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Can bots succeed where humans have failed in sustainability?

By Shannon Williams
Thu 21 Apr 2022

A new study has revealed that a majority of people believe society has not made enough progress on sustainability and social efforts, and believe bots will succeed where humans have failed.

The study, by Oracle and Pamela Rucker, CIO advisor and instructor for Harvard Professional Development, found people around the world are demanding more progress on sustainability and social efforts and are looking to businesses to step up, according to a new 

The No Planet B study of more than 11,000 consumers and business leaders across 15 countries, found that people are fed up with the lack of progress society is making towards sustainability and social initiatives, want businesses to turn talk into action, and believe technology can help businesses succeed where people have failed.  

The events of the past two years have put a spotlight on sustainability and social efforts, with people worldwide disappointed with the lack of progress and calling for businesses to step up. 

Human bias and operational challenges are holding businesses back

Business leaders know sustainability efforts are critical to corporate success and even trust bots over humans alone to drive sustainability and social efforts:

  • 95 percent believe sustainability and ESG programs are critical to the success of their organisations. Executives identified the top three benefits as increasing productivity (47 percent); strengthening the brand (45 percent); and attracting new customers (40 percent).
  • Almost all business leaders (97 percent) are facing major obstacles when implementing sustainability and ESG initiatives. The biggest challenges include time-consuming manual reporting processes (44 percent); a lack of data (43 percent); and obtaining ESG metrics from partners and third parties (39 percent).
  • 98 percent of business leaders admit human bias and emotion often distract from the end goal, and 92 percent believe organisations that use technology to help drive sustainable business practices will be the ones that succeed in the long run.
  • 97 percent of business leaders would trust a bot over a human to make sustainability and social decisions. They believe bots are better at predicting future outcomes based on metrics/past performance (52 percent); collecting different types of data without error (51 percent); and making rational, unbiased decisions (49 percent).

Business leaders believe people are still essential to the success of sustainability and social initiatives and believe people are better at educating others on information needed to make decisions (55 percent); implementing changes based on feedback from stakeholders (54 percent); and making context-informed strategic decisions (43 percent).

The report revealed people will cut ties with businesses that don't take action on sustainability and social initiatives

Businesses need to prioritise sustainability and social issues and rethink how they use technology to make an impact or risk facing major consequences.

The report found 95 percent of people want to make progress on sustainability and social factors to establish healthier ways of living (54 percent); save the planet for future generations (52 percent); and help create more equality around the world (47 percent), while 65 percent of people would be willing to cancel their relationship with a brand that does not take sustainability and social initiatives seriously, and 69 percent would even leave their current company to work for a brand that places a greater focus on these efforts.

If organisations can clearly demonstrate the progress they are making on environmental and social issues, people would be more willing to pay a premium for their products and services (88 percent); work for them (88 percent); and invest in their companies (86 percent).

Business leaders understand the importance and urgency 95 percent believe sustainability and societal metrics should be used to inform traditional business metrics, and 93 percent want to increase their investment in sustainability.

"The events of the past two years have put sustainability and social initiatives under the microscope and people are demanding material change," says Pamela Rucker, CIO advisor and instructor for Harvard Professional Development.

"While there are challenges to tackling these issues, businesses have an immense opportunity to change the world for the better," she says. 

"The results show that people are more likely to do business with and work for organisations that act responsibly toward our society and the environment. This is an opportune moment. While thinking has evolved, technology has as well, and it can play a key role in overcoming many of the obstacles that have held progress back."

Juergen Lindner, senior vice president and CMO, global marketing SaaS at Oracle, says it's never been more critical for businesses to invest in sustainability and ESG initiatives, "as people don't just want to hear about it they're looking for decisive action and are demanding more transparency and tangible results. 

"Business leaders understand the importance, yet often have the erroneous assumption that they need to prioritise either profits or sustainability," Lindner says. 

"The truth is this is not a zero-sum game. The technology that can eliminate all the obstacles to ESG efforts is now available, and organisations that get this right can not only support their communities and the environment, but also realise significant revenue gains, cost savings, and other benefits that impact the bottom line," he says.

Will Symons, Asia Pacific sustainability and climate lead at Deloitte, adds, "Given Asia Pacific's large share of the global population and emissions, climate vulnerabilities, and technological and financial strengths, the global fight against climate change will be won or lost in Asia Pacific. 

"It's imperative that we take action on climate change and businesses have a narrowing window to lead the way," he says. 

"It is great to see organisations like Oracle helping businesses to step up and prioritise sustainability. The study results show people want businesses to prioritise progress on sustainability and are willing to reward those who lead," Symons says. 

"To do this organisations must re-think how they use technology to shift from ambition to action on sustainability commitments while ensuring transparency and accountability to all stakeholders."

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