ESG » How ESG early starter IBM is paving the way for others to follow

How ESG early starter IBM is paving the way for others to follow

The CFO spoke to Christopher Cook, UK&I CFO at IBM about the company’s environment and sustainability agenda, and its guidance and support for wider business and societal communities

How ESG early starter IBM is paving the way for others to follow

IBM is a multinational technology company headquartered in New York with operations in over 171 countries globally. The company, which was set up in 1911, produces and sells computer hardware, middleware and software and provides hosting and consulting services as well as being a major research organisation.

It has a decades-long track record for technological breakthroughs that range from automated teller machines (ATMS) and personal computers to supercomputers and, more recently, commercial quantum computing.

Today, the company is equally focused on creating both innovations and policies that drive “ethics, trust, transparency and accountability”. A key part of this agenda is focused on environmental impact, and finding ways of conserving natural resources, reducing pollution and minimising climate-related risks.

UK&I CFO Christopher Cook points out that IBM was an early starter in delivering an ESG agenda for its own business, and that its commitment in this area has continued over several decades.

“As an organisation, we have a great track record of setting precedents with environmental and social commitments going back more than 50 years with our first corporate policy on environmental affairs in 1971,” he says. “One of our purposes as a business is to make a lasting, positive impact on business ethics, our environment, and the broader communities in which we work and live.”

He explains that the company’s strategy has continued to evolve over time, and now revolves around IBM Impact, a new ESG framework, which aims to create “a more sustainable, equitable, and secure future”.

Christopher Cook, UK&I CFO at IBM

The company’s environmental commitments cover five specific areas:

  • Energy and climate change
  • Conservation and biodiversity
  • Pollution prevention and waste management
  • Supply chain and value chain
  • Management systems

“In 2021 IBM announced an update to its 21 environmental commitments, including achieving net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030; diverting 90% of non-hazardous waste by weight from landfill and incineration by 2025; and initiating 100 client engagements or research projects by 2025 with environmental benefits,” says Cook.

The company is also committed to procuring 75% of the electricity it consumes worldwide from renewable sources by 2025 and drive this up to 90% by 2030 and is working with its suppliers to set carbon fleet intensity targets. It also aims to implement 3000 energy conservation projects to further reduce its energy consumption by 2025.

“We continually set goals and measure progress and report our results as part of IBM’s commitment to transparency and accountability,” he says.

Cook points out that as a global technology player, with a record for innovation, IBM’s commitment to protecting the environment goes well beyond its own business strategy to helping wider communities, including other businesses, implement their own ESG policies.

“As part of this commitment we attended COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh as a technology partner showcasing how our technology and consulting can help business and government leaders align sustainability goals to organisational objectives, as well as helping to respond to regulatory demands,” he says.

An ESG partner to business and management

Cook explains that as vice president and CFO for the UK and Ireland, his role is to work with the wider management team on the company’s ESG agenda. This includes making investments in key IBM locations, influencing the company’s diverse UK footprint to improve its business economics, and also working to minimise carbon emissions.

The finance function, he adds, also acts as a central partner to the wider business by ensuring it accurately tracks and reports on IBM’s ESG commitments – particularly carbon obligations in the UK. It also works with the management team to prioritise investments in social equity boards.

Here, the company is taking advantage of its own technology platforms and innovations to actively help under-served communities facing ESG issues.

It has a social impact programme known as ‘IBM Sustainability Accelerator’, through which it is supporting the work of both non-profit and governmental organisations globally.

The programme currently has five projects in which IBM has engaged with five different organisations to focus on innovations for sustainable agriculture. The next cohort will focus on clean energy with five additional projects, each with a new partner selected publicly from non-profit and government organisations. IBM supports their work through from the generation of ideas and delivering tools, its expertise and providing ongoing mentorship to the scaling up of their initiatives.

“By applying our technologies, such as hybrid cloud and artificial intelligence along with our consulting business expertise, we are able to serve communities that are especially vulnerable to environmental threats including climate change, extreme weather, and pollution,” says Cook.

“We are also continuing with our open collaboration with United Nations Human Rights and others on the Call for Code Global Challenge, which once again for 2022 is focused on sustainability issues.”

He explains that this initiative, which is now five years old, represents one of the largest ‘tech-for-good’ community initiatives, which has brought together more than 500,000 developers, across 180 nations, to contribute to developing more than 20,000 apps for humanitarian issues.

“In 2022 the program is an open call for developers to take on sustainability issues, from improving supply chains to developing clean energy solutions and protecting biodiversity,” he concludes.

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