billion M2M devices globally many of which fall into the ICT realm. This two way device communication will make building smarter, more efficient, have a lower operating cost and reduce the overall energy demand of the built environment. The Consortium for Energy Efficiency is among several organizations creating tools, protocols, and programs that help the facility manager understand and more efficiently manage their building portfolio. Being able to work with the sustainability office can help to identify the benefits of M2M technologies and strategies especially those in the ICT industries bringing the information to the business case at the C-level.

So the big question remains for those of us in the ICT industry, whether as a design consultant or integrator, is what can we do to improve the communication with the CSO to help the CIO/CTO make the business case to the CFO for capital expenditure on new technologies. The report outlines five strategies (albeit from the point of view of the sustainability professional) that have take-aways for us as well:

  1. Speak the Language of the Business: The idea of take “theirs” and “make it mine” is not a new one especially if you work in sales. However the ICT professional needs to learn two languages — that of the C-Suite and of the CSO’s office and act as the translator or bridge between the two.
  2. Measure and Manage: Sustainability executives are getting better at learning how to measure the environmental impact of various aspects of a corporation. There has been much work done with industry groups to create great working tools and models such as CLEER for data centers and AT&T’s carbon impact assessment tool. Understanding how the CSO’s office is using these tools will help to open a dialog to how ICT solutions can be managed, modeled, and measured to show concrete benefits to the organizations. This will help to facilitate the business case to the executive level.
  3. Make Senior Management and Ally: Although most of the purchasing decisions appear to come from a technology manager or the CIO/CTO office the reality is the chief financial officer or CFO usually are green lighting things. Many of these C-Levels have shareholder responsibilities including being more socially/environmentally responsible. The ICT professional can help bridge the gap between the sustainability office and the C-Suite and help to make the case to the purse strings.
  4. Identify Pilot Projects: Sustainability executives are adept at pilot projects often times leveraging them into full scale deployable mantras. Take employee based recycling as an example. By using the skills and backing of the sustainability office ICT projects may be more palatable to the executive leadership at a testing level before full role out.
  5. Tell the Story: Rolling out complex technology initiatives can have a number of complex issues and technical jargon using arcane metrics. Working with the sustainability office can help to create an engaging story for buy in internally as well as satisfy shareholders and customers particularly when it works to sell the sustainability of the initiative combined with the business goals.

So next time you are engaged with a client over the implementation of technology within the built environment make sure you connect with and include the company’s sustainability office as an ally to your team. You might just find a friend and someone to hug.