Sustainability heroes of tomorrow

We sat down with sustainability expert Dennis Pamlin to talk about his views on the ICT sector's role in creating sustainable societies.

How should a company like Cybercom act to move in a more sustainable direction?

“It’s very much about showing what is already being done, but has not been labelled as sustainability, for example by putting numbers to how many tonnes of greenhouse gases are saved using Cybercom’s solutions. Cybercom has an important role in explaining to clients and decision-makers which underlying solutions are critical to smart sustainability solutions. Without encryption, compression algorithms, cloud storage and real-time data we cannot have smart buildings, smart mobility or smart consumption patterns – which make up tomorrow’s infrastructure for global sustainability.”

Can modern technology alone make the world sustainable?

“The technology we have available today is sufficient, but we have to use it in a smart way and this requires changes to organisations, regulations and our habits. For example, through “dematerialisation”, which is to deliver the same or similar services with lower consumption of natural resources. This can be achieved through the development of digital solutions that replace a physical product or service, or by enabling collaboration and sharing, in which smart ICT solutions are required. The fact that companies like Cybercom already deliver these kinds of solution without calling them sustainable is usually because they are actually developed to be smarter and more cost-effective, not because they are sustainable.”

How big is the actual potential for the ICT sector to create more sustainable societies?

“ICT has a central role in a sustainable future. There are studies that show we could cut global emissions of greenhouse gases by 20% in 2030 using ICT, without making any major changes. But the potential is much greater than that, and many commentators claim that ICT companies are the most important sector for global sustainability. Many ICT companies can contribute to more than 100 times greater emissions reductions than they emit themselves.” 

Finally, where should Cybercom focus its sustainability efforts in future?

“The sustainability heroes of today and tomorrow are the people who come up with the solutions – particularly IT companies that can create the sustainable knowledge society. Cybercom is able to play an important role by shifting the focus from problems to solutions – since your core business often leads to sustainable solutions, higher sales go hand in hand with a greater contribution to sustainability. I would therefore argue that there is a moral responsibility for those that have sustainable ICT solutions to make money. That may sound dramatic, but we cannot afford to continue to lock ourselves into resource inefficient and non-smart solutions.

Working in a sector that has a moral responsibility to make money is something I believe we should see as a great opportunity, because it allows us to combine innovation, good economic performance and a better world. There are worse jobs.”

Dennis Pamlin is the founder and chief executive of 21st Century Frontiers, and a senior associate at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences at RISE. He has extensive experience in ICT and telecoms, specialising in innovation and sustainability.

He is currently also responsible for the work and development of a frame work for avoided emissions at Mission Innovation.