Marketing deep tech is hard enough, with its incessant innovation, bulwark of buzzwords, and morphing markets.
Why should we make room for sustainability?
The Union of Concerned Scientists puts the case well: the climate crisis “is upon us, and it’s causing a wide range of impacts that will affect virtually every human on Earth in increasingly severe ways. The range of impacts makes it one of the most urgent issues facing humanity today.”
That is reason enough.
But I ask tech B2B marketers to see sustainability as not just a moral imperative, but also a practical one. Very simply, sustainability is now a fundamental consideration for the technology businesses we work for.
- Companies with a combined revenue of over US$11.4 trillion are now pursuing net zero emissions by the end of the century.
- Investor giant Blackrock has made sustainability its new standard for investing.
- The four largest U.S. technology firms–Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook– all plan to reduce their emissions to net zero by 2050.
Our engineering and technology audiences are stepping up to the challenge. For example, Engineers Without Borders UK has adopted a strategy to put “global responsibility at the heart of engineering, ensuring a safe and just future for all.”
These entities share a commitment to reducing their impact on the environment. It’s how business will be done, from now on. In our work at Publitek, I am witnessing how sustainability helps our clients not simply comply, but compete and grow. I am seeing how it contributes to long-term viability. This is good for us, our clients and for the planet.
Sustainability shapes markets
As major market players gear up to meet their sustainability commitments, they are looking for goods, services, vendors and partners who can help them succeed, and to be partners in the journey.
Recently, Salesforce.com announced that it is requiring its suppliers to set carbon-reduction goals and deliver products and services on a carbon-neutral basis. They must set “science-based” carbon emission targets, demonstrate a plan for reducing emissions and deliver their services on a carbon-neutral basis, and follow sustainability reporting requirements. Given that Salesforce.com is a colossus in the CRM and SaaS industries, this makes sustainability a fundamental element of marketing IT hardware and services to the company.
As large multinational corporations require their suppliers that follow sustainability standards, they also ask those first-tier suppliers to ask for compliance from their suppliers throughout the supply chain. “The strongest net-zero targets, like the one set by Microsoft, go beyond a company’s own operations and address its broader impacts on climate and society,” said Kyle Harrison, a BNEF analyst.
The result is, for example, that an electronics company that wants to sell components to the IT hardware OEM has a competitive advantage if it can demonstrate its sustainability practices–making life easier for its customer to meet their customer requirements. That’s an important marketing angle.
Looking at the above list of large U.S. technology firms pursuing net-zero operations, one can assume that just about every category of technology is being impacted.
Sustainability can be a differentiator to help get technology into the door.
Sustainability creates markets
A focus on sustainability can not only make a product more attractive, it can create new markets for a product.
For example, much of the innovation in the data center industry is centered in edge computing. Placing compute resources closer to where data is generated and consumed can improve bandwidth and lower latency, making everything from Industrial IoT and AI to gaming and remote healthcare more effective. Some estimates the number of edge data centers will double between 2020 and 2024.
In the article I helped prepare for ITRenew, “Sustainability: Have you got the edge?”, ITRenew CEO Ali Fenn lays out the “next frontier in sustainability” to meet the demand at the edge: reusing IT hardware. ITRenew is building a new market for the millions of servers that the hyperscale data center operators retire every year as they upgrade their technology. By reusing the servers and their components for edge computing and other purposes, ITRenew creates a new “circular economy model” for IT equipment. As Ali explains, “The sourcing, manufacturing and transportation of IT equipment is a significantly greater contributor to net carbon emissions (as much as 75% of embodied carbon) than the ongoing data center operation.”
This is a huge opportunity in the data center space. Consider the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact, an industry association of European cloud and data center operators that includes Amazon, Google and Equinix as well as smaller and national providers. Ali tells us that “the members of the Pact are committed to innovating their operations for a circular economy model. To that end, they will assess 100% of their used server equipment for reuse, repair or recycling by 2030.”
By establishing the circular economy business model based on sustainability, ITRenew has created a substantial new market for its activities.
Sustainability creates lasting value
It’s becoming clear that sustainability is a fundamental aspect of marketing technology. Since sustainability is a priority for shareholders and customers, it deserves a large share of our communications to the market. It belongs to us, the tech B2B marketers. It should not be limited to reports issued by the office of Corporate Social Responsibility.
But it’s bigger than even that.
A focus on sustainability can create positive repercussions throughout a technology company and its ecosystem. To illustrate, look at the top of the Global 100, an index of the most sustainable corporations in the world, where you’ll find Schneider Electric. “Sustainability improves performance, innovation and our attractiveness as a place to work,” says Gilles Vermot Desroches, senior vice-president for sustainable development and strategy. “It creates value.”
When you consider that insight, you realize that sustainability is a mindset that leads to creating a culture and value for the long term. “To sustain” basically means “to have a future.” We need to sustain what makes our work valuable and our companies or clients viable.
“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” – UN World Commission on Environment and Development
This broader view of sustainability could be the fundamental measure of our success. Does our campaign promise live on, or is it just a one-off? Does our department grow, our company profit, and our market share expand for the long term? These are various measures of your work’s sustainability.
Some may decry expanding the meaning of sustainability to reflect a broader range of business practices that lead to long-term success. They think it waters down or obscures the critical need to reverse the climate crisis and reduce pollution. I propose that it shows that environmental action is a natural part of how every business should plan and behave in its market.
Sustainability (Merriam Webster)
- capable of being sustained
- of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged
- of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods
The question is not why sustainability? Instead, it’s can we afford to be unsustainable?
Sustainability is about making something that lasts. As tech B2B marketers, we can help our companies and clients build businesses, markets and a world that can last.