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On Tech Leadership

By - March 07, 2016

I’ve written a piece over on NewCo that I wanted to also post it here. See below…

If your business focus is in technology or the Internet, as mine has been for nearly three decades, it’s quite possible you’ve never heard of the GLOBE Series, a global conference dedicated to sustainability in business. Until I was invited to participate this year, due in large part to NewCo’s core mission, I certainly hadn’t. What I saw opened my eyes and left me pondering the role of tech in the future of our planet.

The longest-running event dedicated to global environment and business, GLOBE draws more than 9,000 delegates to Vancouver from more than 50 countries around the world. There’s no shortage of government ministers, nonprofit leaders, and sustainability officers from huge companies like Nestlé, Lowe’s, and Citi. But if you peruse the speaker and sponsor lists, it’d be fair to conclude that sustainability simply isn’t a core issue for technology companies. They’re pretty much no-shows.

You’d be wrong, of course  – Google, for example, is the largest purchaser of renewable energy on the planet, and has been carbon neutral for nearly a decade. So why aren’t Larry Page or Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg keynoting GLOBE?

Events like GLOBE, which according to its organizers is growing so fast they plan to double the number of conferences starting next year, are a natural outgrowth of our business ecosystem’s need to address complex social issues like resource stewardship and climate change. If you’re Nestlé, for example, you need a platform to engage with all constituents in core markets (Nestlé is the world’s largest producer of bottled water). But if you’re Google or Facebook? Your products are digital and ephemeral in nature ;  your environmental impact is negligible in comparison to other industries. Facebookcompares the impact of its average user’s carbon footprint to that of “three bananas.”

Multiply that by billions, however, and you realize it takes a lot of bananas to spin all those servers (the Internet consumes the energy of a major nation-state). You wouldn’t know it from wandering the halls at GLOBE, but the biggest tech companies arecommitted leaders in green energy and have a strong story to tell. These same companies also leading the way in doing well by doing good. It’s built into the mission-driven ethos of nearly all leading tech companies.

Even if sometimes those young companies’ efforts seem self-serving or tone-deaf, their fresh, purpose-driven approach to business should inform our most urgent social issue: how we retool our economic engines toward sustainability. It’s not enough that Google is carbon-neutral, or that Amazon has committed to using 100% renewable energy. It’s time for our tech leaders to take the global stage and start to engage with the rest of the business world. The world needs their vision and their influence – before it’s too late.

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