The whole issue of sustainability is gaining momentum all across the corporate hierarchy. But while most people think sustainability is all about the impact a company may have on the environment, it's really a much bigger business issue.
The minute you start to talk about sustainability, you're actually starting a conversation business process re-engineering. Discovering the organization's carbon footprint is only a means to that end. If the entire organization is going to be a better ecological citizen, then just about every process in the company has to change to achieve that goal. And once you start changing those processes, it naturally creates an opportunity to become more efficient as a business.
Of course, IT will be at the center of that. According to Stephen Stokes, vice president of sustainability and green technology for AMR Research, we're really at the early stages of the next phase of the information age that will basically transform every business process.
A good example of that transformation is the work that AutoDesk is undertaking to help people design more energy-efficient buildings. AutoDesk has created a method to ascertain a building's carbon footprint that it plans to make available through open source. The idea is to give people using AutoCAD software the information they need to figure out what the potential impact any given project might have on the environment. Naturally, once you start changing the way the building is structured, you change the way people work and the company operates.
The fact that sustainability has such a far-reaching impact is not lost of companies such as SAP, IBM and Oracle, which all see sustainability driving the adoption of their next generation of business-process management software. In fact, SAP has gone as far as to create an online lobbying effort, called Hopenhagen, to help push for more stringent environmental standards at the upcoming international conference at Copenhagen.
There's no doubt that sustainability is becoming both a cultural issue and, in the not too distant future, an issue on which any number of government and third-party agencies will rate companies. For example, don't be surprised to see shareholder-rights organizations asking very pointed issues about sustainability as a reflection of the company's overall competitiveness. After all, if you consume a lot of energy, chances are you might not be as efficient as your rivals.
Ultimately, sustainability creates an opportunity for IT people to get that long-cherished seat at the big table with the rest of the senior leadership of the company. Because without IT, there is no sustainability.