Should Partners Be Part of Your Sustainability Plans?

For tech companies, the time to step up regarding sustainability is now. Doing so means including your entire supply chain.

By T.C. Doyle

If 2021 was the year your organization got serious about DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), then make 2022 the year your company — your channel team, in particular — makes ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) a priority.

Doing so isn’t just good for the environment; it’s vital to your success. So say a growing number of business authorities, including Blackrock CEO Larry Fink. In his annual letter to fellow CEOs this month, Fink issued a challenge to business leaders everywhere: “Every company and every industry will be transformed by the transition to a net zero world,” he wrote. “The question is, will you lead, or will you be led?”

Fink went on to say that “the decarbonizing of the global economy is going to create the greatest investment opportunity of our lifetime.” This is heady stuff from an executive on the front lines of global investing, business creation, and disruptive thinking.

Before we get to how all of this applies to your organization and your department, specifically, consider the current macro environment related to ESG. It’s not lost on world and business leaders that 2021 was the sixth hottest year on record. The toll on communities, ecosystems, and global supply chains was enormous — so much so that consumers, activists, shareholders, and more are applying more pressure than ever on leaders to take action. Even business schools are being pressed to “get more serious” about sustainability, says The Financial Times.

Considering that experts, including scientists at the world Climate Clock, say we have only 7 1/2 years left before we reach an unrecoverable environmental tipping point, the pressure couldn’t come at a better time.

There are signs that leaders are, indeed, moving, albeit just not as swiftly as experts hope. The number of businesses that have announced plans around and made commitments to ESG-oriented causes is growing. Nearly 2,300 global entities have signed on with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) to reduce their emissions in line with climate science, for example. This includes companies such as eBay, Albertson’s, Swarovski, BBC, Weyerhaeuser Company, and LG Electronics.

Despite progress, foot-dragging remains widespread. Take the COP 26 climate summit held in Glasgow, Scotland, in the fall of 2021. There was an awful lot of garbage — pun intended — being thrown around when it came to tackling ESG challenges. In Glasgow, business leaders and politicians from all regions of the world made headlines with bold pledges. India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for example, announced 2070 as the target for India to reach net-zero carbon emissions. To many, that smacked of kicking the can down the road. Not only will Modi turn 120 in 2070 (and thus be long gone from office), his goal, Reuters noted, is “two decades beyond what scientists say is needed to avert catastrophic climate impacts.”

This isn’t the only example of a bold pronouncement in search of a practical application. Take the pledges made in Glasgow by global corporate entities to hit carbon neutrality. Most of these involved planting trees to offset the carbon footprints created by the production of goods and/or the delivery of services. An analysis completed by Oxfam found corporate pledges to be woefully underwhelming given that we would need a landmass five times the size of India to accommodate all of the trees that businesses pledged to plant to achieve carbon neutrality.

Unless someone discovers some uncharted territory soon, we need better answers to our current problems. Which brings us back to you and your organization’s efforts around ESG.

Where Partners Fit Into Your ESG Plans

Big tech giants are thinking about sustainability more broadly. (In fact, we have an entirely new report this month devoted to the subject. See below for more.) This includes those that work with vendor and channel partners on a global scale. Consider Accenture, a world leader in management consulting and systems integration. Accenture, which advises clients on achieving greater sustainability, says it embeds sustainability into everything it does and “with everyone we work with.”

“It’s no longer enough for companies to focus only on what they control directly,” Accenture says. “Customers will hold them responsible for any slip-ups around their products, even when those mistakes are made by a partner company.”

Today, companies are focusing their efforts on manufacturing and supply-chain partners. The business practices of these companies have a mixed record, after all. But we’re starting to see more signs that tech companies are looking at their sales and customer engagement partners as well.

In the future, we fully expect to see tech vendors build ESG guidelines into their channel and partner programs. These could take the form of program requirements that call for some demonstration or commitment to environmental sustainability, or even commitments not to sell to entities with terrible environmental records.

If companies can be banned from doing business with rogue nations such as Iran, shouldn’t they be banned from selling to organizations that have been found to pollute waterways, degrade forests, or harm local communities through their business practices? It’s an academic and philosophical question today. But in the future it could be very real.

If you think partners will object to any initiatives that would call for them to step up, you might be surprised by their own efforts when it comes to ESG. In local communities far and wide, partners are taking a leadership position on environmental sustainability. This includes Charter Telecom, a Cisco partner based in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Charter, which operates out of a “passive House Certified Building,” believes it has a “responsibility as an active member of our community to ensure we leave this world better off than how we found it,” says company founder and CEO Paul Chandler.

For more on this subject, be sure to check out our new report on sustainability, “Digital Goes Green: The Business Case for Environmental Sustainability in the ICT Industry.”

T.C. Doyle

T.C. Doyle is the vice president of strategic content at Channelnomics. A renowned content creator, Doyle has spent the better part of the past four decades covering and commenting on the channel in different capacities. Follow him on Twitter at @tcdutah.

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